One of the first alto players I listened to was Paul Desmond, who played with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. I liked the surface smoothness, and the lyrical phrasing he employed.
Then I came across Joe Harriott, playing at an Edinburgh club I used to jam in. He was a powerful player, with a formidable technique. One odd thing was, he’d sometimes blow so hard his neck would swell up.
Then I heard Cannonball Adderley. He had the best technique of any altoist, an amazingly inventive melodic line, and played some startling intervals – not what you were expecting. Ken Clarke did a programme about him on the radio recently. I played a fair bit of his repertoire – Work Song, Dat Dere, and so on – but I could never match any of these players. I stopped playing regularly when I left the band I was in, and eventually I stopped playing altogether. I doubt if I could get a sound out of the alto now.
I haven’t mentioned Bird, but I came late to listening to him. Other good players of these times were Lee Konitz and Bud Shank, but none meant as much to me as these three above.
These days I prefer listening to the tenor sax, everyone from Coltrane to today’s fine players.