Baritone & bass saxophone reviews
Of the 'big three' saxes, the baritone is the
grand-daddy. Not just in terms of size and pitch, but also in terms
of history - it's reputed that the first saxophone ever built in
around 1840 was a baritone...coming out of Adolphe Sax's experiments
with bass clarinets.
For many years the baritone was consigned to the typical role assigned
to bass instruments - that of pounding out a leaden bass line, with perhaps
the occasional foray into something resembling a melody line. But all
that has changed, and the baritone has not only come out of the closet...it's
come out wearing a pretty sharp suit.
Perhaps the most obvious drawback of the baritone is its size and weight.
In that sense it limits the age at which a student can effectively handle
a bari - though there are options such as stands and special straps that
can make life a little easier.
It's often thought too that such a large instrument requires a great deal
of puff to make it play - but this isn't the case. It's actually quite
surprising how delicate a blow the baritone can be, and it's only when
you really have to push it that you might find it taxes you.
As mentioned, for a long time the baritone fulfilled the role of a bass
instrument - simply filling in where there was a lack of a traditional
string bass - but during the age of the Palm Court Orchestras of the 1920's
the baritone began to make tentative steps into the limelight as a soloing
instrument in its own right. Admittedly much of this was in the 'novelty'
genre, but it was at least a step in the right direction.
It took a few more years before the bari sax established itself as a
viable lead or section instrument, most notably in the hand of Harry Carney
- but perhaps the man most responsible for altering the status of the
bari was the great Gerry Mulligan, who proved once and for all that the
baritone was both a lithe and expressive performer.
Since then, many composers have taken advantage of the bari's low end
growl...and quite a few have made use of its surprisingly wide top end
too (though some traditionalists would argue that there's not much point
in buying a bari if all you want to do is play high notes).
In more recent years the bari has made significant inroads in less formal
genres of music - there's barely a horn section in a soul band that would
consider itself complete without a bari, and even the pop charts have
fallen under its charm as demonstrated by the late Ronnie Ross's playing
with the group "Matt Bianco".
Price has always been a limiting factor for baritones - they're big,
and thus expensive (though, conversely, sopranos are often just as expensive),
but it doesn't seem to have prevented them becoming a firm favourite with
sax players who wish to 'double' (to play another instrument aside from
their main one).
As for the bass sax, the outrageous size, price and thus rarity of the
horn has left it somewhat out in the cold - and yet it too has capabilities
as yet perhaps undiscovered. It also had its champion in the form of Adrian
Rollini, who did much to dismiss the notion that the bass sax was little
more than a comedy instrument. Likewise, Boyd Raeburn raised its profile
by dint of his being a big-band leader who sported a bass sax.
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It still remains largely confined to small groups of the New Orleans and
Palm Court genre - and yet it also remains perhaps the only horn that
every sax player would love to own, provided they could find one cheaply
The problem is exactly that though - finding one. Modern basses are hideously
expensive (£5000+), and old basses, though often available, are
usually in pretty poor shape.