One of the most well-known wind instruments is the saxophone. The idea of a saxophonist playing their instrument in a jazz band is a beautiful one, but did you know there is more than only one type of saxophone? If you are interested in learning to play this instrument, it is important that you consider which type of saxophone you should choose. This article will discuss the bass saxophone – the deepest and largest of all saxophones available.
What Is The History Of The Saxophone?
While most people who choose to learn the saxophone opt for the baritone saxophone as a starting point, it is the bass saxophone that draws people who are interest in a deeper tone. First presented to the public in 1841 in Brussels by Adolphe Sax, the bass saxophone has a sound that is one octave below its tenor brother. It is not a commonly utilize instrument, and is difficult to hear on jazz recordings or in saxophone choirs.
This type of saxophone is classified as a wind instrument and was first played by Hector Berlioz in 1944. Its initial performance was part of an arrangement called “Chant Sacre”; as well as in the opera “Le Dernier Roi De Juda” by Georges Kastner. During the 1950s and 1960s, the bass sax gained more popularity in musical theatre and was included in the original score for Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story”. It is also featured in “Music Man” by Meredith Wilson and “The Boy Friend” by Sandy Wilson. The first use of this instrument in a concert band performance was conducted by American composer Warren Benson during the 1960s.
While the traditional bass sax was developed in the key of C and created for orchestral performances, the modern bass sax is made in B flat. This places the instrument one perfect fourth below the baritone saxophone, and one octave below the tenor saxophone. As a B flat instrument, the range is similar to the contrabass clarinet with music being written in the treble clef (as with the other two types of saxophones mentioned). Similar to the majority of saxophones, the lowest written note is a B flat below the staff – which sounds similar to a concert A flat in the first octave.
Until the beginning of the 21st century, the largest type of saxophone available was the contrabass playing in E flat – one perfect fifth lower than the bass sax. The investor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, had signed a patent for the sub contrabass; however, he had assumedly not finished building a fully-functioning saxophone.
Where Can The Bass Sax Be Played?
The bass sax gained popularity in jazz and dance band combinations during the 1920s and 1930s, providing bass lines to the music; however, there were instances when the player would take a melodic solo. Notable musicians playing the bass sax in this era include Adrian Rollini, Billy Fowler, Spencer Clark, Otto Hardwicke and Charlie Ventura.
In the 1970s, the traditional jazz band The Memphis Nighthawks built a musical sound around Dave Feinman’s bass saxophone melody. The band’s unique style and popularity brought back interest in bass sax. Many jazz artists started using the bass sax as part of their contemporary music, including Tony Bevan, Roscoe Mitchell, Hamiet Bluiett, Stefan Zenuik, Michael Marcus, James Carter, and Brain Landrus. However, none of the players utilized the saxophone as their primary instrument.
While the bass sax plays a more prominent role in jazz and concert bands, it is also seen in rock music from the 1970s onwards. Rodney Slater from Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band was one of the first to introduce the bass sax into the rock music industry. Nowadays, the bass sax is played by renowned artists like Colin Stetson from Arcade Fire and Blaise Garze from Violent Femmes.