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4 Saxophones Most Used In Jazz Music (Past & Present)

If you like jazz music, you may wonder what saxophones jazz players use now and what they used in the past.

Read on to learn the details and how to choose your ideal jazz saxophone.

Here’s What Saxophones are Most Used in Jazz:

Tenor is the most common saxophone size in the jazz world. Selmer is the most popular brand, with models like the Mark VI and Mark VII being familiar choices for many players.

These Types of Saxophones Are Most Used in Jazz

The types of saxophones most used in jazz include all four of the most common.

The order in which they’re most popular differs slightly from classical music. If you want to play jazz saxophone, consider what type of sax you should focus on.

The following are great options; you don’t have to choose the most popular one:

1. Tenor

The tenor saxophone is probably the type you’ll see the most in jazz.

You’ll find two tenor sax parts in most big band music, so it’s relatively easy to join these bands.

Tenor sax players also frequently participate in smaller jazz combos with piano, bass, and drums. In either setting, you can hear a lot of tenor sax solos.

If you like to have your moment shine, the tenor sax is where it’s at.

Despite its lower register, it’s an amazing solo instrument in the jazz world.

2. Alto

While the alto saxophone is the most common in the classical world, it’s not as popular as the tenor in jazz.

Still, it’s a standard big band member, and there are two alto sax parts.

As with the tenor saxophone, you can play the alto in a jazz combo. You can play with a rhythm section or even in a small group with other horns.

The alto saxophone is an amazing solo instrument in jazz.

However, it’s also suitable for players who want to be part of an ensemble.

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3. Baritone

Another somewhat popular saxophone to play in jazz settings is the bari sax.

It’s not as common as the alto and tenor, as there’s only one baritone sax part in big band works.

However, you can also play it in a jazz combo or in any other jazz group. You can play with an alto, tenor sax player, or trumpet player.

That way, someone else can cover the high range while you focus on the bass line.

Players like Gerry Mulligan specialized on the bari sax, and they were able to have successful careers.

4. Soprano

In jazz, the soprano saxophone is the least popular of the four common types of saxophones.

For one, it’s not a standard member of a big band.

Now, you may be able to play the soprano saxophone as a doubling instrument. One of the alto sax players might need to switch to the smaller one for the occasional solo or ensemble passage.

You can start or join a jazz combo as a soprano sax player.

It’s easy enough to read a tenor sax part and just have it sound an octave higher since the soprano and tenor saxes are both in Bb.

What Saxophone Is Most Popular Among Professional Jazz Players?

Professional jazz saxophone players have played a lot of types and models of saxophone over the years.

Everyone has their preferences, but some trends have emerged in the industry.

Consider the most popular type of saxophone and the most popular model jazz players use.


As mentioned, the tenor saxophone is the most common type of saxophone among jazz players.

That’s the same for all jazz players and specifically for professionals.

You can play a lot of great jazz music on the instrument. If you want to join the ranks of the pros, you should learn the tenor sax if you haven’t already.


Many professional jazz saxophone players have a Selmer Mark VI tenor sax.

Selmer made altos, tenors, baris, and sopranos for this line from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Newer alto and tenor saxes are part of the Selmer Mark VII line. Meanwhile, new soprano and bari saxes are part of the Super Action 80 lineup.

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These Saxophone Brands Are Most Used in Jazz

Regardless of the type of saxophone, you should consider the best brands for playing jazz.

While the Mark VI is a popular choice, it’s not the only model jazz players use.

Consider the following brands when shopping for a saxophone.

It’s okay if they don’t work for you, but they’re a good place to start to help get the standard jazz sound.


As mentioned, some of the most prevalent jazz saxophone models have come from Selmer.

The Mark VI was a super in-demand model when Selmer was making it.

Before that, a lot of players used the Selmer Balanced Action saxophones. More recently, players have switched to Selmer saxophones currently in production.

The brand has made a variety of saxophones that you can use to play jazz.

Whether you want a tenor, alto, or something else, give Selmer saxophones a try.


If you don’t like the sound or response of Selmer models, Yamaha is an excellent alternative.

This brand makes saxophones for beginners, professionals, and everyone in between.

Some of the most common models include the Yamaha YAS-875EXII and the 62 series for both tenor and baritone saxes. Of course, there are many more models available.

Be sure to try as many Yamaha saxophones as possible, as long as they’re within your budget.

Then, you can select the best jazz saxophone for you.

What Makes a Saxophone Good for Jazz?

You can find dozens of saxophone models from multiple brands, more than just Selmer and Yamaha.

Not all saxophones will be an ideal fit for playing jazz music.

As you shop for a new sax, you must ensure you like how it sounds and feels. However, you should also consider a few other factors.

Then, you’ll be able to stand out in a big band and as a soloist.

Ability to Project:

A good jazz saxophone has enough power to help you project your sound across the room.

You may not get to play with a microphone, so it’s up to you and your instrument to sound loud enough for the performance space.

And if you play in a big band, you also have to be able to play over the trumpets and trombones. If you choose the wrong saxophone, you may have to overblow and wear yourself out to play.

Make sure you can play the full range of dynamics on a saxophone.

Not only should you be able to project, but you should also be able to play quietly when the music calls for that.

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Good Sound:

Of course, you also need to choose an instrument with the right tone colors for jazz.

Consider if you can get a sultry, jazz-like sound and if you have to work hard.

If so, you might want to consider a different saxophone model. Then, you can play more naturally and comfortably but still, get the sound you desire.

Before choosing a saxophone, consider if you also like to play classical music.

In that case, you’ll want a more versatile model, so you don’t have to buy and maintain two saxophones.


As you try saxophones, you may find none sound quite right or have good projection. You can (and should) test different accessories to see if something works better.

Test a few mouthpieces and reeds from various brands and strengths. You can even try different ligatures, which can slightly alter the response of the saxophone.

Keep the saxophone body the same to minimize the differences between tests.

Then, you can choose a setup that works for you and that you’ll want to play.

Final Thoughts

Selmer saxophones, including the Mark VI, are some of the most used models in jazz.

Tenor saxes are the most common type, but you can also find altos, baritones, and sopranos, so give them all a try if you want.