In 1841 Adolphe Sax had a dream of an instrument whose voice could command the heavens or make the angels weep with delight. He in visioned a horn whose basso-profondo voice would bridge the gap between the wind and stringed instruments. The lyrically exquisite instrument he created first was the bass saxophone. Though keyed in the key of “C” for orchestral use, it’s depth of character was everything Adolphe could have hoped for.
Now more than 150 years later the composer Jan van Dijk created a haunting showpiece for the saxophonist Andreas van Zoelen. This piece was written for the bass saxophone in its original intended home, the chamber orchestra. Van Zoelen gives life to the lines and weaves them into and out of the ensemble. While this piece is quite short it still displays Van Zoelen’s command of his instrument and his musicality. The bass sax tone is near to that of a bassoon at times yet still unmistakably sax’ish. It’s controlled and absolutely in tune with the rest of the ensemble.
TAKE AWAY: I hear hints of Gustav Mahler in the scoring but that’s a great thing. If ever there was a bass saxophone tone I would want to emulate it is this one. Turn up your speakers and enjoy. Actually, there is one other bass tone i’d emulate and that is of Bert Brandsma of the Dixieland Crackerjacks.
ONE MORE THING: Please, someone send this video to the folks at J’Elle Stainer and let them know that this is what a silky bass could sound like and to emulate it all the way down their line.
Be sure to visit Andreas Van Zoelen’s website.
Where are all of the bass saxophones going?
If you haven’t been watching ebay for the last few years then you’ve missed out on the influx of Chinese made horns. These horns have taken the beginner market by storm. So much so much so that the traditional manufacturers have been priced out of the marketplace. Big producers like Yamaha, Yanigasawa, and Keilwerth still produce student horns but I am sure they sell them at a much lower rate than before. Whereas Selmer has chosen to take advantage of the Asian production capacity and have a line of student horns made by Taiwanese manufacturer under the brand La Voix.
With Asian manufacturers improving the quality of their builds it was only a matter of time before they would produce a bass saxophone, and boy did they. Asian manufacturers choose to copy the “French wrap” a la Selmer and the more classic Buescher/Conn style. Regardless of which style you prefer the fact that new production of these behemoths and at a price which is “affordable” is the best news of all.
If you hop to ebay and search you will find an average of 2 to 3 new Asian made bass saxes available and usually a single vintage Conn or Buescher. Now I don’t assume they are all sold but if we average 2 to 4 a month there should be a large pool of these beasts sitting in peoples homes. To that end, how is it that they are not showing up in recordings either. Colin Stetson, James Carter, and Bert Bandsma are some of the best known bass players currently playing these horns but they can’t be the only ones.
With that in mind, if you have and/or play bass saxophone please let us know what you do with yours. Please share the type of music you play with it and how it is received by your audience if you play in front of others. Let’s do what we can to bring this beast to the forefront and make it less of a gimmick and more of a valued member of the saxophone family.