Critic Scott Yannow describes Tabackin as “one of the few jazz musicians who has been able to develop completely different musical personalities on two instruments”, with his forceful hard bop style on sax contrasting with his delicate flute playing.
Tabackin first took up the flute at the age of 12, followed by the tenor saxophone at age 15. He has citied Al Cohn and Coleman Hawkins as influences on his sax playing, while his flute role models include classical players such as William Kincaid, Julius Baker, and Jean-Pierre Rampal.Tabackin studied flute at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and also studied music with composer Vincent Persichetti. In 1962 he graduated from the Conservatory and, after a stint with the U.S. Army, worked with Tal Farlow. He also worked with Chuck Israels in New York City, and a combo that included Elvin Jones, Donald Byrd, and Roland Hanna. Later he would have a chair in The Dick Cavett Show‘s band and The Tonight Show Bandwith Doc Severinsen. Tabackin moved from New York to California when The Tonight Show relocated in 1972. During this time he played with Shelly Manne and Billy Higgins, among others.