Female Jazz Saxophonists

Reading Time: 11 minutesOctober 30, 2021

Female Jazz Saxophonists

The number of known top level female saxophone players is still relatively small in comparison with the sheer number of top level male saxophonists. That is both surprising and a bit sad as well because those female saxophone players that play at top level are often equally brilliant as many of their male counterparts.

I think they deserve to be put in the spotlight …

So, in this article I will share some youtube video and snippets of information and links to their websites, so you can easily explore all the lovely music they have to offer on your own. This article is thus merely a short “introduction”.

I have decided not to share my personal opinion (usually normal for a personal blog article), first of all not to “influence” you – the reader of this article – but more important because pretty much all saxophonists mentioned on this page are far better saxophonists then I ever was. I admire these ladies of Jazz, respect their work and feel it is not up to me to utter critcs.

The saxophonists in this article are not listed in any particular order, except that I started with some of the first ladies in Jazz that played the saxophone professionally, like Vi Redd, Rosa King, Ann Patterson and Mary Fettig. All others on the page are just randomly added to this article.

Elvira “Vi” Redd (born September 20, 1928) is an American jazz alto saxophone player, vocalist and educator. Redd is the daughter of New Orleans jazz drummer and Clef Club co-founder Alton Redd and Mattie Redd (née Thomas). She was born in Los Angeles. After working for the Board of Education from 1957 to 1960, Redd returned to jazz. Redd graduated from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned a teaching certificate from University of Southern California. 

She was born March 14, 1939 in Macon, Georgia, United States, a American jazz and blues saxophonist and singer. Unlike most female saxophonists who play predominantly Alto saxophone, Rosa King played the Tenor sax.
Unfortunately there isn’t much music of Rosa King on Youtube (with reasonable audio quality) to chose from where she plays the saxophone. In many tracks she sang, she did play a solo on saxophone as well though, in the example on the left you can hear her play from 10:52 (I will start the video there).

Ann Estelle Patterson (born July 30, 1946) is an American jazz saxophonist and bandleader. She has worked extensively as a big band player and formed her own all-female big band, Maiden Voyage, in 1981, which was active into the 2000s.

Mary Fettig was born (1st of Juni 1953) in San Francisco, and raised in the suburb of Concord. Her earliest musical training was on marimba, and she moved on to clarinet, sax and flute in her school bands. After 2 years at UCLA, Mary joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra as the first woman to play in the band. From there, she has made her way in the music business as a performer, teacher, and clinician.

Sue Terry (born 1959) is a jazz saxophonist and composer.While a student at the Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut, Terry was a protégé of saxophonist Jackie McLean. McLean encouraged her to move to New York City, where she was later mentored by Clifford Jordan, Junior Cook and Barry Harris. They gave her the nickname “Sweet Sue”. She now uses the spelling “Su Terry”.

Born on 19 September 1969 in The Netherlands. She began playing at age six. In 1982, when she was twelve years old, she played as a member of Rosa King’s Ladies Horn section at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Her debut album Saxuality (1990) received a Grammy nomination. She has performed with many famous artists, like Prince and Maceo Parker.

Valerie Gillespie is an adjunct faculty member at The University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida Southern College in Lakeland, and Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, FL.  She earned her BFA from Carnegie Mellon with a major in Classical Saxophone and her MM in Jazz Saxophone from the University of South Florida. 

She was born in Würzburg, Germany in 1978. After classical saxophone studies at Meistersinger-Konservatorium Nuremberg (1993-1996) she left Germany to study jazz saxophone in the Netherlands at Hilversums Conservatorium / Conservatorium van Amsterdam (1996-2000) and continued her studies at Universität der Künste Berlin (2000-2003) where she graduates cum laude.

Born in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, in 1994 this talented saxophonist studied Jazz at the Conservatory in Utrecht where she graduated in 2016. Recently she has become interested in exploring Classical music as well and enjoys combining both music genres in her music.

Italian native Ada Rovatti started playing saxophone in high school after years of classical piano training. After winning a scholarship from Berklee College of Music in Italy she divided herself between Boston where she studied with Joe Viola, George Garzone and Italy.

