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Isn’t it curious how certain instruments come into favour and others become neglected? Sometimes I almost feel embarrassed that I play such an expected and normal instrument in jazz – my alto saxophone.
Others have been much bolder. Clearly every musical instrument ever invented has a role to play in jazz and many bold and innovative players have not been inhibited by whether their choice of instrument was popular or not. Remember Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax, which had almost completely disappeared before his refreshing the sound and personality of this instrument? Also Stephane Grappelli on violin? Yet even now, there are very few current top jazz players on such instruments as the (in strictly alphabetical order to avoid any criticism of bias) bagpipes, French horn, harp, oboe and tuba. The once popular and beloved banjo almost seems to have disappeared now that the oddly named ‘trad’ jazz has faded out of popularity.
In fact, Rufus Harley played bagpipes with John Coltrane. So please listen to his take on A Love Supreme if you want to be startled and delighted. However, above all you must listen to the unlikely playing of the French horn by the superb Giovanni Hoffer. Dorothy Ashby was a sublime player of the harp and recorded with many major jazz players including Benny Goodman. She was a stunning jazz harpist and composer. In her career, she extended the popularization of jazz harp past a novelty, showing how the instrument can be utilized seamlessly as much a bebop instrument as the saxophone. Her albums were of the jazz genre, but often moved into R&B, world and other music, especially on her 1970 album The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby, where she demonstrates her talents on another instrument, the Japanese koto, successfully integrating it into jazz.
Do please let me know of any other unexpected but delightful playing of unusual or neglected instruments.