1 Sonny Rollins
Simply the most admired, respected, and influential saxophonist on the planet drawing on Broadway, bebop and sounds of the Caribbean in one huge life-affirming sweep.

2 Wayne Shorter
As a composer and saxophonist Shorter has few equals. Hear him on his most recent album Without a Net or delve back to the halcyon original Blue Note days or his tenure with Miles in the Second Great Quintet.

3 Jan Garbarek
The foremost European jazz saxophonist in the history of the music go straight to Afric Pepperbird and hear the Norwegian too within Keith Jarrett’s Belonging Band and on the groundbreaking Officium.

4 Charles Lloyd
The progenitor of hippie jazz newly signed to Blue Note Forest Flower is the ultimate statement yet Lloyd’s much later ECM period illuminates hitherto unheard aspects of the Memphis great’s artistry. Go for Mirror first for a recent milestone recording.

5 Steve Coleman
The MBASE innovator and genius whose influence on today’s scene is vast. Make Tao of Mad Phat your first port of call.

6 Chris Potter
The natural successor to Michael Brecker, 2013 career peak The Sirens is the place to begin.

7 David Murray
Big sound, huge presence, Flowers for Albert way back near the beginning of the Californian’s solo career is a must.

8 Ken Vandermark
Avant adventure, intellectual ease, huge technique, it’s all there within reedist Vandermark’s remarkable artistic profile.

9 John Zorn
Still shaking things up all these years on, relive the 90s Naked City magic as an introduction. 

10 Joshua Redman
Tender and poised, tonally pristine Redman is a natural born communicator on the tenor saxophone. Records to buy to listen to Redman at his best include Wish and Moodswing. Latest departure is his marvellous turn with The Bad Plus.

11 Peter Brötzmann
Much admired and influential avant garde monster. Go straight to the revolutionary Machine Gun.

12 JD Allen
Poised, contemplative, the big sound of JD Allen is winning admirers all the time. Start with I Am I Am

13 John Surman
Avant, English, and jazz traditions plugged in to the heart of the American post bop sound are all putty in the hands of the West Country reedist-composer. Head straight for Brewster’s Rooster for the best example of Surman’s most recent saxophonic oration.

14 Branford Marsalis
Witty, imaginative, with a huge technique and sound, Marsalis’ discography is understandably daunting. Start with Braggtown and work your way back to the moving Requiem and beyond.

15 Ingrid Laubrock
The German avant saxophonist now living in the US is one of the most exciting younger names to look out for. Her new Anti House album Roulette of the Cradle is as good a place to start as any as Laubrock hits her prime.

16 Ernie Watts
Once the heart and soul of Quartet West, dig out your old Marvin Gaye records too as Watts is on a few including Let’s Get It On.

17 Miguel Zenón
Rocket science skill and taste Zenón shapes the folkloric sound of the Puerto Rican musical traditions to intense effect within the structure of his own compositions cutting it live over a decade with a stellar quartet.

18 Colin Stetson
Deep rumblings are the trademark of this remarkable saxophonist who while not touring with Arcade Fire and other rock bands has almost singlehandedly reminded us of the power of the bass saxophone among the sheer firepower at his disposal.

19 Matana Roberts
The future is in good hands! Check out the inventive underground on The Chicago Project and further Coin Coin explorations for part of the story so far.

20 Jerry Bergonzi
Possessor of an incredible technique and natural flair. Influential on mainstream jazz stylists.

• more in the series... 20 jazz bass greats 

updated 20.08.19