You don’t need to be a fan of the saxophone to have heard King Curtis’ music; you only need a pulse. King Curtis was one of the best saxophone players in the early rock and roll and soul scene and he contributed to many albums in his day.
King Curtis’ desire to play saxophone came at the age of ten when he first heard Louis Jordan play. He told his adoptive parent’s that he wanted more than anything to play saxophone. His desire hit a fever pitch when he heard the tenor stylings of Lester Young.
When he was 11 years old, his parents presented him with an alto saxophone, which he began playing in the junior high band. Curtis switched to the tenor when his school band needed a tenor player. When he was 16, he started his own band and was playing at parties and dances. Heavily influenced by Texas tenor players like Illinois Jacquet, Earl Bostic and Arnett Cobb, he was at home with rhythm and blues, pop, and jazz music.
In the liner notes to one of his albums, Curtis described his influences in greater detail: “I liked Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, Lester Young and Sonny Stitt as well. I also dug Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins for ballads, Getz for facility, Charlie Parker for technique. Another guy that influences both myself and Ornette Coleman was a Texas tenor man called Red Connor, who was a Coltrane ahead of his time.”