Tineke graduated with honors at the Conservatory of Amsterdam and Manhatten School of Music (2002). Rising Star for soprano saxophone in the American Downbeat Polls 2019, tours internationally as a leader and featured guest. She released seven albums as a leader, which have been received with great critical international acclaim. 

Garcia was born in 1991 in Camden Town, London. Garcia began learning the saxophone at the age of 10.In 2016 she graduated with honours from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, in Jazz Performance.

Born and raised in Ottawa, JUNO nominated saxophonist and composer Alison Young discovered jazz at an early age, gravitating towards the exuberance of Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderley, who continue to influence her to this day. Since moving to Toronto in the early 2000s to study music at the University of Toronto, Alison has been an active presence on the Toronto jazz scene. 

Allison Au is a Canadian Juno-award winning Jazz Saxophonist, Composer and Arranger. Born to a Chinese father and Jewish mother, and raised in the multicultural metropolis of Toronto. Exposed to a wide array of musical styles, she was captivated by the unhinged freedom of Jazz. Her work weaves a mosaic of influences into a seamless and soulful sound, a concoction steeped in the tradition of Jazz but skillfully laced with elements of Classical, Pop, R&B/hip hop, Latin, and world music.

Chelsea Carmichael is a Saxophonist, Arranger and Composer based in South East London. She is part of the Mercury Prize nominated SEED Ensemble. Born in Manchester UK, Chelsea moved to London to study at Trinity Conservatoire, where she was welcomed into the thriving London Jazz scene. Since finishing her studies in 2016, she has been making a name for herself performing, collaborating on projects, and educating.

Tia Fuller was born (March 27, 1976) in Aurora, Colorado to jazz musicians Fred and Elthopia Fuller. Fuller is a saxophonist, composer, and a faculty member in the ensembles department at Berklee College of Music. In 1998, she graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music, and later went on to complete her master’s degree in jazz pedagogy and performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Scheila Gonzalez (born August 5, 1971 in Los Angeles, California) is an American, Grammy winning multi-instrumentalist and music educator. After graduating from Anaheim High School in 1989, she attended Fullerton College in the early 1990s and later transferred to California State University, Northridge to complete her undergraduate degree in music.

Melissa Aldana (born 3 December 1988) is a Chilean tenor saxophone player, who performs both as a soloist and with her band Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio. Aldana began with alto, influenced by artists such as Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley. However, upon first hearing the music of Sonny Rollins, she switched to tenor. She graduated from Berklee in 2009.

Roxy Coss is a saxophonist and composer who is based in New York but originally from Seattle. Roxy first started playing piano at the age of five and picked up the saxophone at age nine. Roxy graduated in 2004 from Garfield High School and went on to attend William Paterson University, where she graduated on a full scholarship Magna Cum Laude in 2008, with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies/Performance.

Nicole Glover is a saxophonist, bandleader, composer, and educator currently based in New York City, but grew up in Oregon. She moved to the East Coast to attend William Paterson University and assumed permanent residence in NYC in 2015.

Niswanger, who was born in 1990 in Houston, Texas, and grew up in Portland, Oregon, began her studies in woodwinds before the age of 10. She graduated in 2011 after studying jazz performance on a full scholarship.

Note: I selected this track where she plays the EWI because she is one of very few female saxophonists that play the EWI besides saxophone.

Camille Thurman (born December 22, 1986) is an American jazz musician, composer. Thurman took up music at a young age, as she grew up in the St. Albans section of Queens, New York, practicing vocals, piano, and flute before attending Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts. She first picked up the tenor saxophone, the instrument she is best known for playing, at the age of 15.

Born March 24, 1986 in Pittsburgh. After graduating from high school, she studied for two years at the local Slippery Rock University and took part in their summer jazz courses with Branford Marsalis. At the age of 19 she moved to New York to attend the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music on a scholarship.

Grammy award winning saxophonist Lauren Sevian (Born: July 14, 1979) has been performing professionally since the age of 12, first on the piano, then on the saxophone. In the fall of 1997, Lauren came to NYC to attend the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. Lauren graduated in the spring of 2001 with a bachelor of music degree.

