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.
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
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
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
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 enough!
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.