It's like a language. You learn the alphabet, which are the scales. You learn sentences, which are the chords. And then you talk extemporaneously with the horn. It's a wonderful thing to speak extemporaneously, which is something I've never gotten the hang of. But musically I love to talk just off the top of my head. And that's what jazz music is all about.
Switch to piano! No. Really, if you like an instrument that sings, play the saxophone. At its best it's like the human voice. Of course, it would be best if you could actually sing with your own voice. The saxophone is an imperfect instrument, especially the tenor and soprano, as far as intonation goes. Therefore, the challenge is to sing on an imperfect instrument or 'voice' that is outside of your body. I love that challenge and have for over forty-five years. As far as playing jazz, no other art form, other than conversation, can give the satisfaction of spontaneous interaction.
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I never consciously tried to conceive of what my sound should be...I never tried to imitate anybody, but when you love somebody's music, you're influenced...I really don't know how I developed my sound, but it comes from a combination of my musical conception and no doubt the basic shape of the oral cavity...
When I got this saxophone, it became a religion. There wasn't TV, there wasn't much money, and there was just a real dedication.... I never thought of it as an art. It was just work that I loved. Not just work, but work that I loved. I loved it so much, I would play it if nobody listened to it. Any jazz musician, if there's nobody around to listen, would play just for the sheer joy of improvising music.