The Ultimate Alto Sax Sound-Jesse Davis

I love Jesse Davis! I listen to tenor saxophone players about 80% of the time but when I want to listen to an alto saxophone player Jesse Davis is usually my first choice.  If you don’t know him check out this video of “The Very Thought of You”…….He has an amazing sound that is huge,fat and soulful.  I love how melodic his improvising is. If you don’t know the jazz language you would do well to transcribe him.  He has the perfect blend of blues with bebop. Feeling with technique.  Enjoy!

Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site


  1. Until I read your blog article today,I had not heard of Jesse Davis. I love his playing and am going to buy some of his music after I finish my blog comment!

  2. Thanks for this, Steve. I hadn’t ever heard of Jesse Davis either.

  3. Great post…I studied with Jesse when he still lived in NY and he is my favorite alto player around. Though I play tenor, I always seem to go back to his sound and phrasing as inspiration….the best.

  4. Have to agree 100% Jesse b the man today on alto. Check out this solo. The lick he plays starting at 3:19 makes the bass player smile — and me too. His cd recording of The Very Thought of You is PERFECT!

  5. Also note –as with many sax players from New Orleans, Jesse plays with a double lip embouchure

    Watch here

  6. Avatar frank battaglia says

    BTW– one of the my favorite recordings of “The Very Thought of You” is pianist Kenny Baron’s version on the CD Table for Two– just great combo of beauty and swing. AND the cd has the GREAT Bob Sheppard playing like Trane on “Say It Over and Over Again” (Ballads CD) and also tracks on soprano ( the best today)and great flute (first heard it I thought it was Hubert Laws– big fat low register
    Great musicians make great music!
    Highly reco this cd but it is sometimes hard to find because limited pressing as Breast Cancer Society charity

  7. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Hi Steve,
    Is there any particular path of learning regarding embouchure or setup to be able to create this delicate yet warm tone? Is it tighter rounder embouchure, squeezing a bit more toward the back of the mouthpiece, fatter lower lip contact, etc. etc. What can be said? I’m trying to get this classic kind of alto tone, and I don’t know if it is the setup or embouchure or both. Mouthpiece, reed, sax body can be replaced but without proper and specific embouchure training (and what happened in the mouth, throat, etc.) this could be an unending search. I appreciate your comment.

    • Arya, When I hear the words “tighter” and “squeezing” it makes me think of squashing the sound and restricting it. I just had a Skype lesson with a student and the whole hour we were talking about shaping the sound. The embouchure has to just be tight enough to keep air from leaking. There is really no need for more tightness and in fact that can hamper the reed from working efficiently. I’m a big fan of the fat bottom lip rolled out a little bit. I talk about that and demonstrate in my “a Mature Embouchure” lesson. I am also big into subtone and do it all the time when I am playing. I also have a lesson on that called “The art of Subtone”. The combination of those two things makes the bottom of the embouchure like a pillow on the reed and makes the sound fatter and warmer. Before you look for different equipment I would see how working with your embouchure and subtone can afffect the tone. Steve

  8. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Thanks Steve. For sure. I’ll look into that further. I know embouchure is the main variable in this path of shaping the tone. I just like to find that kind of delicate and warm tone at the same time. When I use my subtone kind embouchure, it definitely becomes warmer but I loose some the focus of the tone that is a contributor of that cute and delicate character. I’m trying to find some particular embouchure techniques to have that combination of subtone (warmth) but with enough core and focus. The other issue is that my refaced Meyer spills out quite an edge when pushed (more like Sanborn kind of tone). What I hear from Jesse Davis, the tone stays with that classic jazz warmth even it it is pushed. Is that also embouchure or to some extend the mouthpiece? I’m interested in your lessons. I’ll check them out. Thanks again.

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