The bass saxophone is the lowest member of the saxophone family ever widely manufactured. If there was ever an unjustly neglected instrument, this is it. It was the original saxophone, intended to buttress the bassoons as a more powerful low reed voice in the growing ninteenth-century orchestra. It never caught on in this capacity, despite being praised highly by noted composers including Liszt, Donizetti, and Meyerbeer. Upon hearing the bass saxophone in 1842, Escudier wrote "You cannot imagine the beauty of sound and the quality of the notes." Hector Berlioz called the instrument "magnificent and profound." But for complicated political reasons, the bass saxophone never really took hold. It had a brief surge of popularity as a bass instrument in early jazz groups, and even had a superstar soloist in the great Adrian Rollini. But as with so many of the other saxophones, it fell from favor during the 1930's, and is only now experiencing a resurgence through the efforts of classical performers like Andreas van Zoelen and jazz players like Scott Robinson and James Carter.
The bass saxophone is the heart and soul of a large saxophone ensemble.
It fulfills the role of the orchestral string bass, creating the foundation of the sound on which the other saxophones build their harmonies. To hear the difference a bass sax makes in a sax orchestra, listen to this mp3 clip (2.0MB) of the San Diego Saxophone Orchestra playing Percy Grainger's Annunciation Carol. The clip starts without the bass, but you'll know when it comes in!
Many pieces for wind ensemble have bass saxophone parts, especially pre-1950 pieces. And it has been increasingly catching the attention of composers in Europe and America- more and more solo and chamber pieces are being written for the bass saxophone all the time!
of Adrian Rollini and Joe Venuti
The Ellington sax section with Otto Hardwick on bass sax
Benedikt Eppelsheim's new "Bassax"
Here are some photos of the beastie in its various guises:
Jay on stage with his old Buescher bass
A bass made by Adolphe Sax himself
styles of bass have been built:
is a Keilwerth prototype bass with a low-A
is a homemade version!
Some sound samples of Jay on bass:
All material © Jay Easton 2001-2006 unless otherwise noted