Bass saxophone

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Bass Saxophone
bass saxophone
Woodwind instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 422.212-71
(Single-reed aerophone with keys)
Inventor(s) Adolphe Sax
Developed28 June 1846 [1]
Playing range
Bass saxophone
Bass saxophone in B♭ sounds two octaves and a major second lower than written.
Related instruments
Military band saxophones: Orchestral saxophones: Other saxophones:
List of saxophonists
More articles or information

The bass saxophone is one of the lowest-pitched members of the saxophone family—larger and lower than the more common baritone saxophone. It was likely the first type of saxophone built by Adolphe Sax, as first observed by Berlioz in 1842. [2] It is a transposing instrument pitched in B, an octave below the tenor saxophone and a perfect fourth below the baritone saxophone. A bass saxophone in C, intended for orchestral use, was included in Adolphe Sax's patent, but few known examples were built. The bass saxophone is not a commonly used instrument, but it is heard on some 1920s jazz recordings, in free jazz, in saxophone choirs and sextets, and occasionally in concert bands and rock music.


Music for bass saxophone is written in treble clef, just as for the other saxophones, with the pitches sounding two octaves and a major second lower than written. As with most other members of the saxophone family, the lowest written note is the B below the staff—in the bass's case, sounding as a concert A1 . German wind instrument maker Benedikt Eppelsheim and Brazilian low saxophone maker J'Elle Steiner have both made bass saxophones with an additional key to produce low (written) A. This is similar to the low A key on the baritone saxophone, and produces a concert G1 (~ 49 Hz). Most basses made before the 1980s were keyed to high Eb, but most more recent models are keyed to high F#.

Pan American Bass Saxophone 1920s Pan American Bass Saxophone.jpg
Pan American Bass Saxophone

In jazz

The bass saxophone enjoyed some popularity in jazz combos and dance bands between World War I and World War II, primarily providing bass line, although bass sax players occasionally took melodic solos. Notable players of this era include Billy Fowler, Coleman Hawkins, Otto Hardwicke (of the Duke Ellington orchestra), Adrian Rollini (who was a pioneer of bass sax solos in the 1920s and 30s), Min Leibrook, Spencer Clark, Charlie Ventura, and Vern Brown of the Six Brown Brothers. [3] Sheet music of the period shows many bands photographed with a bass sax. The bass sax virtually disappeared in the 1930s, possibly due to its size, mechanical complexity, and high price. The invention of the electric bass guitar in the 1950s and its quick rise to popularity reduced demand for other bass instruments in popular music and other contemporary music.

American bandleader Boyd Raeburn (1913–1966) led an avant-garde big band in the 1940s and sometimes played the bass saxophone. In Britain, Oscar Rabin played it in his own band. Harry Gold, a member of Rabin's band, played bass saxophone in his own band, Pieces of Eight. American bandleader Stan Kenton's "Mellophonium Orchestra" (1960–1963) featured fourteen brass players and used a saxophone section of one alto, two tenors, baritone, and bass on Johnny Richards' compositions (with Joel Kaye playing baritone and bass saxophones). That ensemble recorded several successful albums and won two Grammys. [4] The Lawrence Welk Band featured Bill Page soloing on bass saxophone on several broadcasts during the 1960s. Shorty Rogers's Swingin' Nutcracker (recorded for RCA Victor in 1960) featured a bass saxophone (played by Bill Hood) on four of the movements.

The 1970s traditional jazz band The Memphis Nighthawks built their sound around diminutive bass saxophonist Dave Feinman. Some revivalist bass saxophonists performing today in the 1920s–1930s style are Vince Giordano and Bert Brandsma, leader of the Dixieland Crackerjacks. Jazz players using the instrument in a more contemporary style include Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Peter Brötzmann, J. D. Parran, Hamiet Bluiett, James Carter, Stefan Zeniuk, Michael Marcus, Vinny Golia, Joseph Jarman, Brian Landrus, Urs Leimgruber, Tony Bevan, and Scott Robinson, although none of these players use it as their primary instrument.

Jan Garbarek plays a bass sax on the 1973 album Red Lanta.

In rock

Bass saxophonists in rock include:

In classical music

At the 1844 World's Fair in Paris, the saxophone's premier performance was a chamber piece called Chant Sacré composed by Hector Berlioz for two trumpets, one soprano saxhorn, two clarinets, and one bass saxophone; Adolphe Sax himself played the saxophone part. The same year, Georges Kastner wrote for it in his opera Le Dernier Roi de Juda.

It is rarely used in orchestral music, though several examples exist. The earliest extant orchestral work to employ it is William Henry Fry's "sacred symphony" Hagar In the Wilderness (1853), which also calls for soprano saxophone and was written for Louis-Antoine Jullien's orchestra during its American tour. Richard Strauss, in his Sinfonia Domestica , wrote four saxophone parts including one for bass saxophone in C. Arnold Schoenberg wrote for the bass saxophone in his one-act opera Von Heute auf Morgen , and Karlheinz Stockhausen includes a part for it in the saxophone section of Lucifer's Dance, the third scene of Samstag aus Licht .