Grace Kelly (born Grace Chung in Wellesley, Massachusetts on May 15, 1992) is an American musician, songwriter, and arranger. Kelly left Brookline High School at age 16 and earned her GED. After studying in the Jazz Department of New England Conservatory of Music’s School of Preparatory Education, she enrolled at Berklee College of Music, where she graduated in December 2011 with a bachelor of arts in professional music at age 19.


Alexa Tarantino (born May 30, 1992, in West Hartford, Connecticut) is an American jazz saxophonist, woodwind doubler, composer and educator. Tarantino obtained a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Saxophone Performance and Music Education along with a Certificate in Arts Leadership from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. She received her master’s degree in Jazz Studies from The Juilliard School.

Multi award winning musician, arranger and composer Tini was inspired to start playing saxophone after falling in love with Tony Curtis in ‘Some Like It Hot’’ when she was just 13. Initially interested in tenor sax, she switched to baritone at the age of 15. Three years later after discovering that for her,  ‘low’ wasn’t ‘low’ enough, she added bass clarinet to her studies.

As a young alto player, Kirsten was inspired by Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, and Kenny Garrett. Later on inspired by tenor greats like John Coltrane, Rich Perry, Joe Henderson, and Eddie Harris, Edkins developed her voice on tenor as well. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music. Saxophonist and Composer Kirsten Edkins resides in Los Angeles.

Claire Daly is a baritone saxophonist and composer. Daly was born in Bronxville, New York, around 1958. She began to play saxophone around the age of 12. She was influenced by attending jazz workshop sessions led by Rahsaan Roland Kirk when she was 18. She attended Berklee College of Music, mainly playing alto and tenor saxophones, and graduated in 1980.

The New York City native born and raised in Washington Heights, Lakecia Benjamin began playing the saxophone in elementary school. Later while attending Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts she became interested in jazz. After high school she attended The New School in New York City.

Emma Rawicz is a saxophonist, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and composer already making her mark on the UK jazz scene. Emma studied both at the Junior Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Chetham’s School of music and now conducts her career alongside her studies in jazz saxophone at the Royal Academy of Music.

Born and raised in Lima, Perú, Lucia has been influenced by classic jazz players like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, as well as the modern Chris Potter and Michael Brecker. After graduating high school, Lucia moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina to study at the Conservatorio Manuel de Falla, where she studied jazz performance.

Karolina Strassmayer (born February 23, 1971 in Mitterndorf , Styria ) is an Austrian jazz alto and soprano saxophonist  and flutist. At the age of 17 she discovered on the improvisations of Cannonball Adderley on Kind of Blue jazz. She studied at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz. After graduating, she won a scholarship to the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Erena Terakubo was born in Sapporo, Japan in 1992. She began playing the alto saxophone at the age of nine. Erena later attended the Berklee 5-week summer program where she was rewarded a full tuition scholarship, and was selected for the Berklee Summer Jazz Workshop, studying with Terri Lyne Carrington.

Saori Yano (born in 1986, from Tokyo, Japan) is an alto saxophone player. She has played alto saxophone since she was 9 years old. Charlie Parker inspired her to play jazz.

Born in 2002 in Bielsko?, Poland. She started playing the piano at the age of six. Three years later she became fascinated with jazz. Her idol from the beginning was the saxophonist Branford Marsalis. She was also inspired by the play by Kenny Garrett, Roy Hargrove, Cannonball Adderley and Pat Metheny, among others. She studied at the Secondary Music School in Bielsko.

Davis was born in Singapore, Singapore. When she was 6 years old, her family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and she began playing saxophone at Sequoyah Middle School. she moved with her mother to Carrollton, Texas, where she attended Blalack Middle School and Newman Smith High School. After high school, she went to The University of Texas at Arlington, where she majored in Cognitive Psychology and Music (2004). She continued her academic path at Northwestern University and received a PhD in Music Cognition in 2010.

Naomi Adriaansz was born in Breda, The Netherlands on December 18th, 1980. She started at the age of 7 playing the recorder, soon followed by EWI. In that period she also learned to play drums, French horn, and flute. When she was 12 she switched to saxophone.

Kasey Knudsen is a San Francisco based saxophonist, composer & educator. She earned her Bachelor of Arts  in Jazz Composition from Berklee College of Music in 2002, Magna Cum Laude. Currently, Knudsen is an Adjunct Professor of Jazz Studies at Sonoma State University. She has taught several classes and workshops at the California Jazz Conservatory, Berkeley High School, Piedmont High School, the Stanford Jazz Workshop, the Lafayette Jazz Workshop, the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Reno Jazz Festival and the UC Berkeley Young Musician’s Program.

