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Why buy a bass saxophone?

Groovekiller

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I had a conversation with a bass trombone player the other day. It was my opinion that bass saxophone doesn't exist merely to extend the range of the saxophone family downward.

When you consider that the bass saxophone (well, most of them, anyway) only goes a major third lower than a baritone sax with a low A, It's almost not worth it to haul all that metal around for four extra notes. Stan Kenton probably used the bass sax to extend the range of his band, but there weren't many others.

Often it's the VISUAL impact of the instrument that encourages its use. That's not why I play it, but pulling out a bass offers instant celebrity status. Others might call it gimmick status.

But I think the real reason for the bass saxophone is its sound, as much in the upper register as the lower register. It reminds me of Bobby Bland's husky voice singing the blues, or maybe a distant train whistle. Anyway, nothing else sounds like it.
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
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I think you're right Randy. Nothing else sounds quite like it. There is a unique quality to the sound of the horn, especially in its upper ranges, that in the right settings can be hauntingly beautiful.

I think that too of the baritone sax. The upper end especially of the bari has such a nice, unique sound, but is oftentimes overlooked, and its bottom end emphasized. When I improv on bari I'm very often up in the palm keys and altissimo, because there to me is where the horn has some of its best definition and crispness in its tonal color palette.
 
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Gandalfe

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I think the economics and size of the bass sax discourage all but the most fanatical or fringe sax players. And I'm fine with that. If everyone played bass sax, I probably wouldn't have one. And if everyone played as well as Randy, I wouldn't even play I suspect.

I too admire the clarion range of the bass sax. I'm not too enamored with the altissimo range although the bass sax offers the most accessibility in that range. And truth be know, I luv the shock and awe factor of a well-played bass, or for that matter soprillo, sax.

But I'd rather cover a bass sax line with a baritone if I'm in certain situations like a pit orchestra. Jay Easton convinced me how special a bass sax can be though in that arena though.

The production was the King and I and the last part of the bows was orchestrated so that the bass sax made the harmonies sound like they came from a huge organ. The building shook and the melody was sublime. You live for moments like that and I don't think a bari sax could have carried that off.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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When you consider that the bass saxophone (well, most of them, anyway) only goes a major third lower than a baritone sax with a low A, It's almost not worth it to haul all that metal around for four extra notes. Stan Kenton probably used the bass sax to extend the range of his band, but there weren't many others.
I dunno. I'd almost say that a bass sax has more utility than a bari sax, if you can transpose. I'd actually think that very little of what I've ever played on bari couldn't be played on bass -- if I had a bass that played in good tune, like the Keilwerth or Eppelsheim, that is. Might be a tad more difficult, but no real big deal. Although, I think some stuff on bass sounds a bit too much like a tuba.

Let's look at some pricing, tho. An S80II bass from www.saxhop.nl is $24,962. An S80II bari is $11,343. The Keilwerth SX90 (not even the R) is $21,305 and $8,603, respectively. That's an awful lot for that major third.

A lot of people say that you spend for the tone. I don't think that even those folks would say that you should spend that much difference for that tone.

I love the sound of a bass, but it's not a "holy grail"-type of instrument for me.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
Ditto on same. I enjoy the tone of the horn, but the musical issues here are more than trumped by the impracticality of the whole thing. There's a very good reason why bass saxophones are rare today, and that's that others who have gone before have recognized that they are impractical at best, and at worst a weight around your musical neck.

Anyone who has ever actually schlepped one of these things around knows that they are a huge burden, particularly when combined with several other horns. A nifty and logical concept when they were designed by Sax, when actually deployed into the real world they were found to be cumbersome for their original intended purpose (military music). Things were bad enough for the French military in 1850; just imagine them with an extra twenty pounds of brass weighing them down.

Bass saxes use up too much space on the bandstand and in the orchestra pit, and they haven't been taken into account by most arrangers for over fifty years. While they do have significant novelty value, that value diminishes quickly once they get used. A very little bass sax goes a very long way, and it's just not worth the effort to drag one around for that.

(We play a commercial arrangement of Sweet George Brown that ends up with fifteen notes on the piccolo flute. While it's the only tune for which we have a piccolo part, the effect is cute enough (and the burden of bringing a piccolo along for the playing of it) to make it worth the effort. If the same thing called for a bass sax, we'd play it on the piano...)
 
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Groovekiller

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I'm well aware of the difficulties involved in getting the bass saxophone to the gig, setting up, tearing down, etc.

I make a living playing everything that's within my capabilities. It is not often bass saxophone, Tubax, Soprillo, Conn-O-Sax or other unusual instruments. Those instruments are my hobby. I play them because I can, and I like them.

When I play a job on soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet or any combination of the above, I've found a way to be the first one out of the building at the end of the engagement.
 
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Carl H.

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When I play a job on soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet or any combination of the above, I've found a way to be the first one out of the building at the end of the engagement.
How? I'm almost always the last guy out of the building because of the swabbing and getting the cases and the packing up. I put away horns that aren't used after intermission during intermission, but thats usually one instrument or less.
 
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Groovekiller

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Don't swab anything out. Stash your case immediately beneath you under the riser on stage. Learn the best places to park near the stage door. Get to the gig early and do your hanging out and fraternizing BEFORE the gig starts.

But always find the leader on the way out and thank him for the job. he could have called someone else.
 

Carl H.