In the 1950s and 1960s it enjoyed a brief vogue in orchestrations for musical theater: Leonard Bernstein’s original score for West Side Story includes bass saxophone, as does Meredith Willson’s Music Man and Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend .

The bass saxophone is occasionally called for in concert bands, typically in arrangements from before 1950. Australian composer Percy Grainger and American composer Warren Benson are particularly notable composers who wrote for it.

Today, bass saxophone is most commonly used to perform chamber music. It is typically featured in saxophone choirs and sextets, especially those in the direct legacy of teacher-soloist Sigurd Rascher. It is also occasionally used to perform in smaller (less than six-member) chamber groups, though typically to play a part originally intended for another instrument as very few such pieces are written to include bass sax.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flugelhorn</span> Brass musical instrument

The flugelhorn, also spelled fluegelhorn, flugel horn, or flügelhorn, is a brass instrument that resembles the trumpet and cornet but has a wider, more conical bore. Like trumpets and cornets, most flugelhorns are pitched in B, though some are in C. It is a type of valved bugle, developed in Germany in the early 19th century from a traditional English valveless bugle. The first version of a valved bugle was sold by Heinrich Stölzel in Berlin in 1828. The valved bugle provided Adolphe Sax with the inspiration for his B soprano (contralto) saxhorns, on which the modern-day flugelhorn is modeled.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Musical ensemble</span> Instrumental and/or vocal music group

A musical ensemble, also known as a music group or musical group, is a group of people who perform instrumental or vocal music, with the ensemble typically known by a distinct name. Some music ensembles consist solely of instrumentalists, such as the jazz quartet or the orchestra. Other music ensembles consist solely of singers, such as choirs and doo wop groups. In both popular music and classical music, there are ensembles in which both instrumentalists and singers perform, such as the rock band or the Baroque chamber group for basso continuo and one or more singers. In classical music, trios or quartets either blend the sounds of musical instrument families or group together instruments from the same instrument family, such as string ensembles or wind ensembles. Some ensembles blend the sounds of a variety of instrument families, such as the orchestra, which uses a string section, brass instruments, woodwinds and percussion instruments, or the concert band, which uses brass, woodwinds and percussion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saxophone</span> Single-reed woodwind instrument

The saxophone is a type of single-reed woodwind instrument with a conical body, usually made of brass. As with all single-reed instruments, sound is produced when a reed on a mouthpiece vibrates to produce a sound wave inside the instrument's body. The pitch is controlled by opening and closing holes in the body to change the effective length of the tube. The holes are closed by leather pads attached to keys operated by the player. Saxophones are made in various sizes and are almost always treated as transposing instruments. Saxophone players are called saxophonists.

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The saxhorn is a family of valved brass instruments that have conical bores and deep cup-shaped mouthpieces. The saxhorn family was developed by Adolphe Sax, who is also known for creating the saxophone family. The sound of the saxhorn has a characteristic mellow tone quality and blends well with other brass.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tuba</span> Brass instrument

The tuba is the lowest-pitched musical instrument in the brass family. As with all brass instruments, the sound is produced by lip vibration – a buzz – into a mouthpiece. It first appeared in the mid-19th century, making it one of the newer instruments in the modern orchestra and concert band. The tuba largely replaced the ophicleide. Tuba is Latin for "trumpet".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sarrusophone</span> Family of double-reed wind instruments

The sarrusophones are a family of transposing woodwind musical instruments patented and placed into production by Pierre-Louis Gautrot in 1856. Originally designed as double-reed instruments, sarrusophones were later developed that used single-reed mouthpieces, at least for some of the larger sizes. It was named after the French bandmaster Pierre-Auguste Sarrus (1813–1876), who is credited with the concept of the instrument, though it is not clear whether Sarrus benefited financially from this association. The instrument was intended to serve as a replacement in wind bands for the oboe and bassoon, which, at that time, lacked the carrying power required for outdoor band music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gerry Mulligan</span> American jazz musician (1927–1996)

Gerald Joseph Mulligan, also known as Jeru, was an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, composer and arranger. Though primarily known as one of the leading jazz baritone saxophonists—playing the instrument with a light and airy tone in the era of cool jazz—Mulligan was also a significant arranger, working with Claude Thornhill, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton, and others. His pianoless quartet of the early 1950s with trumpeter Chet Baker is still regarded as one of the best cool jazz groups. Mulligan was also a skilled pianist and played several other reed instruments. Several of his compositions, such as "Walkin' Shoes" and "Five Brothers", have become standards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bass clarinet</span> Member of the clarinet family

