The Tubax (contrabass sax)


L’incertitude de L’ombre by Etienne Saur for tubax and CD. Concert in the Auditorium Dutilleux, Amiens, december the 1st 2012. Dedicated to Etienne, who left us in 2010.

(click on the picture to see the video)

An UVO (unidentified vibrating object) appeared since the year 2000 in the already crowded sky of the saxophone players. The TUBAX. We speak about it, we heard about it, we know somebody who said that he had met the one who would have said that ... But, what is a TUBAX, exactly ?

The tubax is...
A low instrument, reaching a little lower (a minor third) than the 4 strings double bass.
The tubax is...
A saxophone : an instrument of the woodwind family, whose sound is produced by the vibration of a simple reed against an ebonite (or metal) mouthpiece.
The tubax is...
A conical tube (and not cylindrical like the clarinet's) of considerable size (about 5 meters), folded up four times on itself for minimum space occupation but endowed with a transmission of movement system of a formidable complexity, to activate its really remote keys.
The tubax is...
A contrabass saxophone, the lowest of the seven members of the family of instruments imagined by Adolphe Sax, the only one he never built himself, and of which - until a recent date - only a handful existed in the whole world.
The tubax is ... even a little more than that ...
An "extreme" instrument by its length, its tessitura, its weight, but also by the ingenuity of its magnificent ergonomic  design, due to the German instrument maker Benedikt Eppelsheim, and by its virtuosity. These two qualities being dependent one another.
Where we could expect a certain heaviness, it knows how to be lyrical, caustic, percussive, soft, or talkative. But always with an extreme precision, with a surprising sound homogeneity and playability.
In a register where other instruments would meet some difficulty in realizing a slurred phrasing (in particular on large intervals), it can without fear compete with the lighter saxophones for the quality of its legato and speed reaction, and benefits of an incredible palette of colors and attacks.
The tubax is...
An "human sized" instrument, a low voice in chamber music, a jazz double bass which does not need amplification, a deep bass voice which sometimes cheats itself into the Night Queen. A reservoir of incredible tones.
The tubax ... has become one of my favourite musical partners since a few years.

Contrary to a preconceived idea, the tubax is a "true" contrabass saxophone : to make sure of it, just have a look on the original drawing of Adolphe Sax's patent of 1848 : the biggest instrument of the family has nothing to do by its shape with the strange huge baritones produced by Evette and Orsi. On the contrary, we notice the 4 parallel tubes like on a Tubax !
Another test : try to play a contrabass clarinet : you will understand the typical difference of pressure needs depending on the notes’ tube length, unlike in saxophone playing.

Another preconceived idea : the sound of the tubax, considering its small tube section, is not as enormous as those whom we can obtain on a traditional bass or a contrabass saxes. Besides its weight, it is thus a handicap for "street music", where one would expect a more important sound projection. In my opinion the instrument is closer (by its sound) to stringed double bass,  which is used mainly for its depth, not its sound volume. This is evidenced by the amplitude of sound of a saxophone ensemble where the tubax replaces the bass sax. In the symphony orchestra, we find fewer double basses than violins, in spite of a lesser sound volume : but they bring the thickness of orchestral tone.

I'm still convinced that the privileged role of the Tubax in the future will be within wind orchestras, where it could hold a position which no other instrument is able to claim.
The solo repertory for contrabass sax was rather thin until recently : "Dossier N°1" published by the AsSaFra quoted about fifteen pieces using this instrument, whose rarity and limits dissuaded many saxophone players. And composers.
But the quick spreading of this new instrument (almost 10 a year, 70 in the world in 2012. The Paris Conservatory also acquired one, for example) seems to completely change the appreciation concerning this extreme instrument.
And its repertory develops at full gallop: it seems that the buyers of the instrument are all very active !!! (See repertory : around 150 specific pieces in 2007)
Furthermore, because of its craftsman-type making process, the possibility of "customising" (instrumentalist can ask for specific adaptations) is probably also an argument preaching for its development.

It is desirable that this craze also leads to the development and "everyday acceptance" of all the lower saxophones. If composers seem to have well understood the musical interest of these big saxophones (we can evaluate this by the number of recent pieces written with baritone sax, for example), the great majority of saxophone players are still reluctant, and prefer the higher models to them ... What a pity !

The Saxophone Extrême CD, recorded in 2001 and published in 2007, gathers a little of everything that can be done on this instrument up to that day. It can be bought on my PriceMinister shop or asked for via the contacts page of the site.

Click here to access the website built with the help of . To learn more about tubax (repertory, making, composers‘ interviews, ...)

Click here to open a page of typical and special tubax sound examples.

A surprising duo between a very big saxophone and an electric drill : the tubax was invited to participate to Zic Zazou’s Carte Blanche show in 2011. (click on the picture to see the video).

Writing for the Tubax. Click on the image to find a text I wrote some time ago, to help composers in their meeting with this new instrument, its qualities and possibilities.Writing_for_the_tubax.html