Sofi was born in Sweden and started playing music seriously at the age of seventeen at the music Jazzschool in the south of Sweden with the saxophone as her main instrument. For inspiration and to develop as musician she visited Cameroon, Paris and London. Her music contains elements from jazz, African, Funk, DnB, ethnic and hip hop music.

Amanda Sedgwick (born October 7, 1970) is a Swedish jazz saxophonist, raised in Stockholm but occasionally also active in the Netherlands and the United States. After two years at folk high school in Skurup, she entered the Royal Academy of Music , where she studied harmony, orchestration and arrangement. Later she settled for two years in The Hague where she took lessons from Ben van den Dungen.

Karen Sharp (born 30 September 1971, Ipswich, Suffolk) studied classical piano and clarinet before discovering jazz and switching to the tenor (and later also baritone) sax, a choice inspired by two giants of improvisation – Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins.

Seattle born altoist Allison Neale’s beautifully crafted lines evoke the spirit of Paul Desmond and Art Pepper with whom she has a particular affinity.

She resides in London (UK) at present time.

Nicole Johänntgen (born 1981 in Fischbach, Southern Germany) is a Jazz musician (alto and soprano saxophone) and composer. Her musical career started at age six when she learned to play the piano; however, it only took a couple of years for her to discover her true passion – the saxophone. Nicole’s formal training was honed in Mannheim where she studied jazz-saxophone, composition and arrangement – with influential mentors such as Dave Liebman and Guest Lecturer Phil Woods – achieving a Master’s degree in 2006.

The Swiss saxophonist Charlotte Lang was born in Basel in 1996. In August 2021 she completed her “Master in Music Pedagogy Jazz-Saxophone” and in June 2019 her “Bachelor of Arts in Music, Jazz” with Domenic Landolf and Daniel Blanc at the Jazz Institute of the Basel School of Music. During her studies, in addition to her love for the alto saxophone, she also developed a great passion for the baritone saxophone, the flute and the bass clarinet.  

Victoria Mozalevskaya is a Russian saxophonist, born in Kazakhstan. After moving to the Altai region of Russia two years later, Victoria received piano and singing lessons at a music school for the first time. At the age of 13, lessons on the clarinet followed but she switched to the saxophone only one year later. In 2005 she started Jazz at the Music College in Novosibirsk. In autumn 2008 She studied at the Swiss Jazz School in Bern.

Anat Cohen (born 1975) is a multiple Grammy-nominated New York City-based Jazz clarinetist, saxophonist, and bandleader from Tel Aviv, Israel. Cohen began playing clarinet and saxophone. In 1996, she studied at the Berklee College of Music.

Saxophonist, composer, arranger, programmer, band leader and teacher, born in The Netherlands. Studied at the Conservatory of Amsterdam.

Sandy Evans is an Australian jazz composer, saxophonist, and teacher. Recognition of her work has included receiving an Order of Australia Medal in 2010 for services to music. In 2014 she was awarded a PhD from Macquarie University, Australia, for practice-based research in Carnatic Jazz Intercultural music. She also received a Churchill Fellowship to visit India in 2014 and began to collaborate with Aneesh Pradhan and Shubha Mudgal. She is currently a lecturer in Jazz at the University of New South Wales.

This saxophone quartet is an internationally renowned all-female saxophone quartet with drums, celebrating over 30 years as a band. Amy Denio Alto Saxophone, Clarinet • Jessica Lurie Soprano, Alto & Tenor Saxophone • Sue Orfield Tenor Saxophone • Tina Richerson Baritone Saxophone  • Robert Kainar Drums, Bells, Whistles.

I am sure some great female saxophonists might be missing in this article. In some cases this was because it was sometimes hard to find a good youtube (with proper sound quality). If you really think I should add someone else to this article, then feel free to contact me. But remember … no “Candy Dulfer clones” (the one and only is enough for this article) and none of those many “Smooth Jazz Sax Chicks” (not a fan of Smooth Jazz, sorry!).