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High Five

Colin Stetson on five saxophonists

“New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light,” the new album by Montreal-based saxophonist Colin Stetson, is a hulking beast. By turns churning and ethereal, the album exhibits the power of the saxophone in new and unexpected ways.

“I’ve always been attracted to a vulnerability in the instrument,” says Stetson, who will play a sold-out show at the Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday. “So much of what it has always done in music has been the opposite of that. So the players who were able to express that strength while still having a vulnerable side, I’ve always admired that.”


That got us thinking: Who are five saxophonists who changed Stetson’s understanding of the instrument’s capabilities?

1. Ben Webster. “I immediately had an instant connection with the simplicity of his melodies, but also his sound and the depth of texture and character to the way he created his sound. He was meditative.”

2. Dewey Redman. “He was the first time that I had really heard someone using vocalizations with the instrument in a really melodic way. He was playing tenor and singing in this way that was so simple, and it was one of those eureka moments. Everything I’m doing now largely stems from those moments I heard his playing.”

3. Peter Brötzmann. “He was the first man I heard play bass saxophone, on a record called ‘Low Life’ with Bill Laswell, which is still one of my all-time favorites. The amount of air they move together is impressive.”

4. Thomas Chapin. “He was huge for me growing up and through college. He blended the New York downtown scene with a lightness in the way that he brought funk and soul and rhythm and blues into the mix but still with the seriousness of original composition.”

5. Mats Gustafsson. “As I was growing up in my teens and early 20s, I would always know about what he was doing. He was one of those guys furthering the ability and vocabulary of the instrument in the avant-garde more than everyone else.” JAMES REED