Four “Under The Radar” Tenor Saxophonists

elias haslangerAs we said last week, there are a lot of fine, living saxophonists out there who are not getting their due. Last week we dropped a few alto players on you. This week we have four tenors. Again, there are others, these are just four that I’m listening to now. Each paragraph includes a link to the artist’s website, if any, and a link to a place to buy some of their music.

Elias Haslanger

When I’m looking for someplace to hear a great tenor saxophonist, I normally don’t head to Austin, TX. After hearing Elias Haslanger, I may have to add another stop to my itinerary. Elias has been on the scene for about 25 years. A Texas native, he attended the Manhattan School of Music and has played and recorded with Maynard Ferguson, Ellis Marsalis, Bob Dorough and even Bruce Springsteen. After paying his New York dues for many years, Haslanger decided to return home to Austin, where he has set up SRO shop at the famed Continental Club on Monday nights. Haslanger has named Stanley Turrentine as one of his major influences and you can hear traces of Mr. T all over Elias’ big soulful Texas Tenor sound. His latest album Church on Monday is a stone groove in the Turrentine/Shirley Scott mode, with Dr. James Polk, Ray Charles’s longtime musical director, on the B3.

Erica Lindsay

I first became aware of Erica Lindsay via her work with one of my favorite “Under The Radar” pianists, Sumi Tonooka. Born in San Francisco, Ms. Lindsay spent much of her formative years in Europe with her parents who had moved there during the sixties. This exposed her at an early age to the jazz of other American expatriates, such as Dexter Gordon, Benny Bailey and Mal Waldron.  Ms. Lindsay returned to the U.S. to stay in 1980, settling in New York and becoming part of the jazz scene, the performance art scene and writing music for television and dance.  On tenor, her sound is robust and powerful. The Coltrane influence is strong but you can also hear a bit of Gordon in there as well. Ms. Lindsay’s  discography is limited but quite good; the most highly recommended being Dreamer, her 1992 debut and Initiation, her 2008 collaboration with Ms. Tonooka.

Dayna Stephens

Like many fine musicians, you’ll see Dayna Stephens’ name in the credits of many of the better jazz albums of the last few years but his  discography as a leader is small. You can easily why others track this cat down. His tenor sound is a big, warm and clear, out of the Joe Henderson/Wayne Shorter school. Nevertheless, I would not call him a clone of either of these two giants as he has his own sound that is growing more distinctive. Those who he has played with include Gerald Clayton, Gretchen Parlato and Taylor Eigsti, who have all returned the favor on Stephens’ recordings. You can check out any one of his three albums but a great place to start is his most recent one, this year’s That Nepenthetic Place on Sunnyside Records.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that though Dayna Stephens is still active, he has been facing some very serious health problems. He suffers from a congenital kidney ailment, undergoes daily dialysis and is awaiting a transplant. His medical expenses, needless to say are tremendous. If you would like more information on how to help, you can go to HelpDaynaStephens.org.

Brandon Wright

The great James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley said that “Brandon Wright is a young White cat who sounds like an old Black man.” Well, I’ll leave the judgements concerning Melanin count to Fred.  I will say that Brandon Wright can play his butt off. A New Jersey native, Wright, who is now in his early thirties, is a veteran of the Mingus Big Band, Chico O’Farrill’s Big Band and an apprenticeship with Mr. Wesley. His two albums on Posi-tone, Boiling Point and Journeyman are impressive pieces of post-bop, in which Wright acquits himself quite well while surrounded by a veteran group of sidemen. Wright says that one of his earliest inspirations to play the saxophone came from seeing Lisa Simpson of the animated Simpsons, play her sax. Lisa has had a very successful run, let’s hope the same for Mr. Wright.

As always I hope that there’s a new discovery for you in at least one of these artists. If you like their work support them by seeing them live, buying their CDs or legally downloading their music. That’s the only way that we will keep jazz alive.

More “Under The Radar” living jazz artists next week. Until then, “The Jazz Continues…”

One Response to “Four “Under The Radar” Tenor Saxophonists”

  1. Ellen Kirschner Says:

    Hey Curt, I’m going off Twitter. It’s gobbling me up! I’m really glad I met you and now I subscribe to your blog. I want to be up on the latest In jazz today. I’m a novitiate, ignorant but overflowing with enthusiasm. Good for the cause, eh? Any other blogs you think are worth following? Keep busting cancer’s ass!!! Thanks!!! Ellen

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