Saxophone in Christian Music?

Is there a place in modern Praise & Worship church bands for a saxophone?

My saxophone experience in a church begins at an independent fundamental Baptist church in about 1976. I played the Gaither song “There’s Something About That Name” with a piano accompaniment. After the service a well intentioned church member stopped me and said “I was going straight to hell” for playing the instrument of the devil in the Lord’s house”. I was devastated at the time by this comment.

The Bible teaches us that we are supposed to use the gifts and talents that we have been given to glorify the Lord. As recently as the past couple of years we have searched for a new church home where I could use my God given talent on the saxophone. I was amazed to find out that their is still some predujice against the saxophone in a church praise band. I was basically told by one music minister that the band could only accept guitars,drums and keyboard. I was told by another music minister that I would have to join the church and attend a small group for six months and then “maybe” I could be a part of the praise band.

How often do we hear the saxophone on Christian radio? For that matter how often do we hear the saxophone in current pop music? The point is that we don’t hear it very often. Since music ministers don’t hear it on the radio, the lessor experienced music ministers don’t have the wisdom or experience to realize that the saxophone could be a valuable addition to the team.

Some people say that the saxophone expressive capabilities come closer than any other instrument in emulating the human voice. I happen to agree with this statement.

What role should the saxophone have in a praise band? I have seen and been part of a horn section that played various horn stabs in songs. I am currently using the saxophone in a manner similar to a lead guitar. Sometimes I am playing a solo. Most of the time I am “putting mud in the cracks”. By this I mean that I am using my jazz training to add filler notes in spaces where the vocalist is not singing or I am adding harmony notes to what the vocalists are singing.  I am playing as the Holy Spirit is leading.

Three of my favorite saxophonists who were or are also Christians are John Coltrane, Kirk Whalum and Greg Vail. Check out the following videos:

Are you a sax player in your church’s band? If yes, how is the saxophone used? What thoughts do you have on the use of the saxophone in a praise band?


  1. Paul,
    This reminds me of a story from a number of years ago. I was reading a very good book on the life of King David. It really was a good book. I was about half way through it when I read ” and that’s why modern day jazz is the music of the devil”. It went on for a couple pages about how jazz was used by the Devil to lead people to Hell! Anyways, I couldn’t believe it. I never did finish that book. The author lost all credibility with me after that.

  2. There are several Pastor’s who play sax at their church – I am one of them.

    I play with one of our praise teams and choir often. In fact I’m in the process of started a gospel jazz quartet with me playing saxes and EWI. I’ve often played the EWI at church and the congregation loves it.

    There are some church that have yet to come around to realizing that the instruments themselves are not good or evil. It was frustrating for me when I first started going to church regularly. Truth is I stop playing for awhile because the church “did not want that instrument”. It took awhile but they accepted it with open arms.

    INfact we’ve done alot of Kirk Whalum’s music at the church, practically every praise song out there 🙂 and the traditional hymns where I either played fill ins or took a solo. It’s been great.

    Hang in there….PEACE…..

  3. Here is an extract from my blog, which was a term paper for my degree at the London School of Theology. It’s not just the saxophone it’s music (as in serious skilled music and musicianship) in general that is under severe threat in the church. Surely as Chrisitan’s we should be at the forefront of the arts, not creating subcultures

    “The devil flees before the sound of music almost like he flees before the word of God”. – Martin Luther

    Recent scientific studies have shown that the areas of the brain that process music are the same that are activated during sex, taking drugs and eating chocolate. Small wonder that the church over its two thousand year history has struggled with how to understand and harness music. This is very contrary to the people of the Bible. Music, particularly in the Old Testament is used as a tool for the corporate worship of God (1 Chr 15:16), in acts of worship in the temple, rejoicing in the triumph of battle (Ex 15:20, 2 Chr 20:28) and as integral part of peoples lives such as marriage and times of mourning (2 Sa 1:18-27 David’s lament for Jonathan).

    It is clear from the many issues in the church about music, (even in just the past thirty years!); that the church needs to gain a greater understanding and insight in order to fully utilize this art form. Many of the church’s problems with music stem from misunderstandings both theologically and musicological. In his book ‘Church music and the Christian faith’, Erik Routley comments,

    “While at some periods the church has been a munificent patron of art, at others it seems to have carried the restraint of art to the point of a positive cult of the ugly”

    As we approach this post modernist 21st Century world, now is a great time for the church to reclaim its position in the vanguard of developing understanding of the creative arts, especially music, which has played such an important role in all civilisations.

    Read more of my blog at

  4. Tenor Mad says:

    My first thought on this was; CHANGE CHURCHES!!! Then that’s what you did.

    I believe the “furious few” will find a way to criticize, condemn, or complain about anything – including the Sax – without even thinking through the issue.

    For example, Colossians 4:5-6 (New International Version)says:

    5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

    This provides an opportunity to witness to people after they experience your talent on the Sax. Hey! That was some great playing there! How do you do it? You answer: Lots of practice and being a good steward over my God-given talent. (You just planted a seed!)

    To the jaded eye, overly-critical never spend the time to foster a relationship. You as the Sax Player probably know the Believers in your group.

    I wonder if the person who came up to you works FULL TIME at their Church. Doubt it! If they are so zealous, I wonder if they left their nets behind to follow Him.

    But the problem is that most folks get wrapped up in some spiritual wonderland – they wonder why you do what you do and wonder why people don’t gravitate toward them when it comes to spiritual things. Some people are just unapproachable and they can be legalistic to the point where they repel others.

