How Long can a Saxophonist Hold One Note? - Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts

February 09, 2018

One of our most popular acts to book for events is Wandering Hands, an exceptional strolling trio that features two guitars, a saxophonist and vocals. They play a varied repertoire of current pop hits as well as classic party songs, all delivered in an upbeat manner that make it hard not to love them! But let’s assume that we only had the saxophonist on hand and asked him to play just one note for as long as possible. How long do you think he could hold it for?

The answer is longer than you’d think.

Well, technically it could be. In practice, it’s likely that without extra training, the note may only last a minute or less, essentially the capacity of the saxophonist’s lungs. Regardless, it’s interesting to note that in 1997, world famous saxophonist Kenny G found his way into the record books playing just one note – an E-flat – for a frankly insane 45 minutes and 47 seconds. All without stopping.

You might not be familiar with the work of Kenny G but if you love saxophone music then we’d assume he’ll be on your list and almost certainly in your CD collection or Spotify playlist. He has released 15 studio albums and sold nearly 100 million records in total. Not bad! And not only that; we now know that he is a master of circular breathing thanks to his world record achievement.

Just last year, another musician, Femi Kuti, took aim at the record and successfully attained it by holding an A note for 46 minutes and 38 seconds. Yes! Unfortunately for Femi, that was no longer the record but nobody had bothered to tell him. You see, 17 years previously, an Alabama saxophonist had played the same note for 47 minutes and 6 seconds. The reason it hadn’t been recorded is that he never bothered to tell Guinness about his achievement; “I knew that I had broken the record,” he said of the attempt, “I contacted a few local radio stations here in Birmingham, Alabama but just out of respect, I guess, for him [Kenny G], I just let the record stand as it was.”

Poor Femi Kuti missed out on the record by just 28 seconds and all because he never knew about it. This is strange though because even Kenny G himself knew about it – he had even spoken to HuffPost in 2015. It seems that Kuti was the unfortunate saxophonist who missed the news and Guinness had never updated their records accordingly. There was a reason for this though – they actually retired the category a few years ago as they no longer accept attempts which involve circular breathing, another omission from his research that Kuti failed to notice.

Still, it doesn’t seem that this revelation has dampened his desire to take the record. Although undoubtedly upset at missing out on an unofficial record by less than half a minute, he’s determined to give it another go. “I’ve said we will work to achieve the 50min mark,” he tweeted in May last year, “I believe I’ve still got a bit more energy in my tank.”



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By Henry Fosdike