Best Sax Breaks ©2002JCMarion


One of the hallmarks of R & B vocal group recordings on jump tunes from the fifties was the sax break in the middle of the song usually leading into the second bridge. It is one of the signature sounds of American pop music of the era. Coming out of the post war forties and its jazz scene (see the article on "supersonic" featured in issue #1) the tenor sax was the musical instrument of choice because of its approximation to the human voice, and the raucous sound it emitted at the hands of its finest practitioners which added to the feel of the times. This sound is now gone replaced by electronic noise of guitars and synthesizers that have developed little in technique in the last 30 years (since Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk / Tangerine Dream, have we really pushed the envelope ? ). But, back in the day - the blasting sound of the tenor saxes had its finger definitely on the pulse of young America of the day. Here then are my choices for the best and most memorable sax breaks from the vocal group jump tunes of the fifties, a selection of musical moments that celebrate the glory of the times.
Come Go With Me - The DelVikings (FeeBee / Mercury) - Often called the "perfect" up tempo group recording because of its quality hook laden tune, great balance in the recording, timeless sing-a-long melody, and yes, the complimentary sax break. It is hard to argue with any of those judgments on this record. The sax break is straight forward with the group providing hand claps and shouted encouragement to the tenor sax player. It provides a perfect (there's that word again) addition to this winner.


You're So Fine - The Falcons (Unart) - Very much alike to the DelVikings sound, this record from the latter part of the decade is also memorable. The guitar chords lead into the sax break played over rolling piano for a quick single chorus and into the vocal wind up. The break is short but sweet and although no new musical ground is broken on this simple verse, it so fits in with the rest of the recording that it is a perfect fit.


The Woo Woo Train - The Valentines (Rama) - Taken at a frantic tempo, this railroad themed rocker benefits from an extended sax break played by Jimmy Wright (who did most of the breaks for George Goldner's Rama / Gee sides). From the "move on down the line" lyric, Wright enters with a snarling, squealing blast that leads into a more blasting chorus that owes (as do most R & B sax solos) to Illinois Jacquet's stylings. A stop-cadence series of blasts signal the vocal group's re-entry for the last chorus and fadeout. For an interesting comparison, there exists a live version of the song by The Valentines with Alan Freed, and the sax solo is taken by Sam ("The Man") Taylor who is just as frantic and on top of the beat, but with a different style and sound.


Crazy Love - The Royaltones (Old Town) - After the "no no no no" chorus the sax break hits with the "Reveille" theme, and the second chorus is the repetitious and rhythmic honking (a la Jacquet) that rides into the second bridge. The sax intro and especially the mid-record break are a great part of the appeal of this rocker.
When You Dance / Sister Sooky - The Turbans (Herald) - Both tunes are so similar in approach that they are listed as one entry. Each carries the vocal in a "rhumbalero" rhythm and segues into a straight 4/4 medium tempo for the sax break. This fact enhances the sax solo because it becomes a stretch of music that provides a transition in tempo that gives each song a personality.


Two Hearts - Otis Williams & The Charms (De Luxe) - The tenor sax on this recording also provides the intro on this medium tempo rock tune. The swinging vocal leads into the break and the blasting solo moves the recording and sets the tone for the second bridge and the final vocal chorus.
Let The Boogie Woogie Roll - Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters (Atlantic) - This epic 1953 period piece is a definitive representative of the sound of the times. This jump tune develops into an R & B classic and the sax break becomes part of the sound of the intensity provided by the voices fronted by the high wailing tenor of McPhatter. Many fans of the music missed this one because it was not released widely at the time of its recording, but it remains one of the best by this landmark vocal group.


Jimmy Wright on Gee Records - Most of the up tempo Gee label records by The Teenagers and The Cleftones are complete with a Wright sax break. Some are good, some were an example of excess (such as The Cleftones "Neki Hokey") and there was one memorable gem on The Teenagers "Love Is A Clown". Wright sounds as if he realizes at the last moment that he is on, and rushes to the mike. The solo itself is uncharacteristically thoughtful and inventive, rather than the blasting and honking usually associated with Jimmy, and goes to prove that given the proper setting he could be something more than "Jimmy One Note".

One last thing . . . . how about a one note solo on tenor sax (and the very last note of the song to boot ?). Give a close listen to The Magnificents "Up On The Mountain" (Vee-Jay). There is no apparent evidence of a sax anywhere during the song, but - listen to the last note of the song and there it is - one long blast of the tenor. (Wonder if he got union scale for the session ?)

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