The Saxophone at Juilliard

Used by permission of Saxophone Journal and David Demsey

by David Demsey


    A list of Saxophone Majors at Juilliard
Amazingly, a total of only about 60 individuals were saxophone majors at the Juilliard School.  Although the saxophone was a small but very exclusive part of that prestigious curriculum for nearly five decades, there was rarely more than a quartet or less of students studying in residence at any one time, and only one new student was accepted on average each year, accounting for the very small total number of saxophone majors.  Many of these individuals have gone on to stellar careers, including the great producer Teo Macero, the well-known jazz saxophonists Bob Berg, Steve Grossman and Pete Yellin.  (Other well-known saxophonists such as Phil Woods, Eddie Daniels and David Tofani were also Juilliard students, but were clarinet majors.)  Other Juilliard saxophone alumni have gone on to highly successful careers as New York studio/Broadway performers, orchestral players, and college/university professors, while still others have built successful livelihoods outside of music.  Much of the information in this article comes from a survey completed by former Juilliard saxophone students who provided information on their Juilliard saxophone study and anecdotes from the period.  Special thanks to those who replied.

            The Juilliard School in New York City has long been known as one of the great music conservatories in the world, training some of the our most well-known musicians, dancers and actors, including Kevin Kline, Robin Williams, and more recently violinist Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, Midori and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.  Located for many years on West 125th Street in Manhattan in the building now occupied by the Manhattan School of Music, it moved downtown to become part of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts upon the Center’s establishment in 1960.  Its woodwind faculty has contained some of America’s great orchestral musicians and concert soloists, boasting in recent years flutists Julius Baker, Jeanne Baxtresser and Carol Wincenc, clarinetists Stanley Drucker and Leon Russianoff, oboists Ronald Roseman, Robert Bloom, Harold Gomberg and others.

            The saxophone entered the Juilliard instrumental curriculum during the post-World War II GI Bill era, in 1948.  Vincent J. Abato was Juilliard’s first saxophone teacher.  Abato was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and a fixture on the New York music scene for many years, earlier gaining a reputation as a virtuoso saxophonist/clarinetist with the legendary bands of Paul Whiteman, Claude Thornhill and Glenn Miller, as well as clarinetist and saxophonist with the New York Philharmonic.  At the suggestion of flute professor Arthur Lora and the invitation of Juilliard President William Schuman, he accepted the challenge of creating the entrance requirements.  He designed a course of study while the saxophone was still in its infancy as a classical instrument in the U.S. and teaching and performance literature was scarce.  His aim was to elevate the saxophone curriculum and its repertoire to the highest levels of the other orchestral instruments.

            The former students of Abato report in their completed surveys that there was emphasis on standard technical studies, long tones and other tonal exercises, as well as helping students establish a warm-up routine.  Some of the etude books used were from Marcel Mule’s Paris Conservatory curriculum (which had only recently been developed), and from the Universal Method which, like the Mule series, contained transcriptions from studies for flute, clarinet and oboe.  Abato’s students reported that solo literature studied focused upon three contemporary works of the time which have since become staples of the saxophone literature: the 1939 Paul Creston Sonata, the Jacques Ibert Concertino da Camera composed in 1934, and the Alexander Glazounov Concerto from 1936.  All but one of Abato’s students included that they also studied clarinet while at Juilliard; some with Abato, while others studied with Arthur Christman, Augustin Duques or Daniel Bonade.

