The flute is probably one of the oldest instruments of all time and it is also the older woodwind instrument. And in fact, even though it is considered a delicate instrument, many of history’s most renowned players were men. Even today, famous flute players include men as well as women.
It’s hard to pinpoint the flute’s origins. Some say it goes as far back as the Stone Age, while others say its tradition began in the Orient centuries ago. The Ancient Greeks used a sophisticated line of flutes that included three to four holes. The early flutes, however, were end-blown flutes for the most part. Over time, the flute has developed into a transverse flute (held horizontally and blown in from the side).
Actually, the flute almost faded into the woodwork, as concerts began being performed in larger halls and the flute just didn’t have the power or volume to perform over many other instruments that were gathering popularity.
It may be of interest to anyone interested in the flute and its place in classical music by checking out out this journey into classical music’s past. The flute survived a lot of classical music’s eras and was actually almost left out of big orchestra shows as they developed.
But by the mid-1800s, the flute had been again redesigned and was becoming a major part of orchestrated music. Today, it is an integral part of any orchestra, concert band and even as a solo instrument. It’s even been used in rock songs, soul and of course jazz, which could actually be considered its second home next to classical.
Try it Yourself
The flute is not that difficult to learn. If you have played or play the sax, it will be even easier to pick up. A lot of sax players can also pick up a flute and play it proficiently. However, novice players can learn how to play quickly and start mastering songs in no time.
Since jazz has crossed over into other categories other than classical, it may be interesting to learn more about music in general. You can pick up tips on how to read notes, write chords and melody, and explore harmony and rhythm. Perhaps you can get adept at playing the flute and master writing as well and compose the next “Batman” music score!
Famous Flute Players
The thing about the flute is that it can move easily from classical to jazz and just about any other musical form. It can be soft and romantic or be high energy and add flavor to any uptempo song. Here are some of the people that have taken flute playing to a different level in different arenas of music.
Sir James Galway – He’s a living legend, considered one of the – if not the – best famous flute player, ever. He’s sold 30 million albums, performed on 65 CDs/albums, headlined countless tours and in fact still tours. Although he is known for his mastering of the flute when it comes to classical music in particular, he ventures into more contemporary music as well. One of his most recent ventures includes playing on the soundtrack of the smash hit movie “Lord of the Rings (Return of the Kings).” He’s played for just about anyone that’s anyone during his illustrious career, including Queen Elizabeth, Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and George H. Bush, Pope John Paul II and so many other dignitaries, as well as played with major artists such as Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Andrea Bocelli and more. Galway and his wife, who also plays flute, run an annual 10-day event called the Galway Flute Festival in Switzerland, where they mentor young players.
Jeanne Baxtresser – She has held principal positions with three top-notch orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic (with which she played for 15 years). A graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, Baxtresser has spent decades playing in front of classical music lovers worldwide, and she is also recognized on an international level as an author and lecturer. She still teaches and many of her students have been placed with world-class orchestra. Her recordings include Chamber Music For Flute and New York Legends – Jeanne Baxtresser, and more. In addition to occasional performances, she serves as a full-time teacher at Carnegie Mellon University. She is considered one of the best classical flute players of all time.
Bobbi Humphrey – This famous flute player was dubbed the “first lady of the flute” and that title was endorsed especially in 1971 when she became the first female signed to Blue Note Records. Humphrey was spotted by jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie at a talent show in her native state of Texas. He encouraged her to pursue a career and she headed to New York. She’s recorded hit records (“Harlem River Drive,” “Satin Doll”) and performed with many other great artists, from the late great Duke Ellington to Stevie Wonder. Her style is considered to be a blend of soul and jazz funk.
Nestor Torres – His story is one of the most amazing comeback stories in the music world. Puerto Rican-born Torres was on top of the world in the 1980s when the moved to Miami and then signed a deal with Polygram Records. In 1989, his CD Morning Ride rose to the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz charts and brought him critical acclaim. But less than a year later at a celebrity boat race, he was horribly injured when the boat he was on crashed. He suffered fractured ribs, two broken clavicles and a collapsed lung. It was nearly a death sentence for him as a human being and no one ever imagined that he would play the flute again. But Torres miraculously battled back and recorded again (Dance of the Phoenix in 1991), and again, and again and continues to tour worldwide. Just a few years ago, he performed in front of the Dalai Lama. Torres’s style is a mixture of jazz, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban.
Legends of the Past
Herbie Mann – He was one of the greats in more modern times. Mann just passed in 2003 at the age of 73 after decades of coloring jazz and dance favorites, as well as some originals. He actually had a No. 1 hit on Billboard’s dance charts in 1975 with “Hijack.” Mann was adept at fusing jazz with world music and also a popular choice to guest shot on other artists’ records. In fact, he was involved in at least 25 records that made various Billboard charts as a solo artist and guest player.
Jeane-Pierre Rampal – He passed in 2000, but he has been credited with making the flute popular again after its demise in the 18th century. During the ‘60s and through to the ‘80s, Rampal was a popular performer in the U.S. and Japan. Every major venue hosted this famous flute player, whether it was Carnegie Hall or the Hollywood Bowl. He did about 200 shows a year and did not limit himself to classical music, going so far as to also perform Gershwin on the same night he’d play Scott Joplin or a Japanese folk song. One of his albums, The Suite For Flute and Jazz Piano, sat on top of Billboard for years. As classical as his playing could be, it was also immensely contemporary. He even recorded on video and audio a song with Miss Piggy of the Muppets! The New York Times said Rampal as “an indisputable major artist.”
The flute is a beautiful instrument and has a storied history, and it also remains an integral part of music today. Learning to play the flute is an exquisite creative outlet, and never goes out of style.