Three Things I Have Learned From Playing Bari Sax In A Big Band

While my first “permanent” baritone saxophone experiences were in R’n’B or Soul horn sections, I feel that being a baritone saxophonist in a big band. When Ed Lister formed the Prime Rib Big Band in March 2017, I was called for the bari sax (and clarinet, and eventually bass clarinet) chair.

After three years of anchoring the saxophone section, I’ve learned a few things about sitting on the lowest woodwind book. Here are three important lessons that I’ve learned about playing the bari sax in this situation.

The Bari Sax Chair Is The Best

I love variety! The bari sax chair in a big band has so much variety – sometimes you live in the sax section, other times, the trombone section. You get to hook up with the bass on great baselines, and anchoring the whole band on shout sections is an amazing feeling! Also, the number of times I get to play in the holes between the rest of the band is what I live for on big band gigs.

Typically, There Are Less Solos

I am fortunate to play in the Prime Rib Big Band, where there is lots of room for every player to play solos, but that isn’t always the case in other big bands. Growing up as a tenor player who played solos in big bands, it was an adjustment to sit at the other end of the section and wait for the blues – something I love to blow on! After a few gigs, I started to discover the beauty in and understand the role.

I Needed To Change My Gear

Playing in a big band demanded more of my sound – fitting in with saxophones, then trombones, and the bass forced me to think about the overall flexibility of my sound and mouthpiece setup. I also went through a couple of horns to figure out what I needed and liked, but that’s a different story.

I found that my setup was too resistant for what I needed. I started by playing a smaller tipped mouthpieces with a hard reed (Otto Link Super Tone Master 6 with a D’Addario Royal 5 or Select Jazz 4H), and didn’t think that I had enough cut. I tried huge mouthpieces – a Lebayle Jazz 8* which measured .138 and a Rico 2 or 2.5. Eventually, I found some mouthpieces in the middle (.115ish with a 3 or 3.5) that gave me the best of all worlds – clean articulation, solid tuning, the volume, and most importantly, the sound I wanted. Finding gear that fit me and my needs allows me to get the most out of my horn every time I sit in a big band.

Do you enjoy sitting in a big band?

If so, what are some of the things that you’ve learned through your experience in large ensembles?

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