Monday, October 24, 2011

Music Monday ~~ Greatest Sax Voices in Jazz

Jazz was a closed book to me, until I met Himself (my husband). It's still a book open only at Chapter One. The jazz I enjoy most is the kind one might hear in a dark cellar bar, late at night, drink at hand - not too strident, not a cacophony of sound, but creative interpretation - making a familiar tune different, yet the same, exploring it and embellishing it.

Now and again Music Monday will feature a trio of jazz icons, instrument by instrument, with brief astro detail along with an occasional link to archived posts or other sources.

Kicking off with my own favourite instrument: the saxophone. Saxes come in 2 main sax "voices": tenor and alto (there are 3rd and 4th fourth, less common, types too: baritone and soprano).
If you like an instrument that sings, play the saxophone. At its best it’s like the human voice. – Stan Getz

Because we're considering jazz, and jazz is arguably the most inventive of all musical genres, astrologically I'd expect to see Neptune (creativity) and/or Uranus (invention, innovation) linked somehow to personal planets - Mercury (communication) and/or Venus (music), or natal Sun or Moon. I guess we should bear in mind that Neptune also connects to addictive tendencies - something that troubled many of the greatest jazz talents.

I have no birth times for these artists, so 12 noon charts are shown below, so the rising sign/degree will not be accurate; position of the Moon will not be exactly as shown.


Ben Webster (nickname: The Brute/Frog)
Born 27 March 1909 in Kansas City Missouri.
Sun Aries, Moon Gemini if born before 10pm, Cancer if later.

Note the very tight harmonious trine between Neptune (creativity - the soul of jazz) and Mercury(communication)- an important base aspect. Venus, the musical planet lies in Pisces, ruled by Neptune, not far from Mercury. Although Venus/Neptune are not in trine, because Pisces ruler, Neptune is involved, perhaps Venus could be considered an honorary inclusion.

Mutual reception= two planets placed in each other's ruling signs: here Mars lies in Capricorn, rulership of Saturn, Saturn lies in Aries, rulership of Mars. The two planets, aggressive Mars and serious Saturn combine forces in Webster's personality, and have relevance to his violent streak, and his nickname "Brute", more especially as Mars lies conjunct rebellious and unruly Uranus, in square (conflicting) aspect to Saturn.

Webster leaves a legacy as being known as one of 'Big Three' tenor players of the swing era along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young and is remembered as arguably the greatest of the Jazz saxophonists when it comes to playing a ballad. Ben Webster's sound has influenced future generations of saxophone players....

He was a large and occasionally violent man of unusual affections and bizarre impulses. He slept deeply, and had a curious habit of punching anyone who woke him, even his grandmother. In the 1950s, he lived in Los Angeles with his mother and grandmother, the two people in the world closest to him. Jim Hall, the guitarist, once described the routine of picking him up to go to a job. If Webster were asleep, his mother or grandmother would lean over him and say, "Ben, Mr. Hall is here and it's time to go to work." Then they would jump back about two feet to get out of the way. On the other hand, when the name of a dead musician he had loved came up (Tatum, say, or Fats Waller), Webster could be moved to tears. More at archived post:

Coleman Hawkins (nickname: The Hawk / The Bean)
Born 21 November 1904 in St.Joseph, Missouri.
Sun in Scorpio, Moon somewhere in Taurus.
Hawkins had Venus, the musical planet at 3* Capricorn, with Uranus, planet of innovation at 28 Sagittarius, forming what is known as an "out of sign conjunction", they are very close, but lie in different zodiac signs. It seems appropriate, then, that he should have been the musician(Venus) who brought a new(Uranus) element into the jazz scene, added to this, Saturn lies in one of its traditional rulersips- Aquarius, the innovative sign.

Although Adolphe Sax actually invented the saxophone, in the jazz world the title "Father of the Tenor Saxophone" became justly associated with Coleman Hawkins (1904 - 1969), not only an inventive jazz giant but also the founder of a whole dynasty of saxophone players. Before Hawkins, the saxophone (itself "born" in 1846) was mainly a favorite in marching bands and something of a novelty instrument in circus acts and vaudeville shows.

The liner notes for one of his albums begin:
"Coleman Hawkins? Man, he invented the tenor sax!" It is hard to disagree: Hawkins was the first man to solo on tenor, the first to record in the bop style, and the first to record unaccompanied on the instrument, with "Picasso" in 1948. More at archived post:

Lester Young (nickname: Pres/Prez)
Born 27 August 1909 in Woodville Mississippi. Sun Virgo, Moon somewhere in Capricorn. He had Mercury conjunct Jupiter in Virgo in trine to Neptune in Cancer, with Uranus in trine to the Mercury/Jupiter conjunction. Here we have Neptune, Mercury and Uranus linked - again.

