Lenny Pickett, whose name is synonymous with soaring altissimo registers and innovative saxophone techniques, is a true maverick in the world of saxophone music. Born on April 10, 1954, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Pickett has cultivated an illustrious career, enchanting audiences with his electrifying tenor saxophone prowess, and earning acclaim as one of the most inventive saxophonists of his generation.
Pickett’s formative years were largely self-guided. As a teenager in Berkeley, California, he honed his skills without formal training, finding inspiration in R&B and soul music. His immersion in the San Francisco Bay Area’s vibrant music scene eventually led him to join the iconic funk band Tower of Power in 1972. With Tower of Power, Pickett’s flair for high-note saxophone playing became his signature. His seemingly limitless range and soulful grooves on tracks like “What is Hip?” set a new benchmark for saxophonists.
After leaving Tower of Power in 1981, Pickett’s career took a multifaceted turn. His virtuosity led him to explore a wide range of musical styles, from rock and pop to jazz and classical. He worked with artists such as David Bowie, Talking Heads, and Katy Perry, among others, showcasing his ability to adapt his saxophone prowess to various genres.
One of Pickett’s most recognizable roles has been as the tenor saxophonist and musical director for Saturday Night Live’s house band, a position he has held since the 1980s. His blistering solos and high-energy performances have become a staple of the show, cementing his status as a saxophone icon.
In addition to his performance career, Lenny Pickett is a revered educator and composer. His pedagogical works, particularly concerning altissimo techniques, are considered essential reading for aspiring saxophonists. His compositions, often featuring unconventional scales and microtones, reflect his ceaseless experimentation with the saxophone’s sonic palette.
Pickett’s album “The Prescription”, recorded with the Finnish UMO Jazz Orchestra, offers a glimpse into his creative prowess as a solo artist. Blending funk, jazz, and avant-garde elements, the album is a testament to his boundless musical vision.
In essence, Lenny Pickett’s innovative techniques, staggering altissimo register, and versatile career have made him an inspiration for saxophone players seeking to push the boundaries of the instrument. His contributions to Tower of Power, Saturday Night Live, and the broader music landscape will continue to resonate for generations to come.
Page last updated 6/17/2023.