With few exceptions, the discussion up to this moment has centered on the use of the tuba in Western art music. Although this genre is the foundation from which the tuba was developed, the instrument has since become a major player in many other genres and styles of music. Perhaps most notably, the tuba has been a key component of jazz music since its very inception in the early twentieth century. Early jazz bands developed out of a synthesis of African and European musical styles, and flourished outward from its foundations in New Orleans. As demonstrated in Dr. Thomas Bough’s dissertation on early twentieth century jazz, the instrumentation of early jazz music was influenced in part by the necessity to perform both as a seated and marching ensemble.[1] The tuba, helicon, and sousaphone, (the last two being versions of the tuba made for marching) were the natural choices in this instance, as similar bass instruments like the string bass and bass saxophone were far less suitable for marching. Early jazz tubists often doubled on the string bass, and would usually switch over to that instrument when performing in a seated context.[2] Another factor causing the early and widespread use of the tuba in jazz was the relative primitiveness of recording equipment in use at the time; when recording to wax cylinder (as was common), instruments like the string bass were difficult to effectively capture. The tuba, often with a forward-facing bell (called a “recording bell”), had no such issue being recorded. Advancements in recording technology would soon cause the tuba to lose ground to the string bass, as the greater facility of the latter instrument became more in vogue with the evolving jazz style. After this initial boom and bust, the tuba would eventually come back as a hybrid bass and melodic instrument, notably being featured in many seminal mid-century jazz albums. Major proponents of the instrument during this time period include Ray Draper (who collaborated often with John Coltrane)[3], Bill Barber (tubist on many Miles Davis albums, notably Birth of the Cool and Sketches of Spain)[4], and Rich Matteson (performing on the euphonium, and influencing several generations of jazz musicians as a professor at the University of North Texas).[5] The tuba would also continue to be used in Dixieland jazz, harking back to its original use as a marching instrument. Major performers of the Dixieland tuba style include Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, Philip Frazier, and Kirk Joseph. The jazz style of tuba playing has remained an important part of the instrument’s playing culture, even infiltrating the wider pop culture consciousness; as of this document’s writing, the house bands for both The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon feature tubists in prominent spots (Ibanda Ruhumbika and Damon “Tuba Gooding, Jr.” Bryson, respectively).[6] And no history of the tuba within jazz music is complete without mention of tubist/multi-instrumentalist Howard Johnson, who has performed since the late 1960s as a solo act, as leader of the house band for Saturday Night Live for several years, and with his jazz tuba ensemble Gravity.[7] 

In much the same way that African and European musical cultures combined to create early jazz music, a similar synthesis would occur in northern Mexico. A primary event in the musical culture of this region was the importation of the German brass band culture in the mid-19th century, due to the influx of high numbers of European immigrants. This was especially focused on the Pacific northwest of the Mexican landmass, and it is here in the state of Sinaloa that the style of banda sinaloense would come to dominate the Mexican musical culture of the 20th century.[8] Originally coalescing as a style in the early 20th century, banda music would feature an ensemble of nine-to-twelve members, performing on clarinets, cornets/trumpets, valve trombones, a saxhorn, the tuba (increasingly a sousaphone), and two drum players.[9] The music performed by the group originally ranged from marches and patriotic numbers to operatic selections and pop tunes, but the group eventually found success with the dance styles of cumbia and boleros, and the distinctly Mexican rancheras and baladas (a love ballade with a slow background texture and heightened emotional expressivity). Regardless of the style played, banda ensembles would rely on the tuba as the foundation, often featuring highly virtuosic bass lines filled with figuration and ornamentation not often seen in traditional tuba parts. As the ensemble matured, the saxhorn would be replaced by the Eb alto horn, turning banda into one of the few types of music to natively feature that instrument. With an increasingly-strong presence throughout the rest of the North American continent, this particularly Mexican style of tuba and euphonium playing will be advanced for a long time to come.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, a new breed of jazz tuba player would be born. These performers would initially find their artistic expression in jazz music, but would eventually become notable in a broader improvisation-based context. Tubists such as Marcus Rojas, Oren Marshall, Bill Roper, Pauline Boeykens, and Dan Peck would stretch the boundaries of performance with their instruments, incorporating many different contemporary performance techniques along with performative inspiration from jazz styles. Their artistic forbearers would be performers like Zdzisław Piernik and Dietrich Unkrodt, performers whose experiments with the instrument in the 60s and 70s would be expanded upon by later generations of tubists. Many other tubists have also expanded out into rock and metal genres, including performers like Brian Wolff (Drums and Tuba, Wolff and Tuba), Matt Owen, Kristoffer Lo, and Jeanie Schroder (DeVotchka). The tuba would even find its way into the ambient genre, with the long-form explorations of Tom Heasley. The tuba in the twenty-first century is no longer confined to the restrictions of Western art music, and is a major component of a number of different genres.


[1] Thomas Bough, “The Role of the Tuba in Early Jazz Music from 1917 to the Present: A Historical, Pedagogical, and Aural Perspective” (doctoral dissertation, Arizona State University, 1998), 17-20.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Scott Yanow, “Ray Draper | Biography & History | AllMusic,” AllMusic, accessed May 11, 2019, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/ray-draper-mn0000343612/biography.

[4] Peter Keepnews, “Bill Barber, Who Brought the Tuba to Famed Jazz Sessions, Is Dead at 87,” New York Times, accessed May 11, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/29/arts/music/29barber.html.

[5] “Rich Matteson Biography,” Rich Matteson, accessed May 11, 2019, http://www.richmatteson.com/bio.html.

[6] Michael J. West, “Tuba in the House,” JazzTimes, accessed May 11, 2019, https://jazztimes.com/features/profiles/tuba-in-the-house/.

[7] Scott Yanow, “Howard Johnson | Biography & History | AllMusic,” AllMusic, accessed May 11, 2019, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/howard-johnson-mn0000276735/biography.

[8] Helena Simonett, “Banda,” Oxford University Press, accessed December 28, 2016, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.ezproxy.bgsu.edu:8080/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2092842.

[9] Helena Simonett, “Banda,” Oxford University Press, accessed December 28, 2016, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.ezproxy.bgsu.edu:8080/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2092842.