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Don't swab anything out.
Ahhhh



Ummm in Minnesota that can be a problem in February. Extreme cold and dry and thermal shock issues get expensive with that strategy.:-(
 
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Groovekiller

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Carl -

I know what you mean. I don't want to ruin good woodwinds. I enjoy the luxury of being in Florida, where the air is almost wetter than my breath. The biggest danger here is heat in the trunk of the car and opening the case in an air conditioned room where the temperature is cold. It's the opposite of your thermal shock, but it's still thermal shock.

It's OK to swab out clarinets, etc. I do so myself, at home, but the humidity here is so high that when I oil the bore of woodwinds, it usually doesn't sink in unless the instrument recently arrived from an arid climate.

I've never swabbed out a saxophone. I try to dump out the water in the upper bow of a baritone sax, which I play a lot. I also use a "shove it" swab on tenor and alto. I change them before they start to leave lint on the pads. One brand lasts 3 times as long as the others. I don't remember which one. I used to use a bassoon swab on my tenor before the commercial sax swabs were invented, but they only reached down to about the low E key. They worked, though.

As for oboes, clarinets, bass clarinets, piccolos, be as conscientious as possible about maintaining your instrument. The best way to eliminate water in woodwinds with a small bore is to blow it out (Big breath, Poof!) Oboe players love this approach during very soft orchestral passages. You can, however, swab it out at home if it saves you 15-20 minutes in trafffic after the gig. Thermal shock can be avoided by using a Cavallero case cover or the eqivalent, with a woolen-type liner. I put my woodwinds in a French-type case with a Cavallero case cover inside a Reunion Blues leather bag with thick padding. Change of temperature would be so slow that I don't think there is much danger. My problem is the opposite of yours - cold inside, hot outside. I don't think there's much difference from cold outside, warm inside.

Ahhhh



Ummm in Minnesota that can be a problem in February. Extreme cold and dry and thermal shock issues get expensive with that strategy.:-(
 
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pete

Brassica Oleracea
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People are always impressed at how many horns I can carry at once. And I can still open the door.

(Hey, I toodled around with my '84 Pontiac Fiero and a YBS-52)

Anyhow, the weight of your average bari is about 11.5 pounds (seriously; that's what Keilwerth lists it as). Let's call a bass at 16 pounds.

My Beaugnier bari, in case, is 30lbs. I weighed it. Older basses probably weigh more than newer ones, too. 50lbs in case? I wouldn't doubt it.

I've generally been first in, last out. No hurry -- and you sometimes meet interesting folks.

As to Terry's point, that's why Sarrusophones and Rothophones were invented: reed instruments with almost as much power as a sax, but more compact.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
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CE/Moderator
The last show that I did that had bass sax was Crazy For You, and I made it a point to borrow one of my sax player's bass for the part (although I did not play it; I had the baritone/bass clarinet/bassoon book). Michael wasn't happy about having to put it up and tear it down each evening, and had he needed to haul it around, it would have been a deal breaker. But, under the circumstances, it worked well enough (and was a real crowd pleaser in the bargain).

I've recounted my bass saxophone epic story elsewhere, so I won't repeat it here. However, I could have owned one (and missed out on one of the best girlfriends of my youth in the process - a long story, as I've said), but didn't quite make the connection.

Had I been successful, however, I doubt that my opinion would have changed. Even with cars specifically selected to accommodate my musical needs and habits, a bass sax would be a bother. Other than making me the guy to chose in those rare doubling situations where one is called for these days, there's little or no need for one. And, I'm the guy who hesitates before hauling a flute to the gig...

(Have I ever mentioned that I hate flute playing? I do, I really do...)
 

Carl H.

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(Have I ever mentioned that I hate flute playing? I do, I really do...)
I find that if you do it right, you only have to play the flute once.:???:
 
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The tone is quite round on the bass especially in an outdoor environment, which is nearly all my situations in Community band.

But I play both bari and Bass so I look pretty much look like a GI with gear for battle, with a satchel of music over my shoulder, the Bass in a gig bag over the other, a bari in tow and my sax stands and music stand in my other hand and under my arm.

Yah it's wicked clumsy!

Still I like the Bass for certain tunes that need that full round warm room filling sound.

Is it really a necessity? No, but I like it and you are right it's more of a status novelty attention grabber than a needed note.

The Bass moans better on the quiet low notes thana bari so sometimes it is a welcomed novelty with soul.
 
I had a conversation with a bass trombone player the other day. It was my opinion that bass saxophone doesn't exist merely to extend the range of the saxophone family downward.

When you consider that the bass saxophone (well, most of them, anyway) only goes a major third lower than a baritone sax with a low A, It's almost not worth it to haul all that metal around for four extra notes. Stan Kenton probably used the bass sax to extend the range of his band, but there weren't many others.

Often it's the VISUAL impact of the instrument that encourages its use. That's not why I play it, but pulling out a bass offers instant celebrity status. Others might call it gimmick status.

But I think the real reason for the bass saxophone is its sound, as much in the upper register as the lower register. It reminds me of Bobby Bland's husky voice singing the blues, or maybe a distant train whistle. Anyway, nothing else sounds like it.
I bought my bass sax in 2010 mainly to get easier fingering on low notes. Some nice rapid low-note passages were clumsy to finger on my baritone sax (low A, Bb, B and C#) but they were easy to finger on a bass sax (becoming D, D#,E and F#). The low notes were a bonus. However I no longer lug my bass sax along to big-band gigs but just take my bari. I do use the bass sax three times a week in two English-style brass bands, substituting for Tuba (English-style brass bands utilize tuba parts scored in treble clef for Bb tubas and for Eb tubas). With a shortage of tuba players they are happy to have me helping out.
 
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