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 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
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.
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
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.
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