The bass clarinet is a musical instrument of the clarinet family. Like the more common soprano B clarinet, it is usually pitched in B, but it plays notes an octave below the soprano B clarinet. Bass clarinets in other keys, notably C and A, also exist, but are very rare. Bass clarinets regularly perform in orchestras, wind ensembles and concert bands, and occasionally in marching bands, and play an occasional solo role in contemporary music and jazz in particular.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alto saxophone</span> Type of saxophone

The alto saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments. Saxophones were invented by Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in the 1840s and patented in 1846. The alto saxophone is pitched in E, smaller than the B tenor but larger than the B soprano. It is the most common saxophone and is used in popular music, concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, military bands, marching bands, pep bands, and jazz.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tenor saxophone</span> Type of saxophone

The tenor saxophone is a medium-sized member of the saxophone family, a group of instruments invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s. The tenor and the alto are the two most commonly used saxophones. The tenor is pitched in the key of B (while the alto is pitched in the key of E), and written as a transposing instrument in the treble clef, sounding an octave and a major second lower than the written pitch. Modern tenor saxophones which have a high F key have a range from A2 to E5 (concert) and are therefore pitched one octave below the soprano saxophone. People who play the tenor saxophone are known as "tenor saxophonists", "tenor sax players", or "saxophonists".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baritone saxophone</span> Lowest-pitched saxophone in common use

The baritone saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of instruments, larger than the tenor saxophone, but smaller than the bass. It is the lowest-pitched saxophone in common use - the bass, contrabass and subcontrabass saxophones are relatively uncommon. Like all saxophones, it is a single-reed instrument. It is commonly used in concert bands, chamber music, military bands, big bands, and jazz combos. It can also be found in other ensembles such as rock bands and marching bands. Modern baritone saxophones are pitched in E.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Contra-alto clarinet</span> Low pitched instrument

The contra-alto clarinet, E♭ contrabass clarinet, or great bass clarinet is a large clarinet pitched a perfect fifth below the B♭ bass clarinet. It is a transposing instrument in E♭ sounding an octave and a major sixth below its written pitch. As it is pitched between the bass clarinet and the B♭ contrabass clarinet, the contra-alto clarinet is the great bass member of the clarinet family.

The soprano saxophone is a higher-register variety of the saxophone, a woodwind instrument invented in the 1840s. The soprano is the third-smallest member of the saxophone family, which consists of the soprillo, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass saxophone and tubax. Soprano saxophones are the smallest and thus highest-pitched saxophone in common use.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Subcontrabass saxophone</span> Largest low pitched instrument in the saxophone family

The subcontrabass saxophone is a type of saxophone that Adolphe Sax patented and planned to build but never constructed. Sax called this imagined instrument Saxophone Bourdon. It is a transposing instrument pitched in B, one octave below the bass saxophone, two octaves below the tenor saxophone, and three octaves and a major second below its written pitch.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Contrabass saxophone</span> Low pitched instrument in the saxophone family

The contrabass saxophone is the second-lowest-pitched extant member of the saxophone family proper. It is extremely large and heavy, is pitched in the key of E, one octave below the baritone saxophone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sopranino saxophone</span>

The sopranino saxophone is the second-smallest member of the saxophone family. It is tuned in the key of E, and sounds an octave higher than the alto saxophone. An F sopranino were described in Adolphe Sax's patent, but no known examples have ever been built.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Phenix Horns</span> Horn section of American band

The Phenix Horns, originally known as the EWF Horns, were the main horn section for the band Earth, Wind & Fire. The horn section were composed of Don Myrick on saxophone, Louis "Lui Lui" Satterfield on trombone, Rahmlee Michael Davis on trumpet, and Michael Harris on trumpet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saxophone quartet</span>

A saxophone quartet is a musical ensemble composed of four saxophones, typically soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. Different saxophone family members are employed to provide a larger range and a variety of tone colours. Other arrangements of instruments also exist, but are rarer. A piece of music composed for such an ensemble can also itself be referred to as a saxophone quartet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Woodwind section</span>

The woodwind section, which consists of woodwind instruments, is one of the main sections of an orchestra or concert band. Woodwind sections contain instruments given Hornbostel-Sachs classifications of 421 and 422, but exclude 423

Joe Daley was an American jazz tenor saxophonist, composer, and music teacher. Daley was part of the Chicago jazz scene for 40 years. Musicians who studied with Daley include Grammy winners David Sanborn and Paul Winter, Emmy winner James DiPasquale, Richard Corpolongo, Chuck Domanico, and John Klemmer.


  1. "June 28, 1846: Parisian Inventor Patents Saxophone". Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  2. Cottrell, Stephen (2012). The Saxophone. Yale Musical Instrument Series. United Kingdom: Yale University Press. p. 40–1. ISBN   978-0-300100-41-9.
  3. "Six Brown Brothers". Archived from the original on 24 February 2015. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
  4. "Stan Kenton Biography". Archived from the original on 4 March 2008. Retrieved 19 May 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)