jazz greats instrument collection - digital exhibit

LESTER YOUNG (1909-1959)

This Conn tenor saxophone, as his signed certificate of authenticity notes, was the one used by the unique and seminal stylist fondly known as "Prez" during the key years when, as a star soloist in Count Basie's band, he introduced a new way of playing his chosen instrument to the world and made those immortal records with Billie Holiday. It was the great singer who dubbed him "Prez," and he returned the compliment with "Lady Day". Young donated the horn to Marshall Stearns, founder of the Institute of Jazz Studies, in 1955. (Also shown: Billie Holiday's plastic gardenia used when a fresh flower wasn't available and a gift from an anonymous friend of the singer.)
Instrument details and musician photographs »

BEN WEBSTER (1909 - 1973)

This French Selmer "Balanced Action" tenor saxophone was made in 1938, the year before its owner became the first to be featured on his instrument in the great Duke Ellington Orchestra, putting his stamp on recorded masterpieces like "Cotton Tail," which he had a hand in composing, and "All Too Soon." Dubbed "Ol' Betsy" by its owner, it did not leave his side until his death in Holland (Webster spent the final decade of his life in Europe). No tenor saxist has matched his ballad prowess or contrasting up-tempo brusqueness. The horn was a gift of the late Michiel de Reuyter.
Instrument details and musician photographs »

MILES DAVIS (1926 - 1991)

This custom-made and specially engraved Martin trumpet, a gift of Mr. Davis, is pitched in C rather than the more common B-flat, a configuration frequently encountered in classical music but rarely in jazz. Davis experimented with it after he'd begun to employ electronics. Unquestionably one of the most influential musicians in jazz, not only as a trumpeter but as a trend-setting band leader through more than four decades, he was a brilliant talent spotter, furthering the careers of, among others, John Coltrane, Gil Evans and Herbie Hancock.
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ROY ELDRIDGE (1911 - 1989)

This Getzen trumpet, a gift from Mr. Eldridge himself in 1980 that included the rhinestone-studded mouthpiece, was his backup horn in the later years of his illustrious career as one of the great trumpet stylists in the history of jazz. Leader of his own bands, big and small, featured star with Gene Krupa, Artie Shaw and Jazz at the Philharmonic, Eldridge, nicknamed "Little Jazz," was the idol and model of young Dizzy Gillespie and influenced countless others. He was also an engaging vocalist.
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DON BYAS (1912 - 1972)

This Dolnet tenor saxophone, made in France, was used by the erstwhile star of Count Basie's band (he replaced Lester Young) and New York's 52nd Street (he was in the Dizzy Gillespie group that introduced bebop to "Swing Street" in late 1943) during the quarter century he spent in Europe (like Ben Webster, he died in Amsterdam, and like Webster, he was a master balladeer). Noted for the beauty of his tone, Byas went to Europe in 1946 with Don Redman's band, and only returned to the United States for a few months in 1970 - 71. The horn, purchased from Byas's widow, has a unique octave key in the shape of a snake.
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