All photos by Allison Che
Hey everyone, today I’m going to talk about my favorite instruments used in jazz and some of my favorite musicians who played them.
It’s hard to rank favorites, since all these instruments come together to compliment one another and are each so different. Jazz is a unique genre of music. After emerging in Black communities in the early 1900s, the genre has evolved and diversified, but has retained an emphasis on improvisation.
Jazz relies heavily on improvisation, so whenever various artists interpret songs, the individuality of solos on top of the chord changes shine through.
Every musician has their own flair, and I love hearing different versions of the same song played by other artists. So, in no particular order, here is the list of my favorites:
The trumpet has a special place in my heart because it is loud, versatile, and relatively easy to assemble and maintain. Chet Baker was the first trumpet player I resonated with because of his airy sound and melodic playing. Give “Tenderly” and “Almost Blue” a listen if you’re interested in some chill trumpet.
Some of my other favorite trumpet players are Miles Davis, Art Farmer, and Louis Armstrong. Listening to these artists inspired me to find a used trumpet and branch off from strings to brass.
2. Double Bass
The sound of a double bass brings a particular thump and thunk on a track, courtesy of its large size and thick strings. I envy anyone that can play a fretless instrument because I definitely need frets on my electric bass to play the right notes.
A good bassline elevates a song to a whole new level. The bass on “Please Send Me Someone To Love” by Red Garland, Art Taylor, and bassist Paul Chambers is so lovely. The one time I’ve been able to play the double bass was a magical experience —standing beside a behemoth of an instrument and being able to feel the bass rumble through your body.
The saxophone might be the instrument people first picture when they think of jazz, particularly the tenor sax. Each artist has their own style, so there is a broad range of saxophone sounds, especially when accounting for the different saxophone sizes.
The most common sizes, from largest to smallest, are baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano. João Gilberto and Stan Getz’s bossa nova jazz album “Getz/Gilberto” is one of my go-to records, and I aspire to have a tenor sax tone similar to Stan Getz one day. It’s very easy to make a saxophone sound like an angry goose honking, and very difficult to make it sound like anything else, but maybe I just need to practice more. Paul Desmond and John Coltrane are two famous jazz saxophonists I enjoy as well.
When I was in middle school, I played in the jazz band as a rhythm guitarist for a semester. That was my first exposure to jazz chords on guitar, and now I can’t get enough of it. One of the first jazz guitarists I became interested in was Wes Montgomery. His songs “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and “Days of Wine and Roses” are some of my favorites.
The guitar is my main instrument, so it was the first instrument I started playing jazz on. Whenever I hear a really pleasing jazz guitar part, I’ll try to listen to the notes and see if I can play it. I usually can’t, but I practice until I can get close.
To me, the trombone is magic.
As a trumpet player, I understand that the air speed in combination with the fingerings changes the notes, but on the trombone there are no valves. You just have to slide it into the right place. It’s the brass version of a fretless stringed instrument. Hearing a trombone slide is so pleasing to me, but maybe that’s because I can’t make that sort of sound on the trumpet or saxophone.
An album that prominently features a trombone is “Cat” by Hiroshi Suzuki. There are only five songs on the record, and they’re all gorgeous. I joke that I’ll start learning the trombone in a decade because I have to finish learning how to play the trumpet and saxophone first.
Ever since I started listening to jazz, these instruments and artists have captured my attention. I’ve been lucky enough to purchase used instruments for really low prices, or else I wouldn’t have been learning the trumpet or saxophone recently. I attribute my newfound passion for brass and woodwinds to jazz, and it’s been a joy to transcribe music from my favorite artists on the original instrument.
If you would like to listen to some more songs I like, check out this Spotify playlist I made.