I play with a jazz band that plays Trad and Dixieland, and I play tenor sax. After searching for overviews on differences between playing style (note bending, arpeggios, note sequences) for these two instruments, I don't find anything.

I would think obviously you don't want to just play what the clarinet plays on a sax, or vice versa. Can someone give an overview of the general differences or a resource on this?

-- EDIT --

A good comment made is that sax is not a dixieland instrument, but if you go to New Orleans you will see saxes and clarinets together, playing "Dixieland" tunes. I realize there may be a more precise definition of Dixieland than I am aware of or maybe there's a slow blend over to "Trad Jazz".

So, a better way of asking the question by example:

Here is an example of a Sax player (no clarinet here), and I'm wondering how the clarinet (technically speaking) would voice this differently to take advantage of its specific timbre etc.. To me the sax is more lyrical and melody-focused:

And here is one (albeit very slow) with both instruments:

2 Answers 2


I hate to be negative, but there isn't a sax in a Dixieland band. In ensemble choruses trumpet takes the tune, clarinet arpeggios over the top, trombone fills in the middle with plenty of trademark glissandi. And if you want the Dixieland style, that's it. I've just spent some time on YouTube hoping to prove myself wrong. I couldn't find a Dixie band with a sax, other than a couple of novelty numbers.


Depends on style, particular tunes played, and the make up of the band. See recordings by Sam Morgan Band! There is some saxophone on Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens ( Jimmy Strong on "Knee Drops" for example). Recordings by Kid Thomas with Manny Paul on tenor, saxophonist Sammy Rimington, of course the great tenor man Bud Freeman playing with Eddie Condon ("Chicago" style), folks like Tom Fischer, Sarah Spencer (in England now)Brian Ogilvie and Brian Carrick are some tenor(also alto and clarinet) players in the style. Bechet of course, and Firehouse Five with George Probert on soprano sax. And then, currently leading the New Orleans "renaissance" of this music, bands like Tuba Skinny and The Shotgun Jazz Band prominently feature saxophones, playing VERY traditional New Orleans jazz. The term "dixieland" seems to have fallen out of favor, as it conjures up visions of guys in striped shirts and straw hats, and the young people in NOLA are decidely not of that "corny" ilk, yet are really playing a lot of the same repertoire faithfully, and are in fact expanding upon it creatively. See http://playing-traditional-jazz.blogspot.com for so much more on this. The gentleman above did not search youtube enough, because there are TONS of videos from New Orleans with saxophones playing trad "dixieland" music. I've played in New Orleans recently a few times, and saxophone is very welcome! tbn/clarinet/tpt is still the basic frontline, and maybe preferred with some groups,but it is very often deviated from. Frontline of tenor, cl, and trumpet is common for example, with tenor doing some of what was traditionally tbn-the music happily is much more flexible. Here's an example, "Sobbin Blues" the King Oliver tune, and it doesn't get more traditional than that:

  • thanks for sharing your expertise! This strikes me as the start of a great answer. To give a full answer, could you address the question on stylistic differences?
    – jdjazz
    Sep 1, 2017 at 22:25
  • Here's a terrific site that gives a breakdown of historically to date, the various styles : prjc.org/tjen/styleguide.htm what you need to bear in mind though, is what I said earlier, is that what's currently being played in New Orleans, NYC, and Sacramento for example are "melting pots", or melding of the styles. To me which is quite appropriate, given the origins of the music to begin with! Sep 2, 2017 at 12:10
  • thanks! One of the site's goals is for answers to not rely on external sources. Links are subject to rot, and this happens a lot. If you could summarize some of the ideas from that style guide and add it into your answer (so that the answer doesn't require navigating to an external link), that would be great!
    – jdjazz
    Sep 2, 2017 at 12:47

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