            In 1958, Abato left the faculty.  Joseph Allard (1910-91) was invited to succeed him, and he remained as Juilliard’s second and only other saxophone professor for nearly a quarter century.  Allard earned a reputation as bass clarinetist with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony, as clarinetist/saxophonist with the Bell Telephone Hour, Symphony of the Air, Red Nichols and others.  He later became known as one of the New York’s most in-demand saxophone mentors, teaching countless classical students and such well-known jazz performers as Eric Dolphy, Pepper Adams, David Liebman and Michael Brecker.  The Juilliard students of Allard (the author is proud to include himself in that group) report that the curriculum took a different and expanded direction from the fifties onward.  Lessons could be in his office space at Juilliard, at his Carnegie Hall studio or at his home in Tenafly, New Jersey (the house on Downey Drive was recently torn down to build a larger home).  Along with traditional work on articulation and technique, all of Allard’s students clearly recall their work with him on body and embouchure relaxation, tongue/throat positioning, breathing, and overtone exercises.  Many report that this work has created a model for their playing and was a “life-changing event.” Allard believed that the student should be the teacher, allowing the repertoire to expand to include their individual directions and sounds.  In fact, several students point out that the greatest quality of Allard’s teaching philosophy may be that none of his students sound exactly alike.  His overtone exercises and his perspective on learning music taught students to make a crucial connection between the mind’s ear, the throat and tongue, and the instrument.  He taught that the mind must hear any pitch, and that the throat and tongue must be positioned as though that pitch was being sung before the pitch sounded on the saxophone.  Many students’ surveys relate Allard’s numerous and memorable demonstrations of this system in action, where he played scale patterns with a range of more than an octave using only the mouthpiece, or where he played an altissimo A on saxophone, then fingered a chromatic scale while holding the same unwavering A.  Allard had very deep knowledge of solfege, which he would use to demonstrate these principles and phrasing concepts.

            A number of students also recalled Allard’s uncanny ability to work on reeds, teaching students the techniques and spinning stories while he worked.  He often challenged students to bring their worst, most unplayable reed “lumber” to him, and his reed knife never failed to transform them.

            Some of the later Allard students remember his unflagging energy even in his later years.  One of the last Juilliard saxophone majors, John Cipolla, recalled walking to an elevator with the 70-plus Allard, who proceeded to leap up in the air and push the button with his foot! 

            Although Abato briefly returned to teach saxophone students when Allard retired from the faculty in 1982, the study of saxophone as a major instrument area was discontinued in 1987.

            The primary overall instrumental focus at Juilliard has always been orchestral training.  Since the saxophone has a small but important part in a number of major orchestral works, this repertoire was a part of the focus of Abato and Allard.  A number of saxophone students recall their appearances with various Juilliard student orchestras under a variety of legendary guest conductors, and Carnegie Hall appearances with the National Orchestral Association.   Along with the studying of actual saxophone orchestral parts, there was also emphasis on the particular mental approach involved for the orchestral saxophonist who often must sit tacet for 20 minutes before confidently entering on an exposed solo passage.

            Other ensemble work usually involved the saxophone quartet literature, with generations of the Juilliard Saxophone Quartet appearing on student concerts at Alice Tully Hall in later years.  Quartet literature was often a bit more broad-based than the solo literature.  Rehearsals were likely to include the then newly written and unpublished manuscripts of the jazz-oriented quartets by Phil Woods or John Carisi, as well as “classical” literature by Gabriel Pierné, Guy Lacour, Milan Kaderavek or Pierre-Max Dubois.

            Does the saxophone have a future as part of the Juilliard curriculum?  Although it does not at the present time, the possibility exists.  A recent New York Times interview with Juilliard President Joseph Polisi made mention of discussions with Juilliard alumnus and Jazz at Lincoln Center Musical Director Wynton Marsalis regarding future jazz offerings at Juilliard, signaling a potential return to an area of study that has not formally existed at the school since arranger and Juilliard alumnus Hall Overton’s death in 1972.  Undoubtedly, the saxophone would be a part of that development.  For saxophonists, the bigger question of whether the solo, orchestral and chamber literature for the saxophone would ever again be reinstated seems to be a separate issue.  The 60 saxophonists who were Juilliard saxophone majors, however, can claim their own place in the history of that institution, and can reflect upon a truly rare chapter in their musical background.


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Paul Pearsall, “Joe Allard,” Saxophone Journal 13, No. 1 (Spring 1988): 12-22.


James E. Dawson, “In Memoriam – Joseph Allard, 1910-91,” Saxophone Symposium 16, No. 4 (Fall 1991): 14-19