(He)was a quirky and likable character who held an influential position in the evolution of jazz. With his tenor sax – usually held at an extremely odd angle, up in the air and horizontally splayed out to the side – he literally played the instrument like no one had ever done before and was irritatingly impossible to copy. He also dressed the part of an eccentric and distinguished himself by wearing long overcoats and a pork pie hat …

Part of Lester’s genius was an uncanny ability to achieve a tone that was as weightless as meringue – he almost alluded to the notes in a chord rather than simply playing them.

Young's sax playing is the horn equivalent to (Billie) Holiday's voice; melancholy, melodic, and understated. Prez could dance solos around Holiday as well as he could support her when she delivered her own musical soliloquy. They seemed to anticipate the others movements just before they happened.More at archived posts:


Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster: It Never Entered My Mind

Lester Young with Teddy Wilson on piano - All of Me


JD said...

doesn't sound right coming out of the computer

but as you say...
in a dark and sleazy cellar bar with a drink in hand and a floozy on my arm.......aaahh, those were the days :)

Twilight said...

JD ~~ Know what you mean! :-)

"floozy" - now there's a word I've not heard in a long time.

Hendrickson's Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins says -

floozie = "the Flat-Foot Floogy with the Floy Floy", a popular
song in 1945, spelled "floozie" differently, but it meant the
same. A floosie, floogy, flugie, or even faloosie, is a gaudily
dressed, dumb, disrespectable, frequently high-spirited woman,
often a prostitute. If the word derives from "Flossie", a
nickname for Florence, no one has proved it, and the word was
first recorded in the form of "flugie" at the turn of the
century. Hollywood's Hayes Code banned "floozie", along with
"red-hot mamma" and other words, but the term got a breath of new
life with the song mentioned above, which describes a floozie
with what it seems is a kind of venereal disease, the floy floy.
This American slang, as a British writer observes, is
"picturesque" and should be retained for its "blousy flowery
atmosphere" suggesting "good spirits, gaudy flowered dresses, and
bad but delightful perfume".

Wisewebwoman said...

I had the question reading this, T, were there ever any female saxophonists?
Of note I mean.
Grandgirl plays the trumpet but hs difficulty finding female trumpet players of any reputation.
Can't see the 'tubes, my interwebz has gone from bad to intolerable.

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ I chatted about this very subject with Himself, after drafting the post, WWW.

There were a few female saxophone players around, mainly in big bands, at the same time as the three "greats" featured, but none came to prominence. Himself says that women were not fully accepted as soloists - other than as vocalists - at that time. There are a few female sax players around now, but even now none has managed to become famous for her art.

One thing that stuck me, after having picked up an old sax in an antique shop on our last trip;
they are flippin' heavy! I had no idea of their weight. A petite woman would have no chance to support the instrument as well as finding the necessary "wind" to play it - not as easy as some might suppose, apparently. So that's an important physical reason. (I think instruments are nowadays made of lighter materials, though.)

anyjazz said...

A good post Twilight.

I suppose there are those who could argue "greatest" because it’s all a matter of taste and exposure. But I don’t think anyone could argue “influential” at all. These artists each have an unmistakable sound and technique that set them apart from each other and nearly everyone else.

The instrument is the same. What happens to the sound it makes comes from the individual playing it. The breath control, the embouchure, the diaphragm and the imagination make each player sound just a bit different, sometimes a lot different.

Different as they are in the music they produce, it is still no surprise that these artists have astrological connections.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~~~ Many thanks aj!

Thanks back atcha for the important points you brought up.

I'm not yet at a stage where I can immediately identify an artist by his playing style/sound, but am well-impressed by anyone who can!

Rossa said...

I'd love to have been able to play the Sax, but got stuck with the usual school standbys of piano and violin. Useless at the violin but I did manage to annoy my piano teacher by playing Fats Waller's Alligator Crawl when she had left the room!

Dad died on 13th and Alligator Crawl was played as we left the service on Monday this week. RIP to two great influences and loves in my life.

PS Dad played the double bassoon. Not an intrument you see much of these days. Don't even know if anyone became famous for playing a bassoon :-)

Twilight said...

Rossa ~~~~ Oh! My sincere heartfelt condolences on losing your Dad, Rossa. I know from personal experience exactly how you must be feeling.