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The Sisterhood Of Saxophone Players: Sharel Cassity, Nancy Wright and Pattie Cossentino

C. Michael Bailey By

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Once a novelty, women saxophone players have been claiming center stage in the last twenty years. Virginia Mayhew, Idit Shner, Clair Daly and Christine Jensen are among the most notable artists in this sisterhood. Add to this list three more names to consider.

Sharel Cassity

Just for You

DW Records


Sharel Cassity is a New School-Julliard trained reedist with a fluid alto tone and assertive approach that says, "Hey, look at me when I'm talkin' to you." Youthful beauty and chops to burn, Cassity possesses a creative swagger demanding attention.

Driving the plane while Cassity takes flight on Just for You is trombonist Michael Dease (Clarity (2008, Blues Back Records)), who composed three pieces and arranged all selections for this date. Dease plays a reckless and playful brand of 'bone that makes him immediately appealing. Pianist Adam Birnbaum plays much the same role with his precise soloing and spot-on accompaniment.

Two stand-out pieces are "Lover Man" and "Cherokee." The former shows Cassity playing splendidly with room for ballad growth and the latter her complete command of the upbeat burners. Dease's arrangement of "Cherokee" is crammed full of interesting and delightful filigree. Cassity's soloing proves that bop still lives in the younger set.

Nancy Wright with the Tony Monaco Trio


Chicken Coup Records


The spiritual explorations of saxophonist John Coltrane on A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965) and beyond were certainly trend setting musical landmarks—with the tendency to grow as boring as one more performance of "Stairway to Heaven" on Classic Rock Radio. It is like nouveau cuisine: fancy, progressive, impressive, but in the end less than fully sating.

What is called for is the full-throated tenor-organ trio in the tradition of bands led by Gene Ammons, Illinois Jacquet, Houston Pearson, Stanley Turrentine and Red Holloway. This is meat and potatoes music guaranteed to stick to your ribs and leave you fat and happy. Welcome Nancy Wright to this rarefied gustatory fold with Moanin'.

Supported by organist Tony Monaco and his Columbus Trio, Wright turns in a tight recital of burners, ballads and all points in between. The opening original, "Jo-Jo," is a jaunty minor blues that allows a fine feature of guitarist Robert Kraut. Think "Birk's Works" with a swagger.

The Bobby Timmons title cut is amiably done with Monaco's tasty B3 spicing up the atmosphere. "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" is given an upbeat, Dexter Gordon treatment as is Gigi Gryce's "Minority." The closing original, "Bernie's Blue," is a high strut through the alley, walking with the king.

Wright plays a broad toned tenor, somewhere between Gordon and Ben Webster. Her style and approach are not flashy; she is not trying to dethrone Coltrane. She is, however, the best blues player of the three considered here, trying to inject as much funky bop into the festivities as she can, and more than accomplishing her goal.

Pattie Cossentino


PC Jazz Records


Patti Cossentino proves to be the most fully realized of our women saxophonists, playing all of the flavors of sax plus flute. One must wonder how her clarinet playing is. She can sing too, and pretty darn well at that. Cossentino proves to have an embarrassment of riches.

Cossentino composed lyrics to Sonny Rollins' "Doxy" that are quite entertaining and in keeping with similar lyrics composed for similar tunes by King Pleasure and Jon Hendricks. Among the Tin Pan Alley standards, Rogers and Hart's "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" proves a superb vehicle for both Cossentino's voice and tenor saxophone.

Cossentino plays soprano (lead), tenor and alto on a highly orchestrated "Summertime." The soprano saxophone and that song profoundly recall Sidney Bechet, but in Cossentino's hands a very updated Sidney Bechet. The same can be said for "Blue Bossa" and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," both possessing a bright modern sheen, buffed by a very committed and talented multi-instrumentalist and singer.

Tracks and Personnel

Just for You

Tracks: Phibes Revenge; Just For You; Irazu (Wish You Were Here); Lover Man; Wow; Roditi's Dream; Cherokee.

Personnel: Sharel Cassity: alto saxophone; Michael Dease; trombone; Tom Barber: trumpet and flugelhorn; Pete Reardon-Anderson: tenor saxophone; Adam Birnbaum: piano; Paul Beaudry: bass; Vencent Ector: drums.


Tracks: Jo-Jo; rutabagas; Moanin'; Lady L; You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To; Happy Sergio; When Sunny Gets Blue; Minority: Bugalu; Bernie's Blues.

Personnel: Nancy Wright: tenor saxophone; Tony Monaco: Hammond B3 organ; Robert Kraut: guitar; Louis Tsamous: drums.


Tracks: Doug's Minor; You Let My Love Get Cold; Bewitched; Doxy; Summertime; Just Squeeze Me; Invitation; Danza por Belle; Blue Bossa; You Don't Know What Love Is; You'd Be so Nice To Come Home To.

Personnel: Pattie Cossentino: vocals, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, flute; Rick Jackson: piano; Dan Immel bass; John Ownby: bass; Dale Armstrong: drums; Joe Gross: trumpet; Rick Savage; trumpet; Billy Huber: trombone.



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