    Look at the music industry. Your example above shows Kirk Whalum – a wonderful musician, Christian, Sax Player, and talent. He’s great, but it saddens me that someone out there is concerned that he produces mostly Jazz Music CDs. Not me. I don’t worry about Kirk on a spiritual level because he is very up front about it. I don’t worry about the fact that he plays Jazz and appears on stage with people like Gerald Albright, Whitney Houston, Quincy Jones, and even produced a Babyface album. He goes to work (just like the rest of us) with people you may or may not see eye to eye spiritually, and then gets an opportunity to express himself in some personally and spiritually gratifying musical projects such as; The Gospel According to Jazz. I think it is the coolest thing ever that Kirk and others who are Believers can do their thing without compromise, or without the music industry declaring that “that’s too religious”, as opposed to some music found in other parts of the industry. That’s not to say that some might be acting up, but it is God’s place to judge.

    I recall the passage in the Bible where Jesus was hanging around with sinners and tax collectors. When the religious types came around and criticized Him for being in their company, he said, “The sick need a Doctor.” (Mark 2:16-18 (New International Version).

    That’s just how people get sometimes – too spiritually minded to be any earthly good.

    Use your God-given talents in Church. Carry yourself as a strong believer. Throw the Mark 2:16-18 scripture back at the critics if you like.

    Keep on doing what you’re doing musicians! There are too many people to reach with God’s Word.

    By the way, the Salvation Army historically adapted street songs and drinking songs into the musical fabric of their ministry and mission to save souls for Christ.

    I’m sure they had their fair share of critics too!

  5. Gene Joner says:

    I live in what could be argued the most un-churched part of the United States, the Pacific Northwest! That being said, I haven’t run across any negative response to saxophone being used in the worship setting. I think what it boils down to is that the majority of people I’ve worked at really don’t understand “how to use” the voice. As a player I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of churches who have allowed the Spirit to flow as it was meant . . . without personal bias. Look we all have opinions, the real issue is one of the heart, if worship is authentic, and the spirit is left to work as it should, then God is Glorified.

  6. Hi Paul….first of all I’d like to extend my best wishes to you and your family for a Wonderful 2010! It’s been a while since we were in touch,so when I saw you on Twitter I popped right over to say hello. That’s when I found this post.

    I think sax, or ANY instrument is cool for praising the Lord. The references to Kirk Whalum and Greg Vail are right on the money. I’d throw John Coltrane into the mix as well (Love Supreme).

    I play often in churches as a guest with Gospel choirs as well and find it a stimulating and rewarding experience for me, the choir and the congregation.

    So, sax players…keep doin’ what you’re doing,making a “joyful noise to the Lord”.

    If I may, here’s a link to a video of a track of mine called “Jesus Said” which you and your readers might appreciate. ( )

    Once again, all the best for 2010…and keep expressing yourself through music..let the Spirit flow through your heart in any way it wants to come out!

    Check you on Twitter…all the best, E.

  7. Dear All,
    I am leaving in Germany and here the resistance against the Saxophone in church is unfortunately still very high..

    I appreciate any help/support/links to groups in Germany where Tenor Saxophone is accepted/appreciate/tolerated..

    I keep a web site on “Sax for Jesus” (only the URL is in german) where I am putting there links and tips .. and will also link some of those I found here.

    My son (Trombonist, 12) gave me a card (Card 21746 from J Kawohl-Verlag)which recalls Psalm 150 with the following words:

    Everything what breath, praise the Lord.
    Praise him with Violins, Flutes and Saxophones,
    with Guitars, Xylophones and Symphonic orchester,
    praise Him with Blues, Jazz and with spirituals.

    Everything that breath, praise the Lord.
    Halleluja !

  8. I played tenor sax in an extemporaneous praise band from 1975 to 1983. I was “filling in the cracks,” as one fellow put it, playing mostly countemelodies not inspired by Jazz, but by traditional band arrangements as well as melodic rock leads by the likes of Clapton and Stills. Then I went to work as a youth director in a smaller church that didn’t even have a guitar player, so I wound up leading worship for about fifteen years with guitar in my hands. This morning I got a chance to play tenor in a praise band again, for the first time in decades. YES. One thing that has changed is how many of the songs are in E and A, putting my tenor into the F# and B key signatures. (Most choruses in the ’70s were keyboard based, so concert Bb was more common than A) I had some time to practice, though, and outside of a few glitches, I think it went reasonably well. My alto stayed in the case, though – C# is not my favorite key. I have a concert-pitched Soprano sax but that’s pitched too high to play the parts I wanted to play today. Maybe later, for some special use.

    Still, it makes me wonder if there isn’t a place for C melody saxes to make a comeback, not for the silly old reason that you can read the melody line over the piano player’s shoulders (who in a decent praise band needs the sheet music, anyway?), but just to keep you from having to play in 5 or 6 sharps all the time. Too bad all but a few C melodies have a narrow bore, so they don’t really have the “edge” of a good alto or tenor with a custom mouthpiece. Still if I could find a playable one cheap and experiment with my decent alto and/or tenor mouthpieces . . . .

    It also makes me wonder if there isn’t room on the web for a “Praise Band Saxophone” site giving pointers to folks who want to transition from H.S. band to praise band and don’t know where to start.

    Best of luck, all,

    Paul Race