The Soprano Saxophone: A Personal Journey with the Straight Horn

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Soprano saxophonist and new music practitioner, Bruce Ackley, will present a brief and informal survey of the history of the barely tamable, and little celebrated, soprano saxophone. Through conversation and live music examples, he will explore the use of the straight horn in traditional and contemporary jazz, and the alternate universe of improvised music. Ackley has dedicated nearly 50 years to study of woodwinds and improvisation, concentrating almost exclusively on the soprano sax, and will present original works, improvisations, and pieces by soprano masters John Coltrane, Steve Lacy, Sidney Bechet and Johnny Hodges. Preceding the live performance, Ackley will present a short slideshow introduction to the soprano sax, and discuss the players who have demonstrated the power and depth of the straight horn through their work.

Bruce Ackley began studying saxophone in Detroit in 1970. Having emerged from a visual arts background, he worked with fellow artists-musicians to create freely improvised music before relocating to San Francisco in 1971. On the west coast Ackley began the study of jazz and contemporary musics. He soon became an active participant in San Francisco’s exploratory music scene, a vibrant community that combines composition, strategy and improvisation in new ways to create exciting musical forms. In the late 1970s he formed Rova Saxophone Quartet with like-minded players—musicians who embrace structural innovation, improvisation and community as guiding principles in music making. Now in its 5th decade of presenting adventurous music for sax quartet and expanded ensembles, Rova continues to serve as an ideal vehicle for Ackley’s development as a composer, improviser, and soprano saxophonist. Ackley has worked intermittently as a solo performer, and also leads other music ensembles.


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