14 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Saxophone Players Of All Time

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

The saxophone is one of the coolest instruments around, featured in a wide variety of musical styles, from classical to rock and roll. 

Today, you’ll see many saxophonists that tour concert halls and dive bars around the world. However, not many people think about female saxophone players. 

We’re here to change that. In this article, we’ll go through the most famous female saxophone players, including a short bio and what type of music they play. Keep reading to learn more about fantastic female musicians pushing the boundaries of what the saxophone can do.

1. Candy Dulfer

Female saxophonist Candy Dulfer is an accomplished jazz and pop saxophone player from the Netherlands.

At only 21, she was nominated for a Grammy for her album Saxuality, well-received by critics and music-lovers alike. 

Like many accomplished musicians, Candy Dulfer was born into it as her father is Hans Dulfer, a well-respected jazz musician who specialized in tenor saxophone.

As a result, the younger Dulfer started playing sax at the age of four, forming her first band Funky Stuff at 14. 

Dulfer has played with the likes of Madonna and Prince, even Pink Floyd in 1990.

Her scope of work is breathtaking, and she’s rightfully considered one of the best saxophonists alive, regardless of gender. 

2. Melissa Aldana

Melissa Aldana

Melissa Aldana, a rising star in the global saxophone community, hails from Chile and began playing saxophone at the age of six.

She was raised by professional saxophonist Marcos Aldana who tutored her throughout her early life. 

While she originally started with alto sax, she switched to tenor after listening to Sonny Rollins, a legendary jazz saxophonist from America.

She attended the prestigious Berekely College of Music in Boston in 2009.

Today, she plays with her band Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio across the globe but is based in New York City.

3. Vi Redd

Vi Redd is a legendary blues alto saxophone player best known for her works with the likes of Count Basie, Linda Hopkins, and Dizzy Gillespie.

She’s considered one of the best-traveled blues musicians ever and lauded as a pioneer for women in blues. 

Redd was born and raised in the Los Angeles jazz and blues scene and was heavily influenced by her father and his jazz club, the Clef Club.

While impressively active worldwide through the 1950s and onward, today, Redd enjoys her retirement at the age of 93. 

4. Amy Dickson

The first classical saxophonist on our list, Amy Dickson, is a highly-regarded musician from Sydney, Australia.

She’s trained around the world and entered her first professional concerto at the age of 16. 

While she did play some jazz sax in her younger days, Dickson eventually focused entirely on classical music as her career began to blossom.

Her many accolades include being named the James Fairfax Australian Young Artist of the Year and the Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the Classic Brits Awards. 

5. Jess Gillam

Jess Gillam is one of the younger musicians on our list but has already garnered praise for her uncanny ability to navigate the different genres of the saxophone.

However, at her job at BBC as a host of Radio 3’s The Classical Life, she focuses almost entirely on classical music. 

Gillam is the youngest radio presenter on BBC Radio 3 and also the first saxophonist ever signed to the record label Decca Classics. 

6. Jane Ira Bloom

Jane Ira Bloom is a truly otherworldly talent. Born in Boston in 1955, Bloom received a master’s in music from Yale and studied under woodwind legend Joseph Viola for over ten years. 

While Bloom primarily plays soprano saxophone, she first started learning the piano and drums before settling in on the sax.

As the first artist ever asked to join NASA’s Art Program, she composed three pieces that reflect the vastness of our unknown universe. 

7. Mindi Abair

Mindi Abair is an American jazz saxophonist from Florida and a trustee of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

She has several hit jazz records under her belt, including two Grammy nominations. 

While primarily considered a jazz saxophonist, Abair has played with pop icons like the Backstreet Boys and even led and composed the music Mandy Moore’s first band.

Most recently, she’s released a blues saxophone album that premiered at number three on the Billboard blues chart.

8. Tia Fuller

Tia Fuller is a highly-regarded saxophonist that tours with Beyonce’s live band wherever she goes.

She was born in 1976 to a family of jazz musicians in Aurora, Colorado, and was raised in a very musical environment throughout her entire life. 

Fuller played with bonafide legends even early on in her career, including Esperanza Spalding and even Ray Charles.

Today, she teaches at the Berkeley College of Music and was recently featured as a major character who plays the sax in Pixar’s full-length movie Soul

9. YolanDa Brown

YolanDa Brown, born Yolanda Faye Brown, is an extremely popular fusion jazz saxophonist of Jamaican heritage from England.

She plays an eclectic mash of jazz, reggae, and soul that results in a wonderfully dreamlike sound that drives home the potential of what the sax can do. 

Brown has toured the world from Australia to Martinique and is currently a brand ambassador for Yamaha since 2011.

She was also appointed to the position of Chair of Youth Music, which helps provide music education to children in challenging circumstances. 

10. Jessy J

Jessy J by Roderick Morant

Jessy J is a well-regarded saxophonist who started her music career very early as a piano player.

As she moved onto sax in early adulthood, she was recognized for her ability to play multiple genres and styles of saxophone and even dance, sing, and act in the process.

She’s toured with groups like The Temptations, Seal, and Michael Bolton, among others. 

11. Kaori Kobayashi

Kaori Kobayashi is a Japanese saxophonist with a number of records to her name.

Her playstyle draws from traditional jazz and fuses pop and blues elements to create a unique sound.

After releasing 13 solo albums, Kobayashi is considered one of the hardest-working jazz musicians today. 

12. Matana Roberts

Matana Roberts is a New York experimental sound and jazz circuit member, and her works have garnered the highest praise available.

Her Coin Coin project in 2011 was universally considered a masterpiece.

She’s recently released Chapter 4 in that series and continues collaborating with well-known artists across the musical spectrum. 

13. Camille Thurman

Camille Thurman is another incredible saxophonist with a seat in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

She started playing music at a young age, learning piano, flute, and singing before settling on the tenor saxophone at age 15, the instrument she’s best known for.

Thurman has released four albums for various record labels that have all done well on the Billboard jazz chart.

She got her first record deal when she placed as a finalist in the Sarah Vaughn International Vocal Competition in 2013. 

14. Nubya Garcia

Born in Camden Town, London, Nubya Garcia began playing saxophone at the age of ten, quickly gaining recognition and admittance to prestigious music schools throughout her early life. 

In 2017 Garcia released her debut album titled Nubya’s 5ive and has since released several albums and performed in many festivals around the UK and Europe.

In 2021, her album Source was nominated for the 2021 Hyundai Mercury Prize.

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.