One of the most hotly debated topics in the world of music is who deserves the crown for the best tuba player in the world. We all have different tastes and different abilities, but the question can be broken into two camps.
The first camp is based on the subjective, and the second camp is based on the objective. Given the complexity of professional tuba playing, there is an undeniable amount of objective technique required.
But one cannot simply be declared “the best in the world” based upon a rote mastery of dry technique.
Rather, the best player in the world must demonstrate a comprehensive approach that not only encompasses the raw technique but also artistic judgment and soul.
If expertise was based on sheer mastery of the instrument alone, this would likely be a much shorter article. Few professional tubists have ever demonstrated a greater comprehensive understanding of their instrument than Øystein Baadsvik.
From the moment his 1992 album “Tuba Works” was released, it was clear that Øystein would quickly make a name for himself. While the majority of high-level tuba players rely heavily on mid-century American jazz influences, Øystein’s style can be better described as “classicly pure.”
This reenvisioning of what it means to be a master tubist is likely due to the relative isolation that represented so much of Baadsvik’s early experience with the instrument.
Growing up in Norway, his exposure to more contemporary influences was extremely limited.
Thus, Øystein derived the bulk of his playing style from the techniques honed by baroque masters from central Europe.
These influences are far from hidden in his playing style. While modern tuba is marked by a larger “booming” tonality, Øystein delivers a subtlety to tuba that is sorely missing from many players.
From minute flourishes to elegantly stepped crescendos with startling accuracy, Øystein’s style is a unique one.
Thus, it is not surprising that in addition to his prestigious recording and performing career, he has also become renowned as a teacher of masterclasses. If mastery is judged by technique alone, a strong argument could be made for crowning Øystein Baadsvik with the title.
Whenever the topic of “best tuba player in the world” arises, it is only a matter of time before Roger Bobo’s name gets thrown into the ring. His almost universal appeal is likely due to the staggering influence he has had on the tuba community.
As the author of “Mastering the Tuba”, published by Editions Bim, his work is considered a seminal tome for any artist with an even vague interest in tuba. In keeping with his life long drive and stamina, he continues teaching his craft to this day at the Musashino Academy of Music in Tokyo.
However, while his impact on the educational methodologies of tubists cannot be understated, it is important to not overshadow his career as a performer.
Bobo’s tenure among world-class orchestras is extensive. However, few would argue that the definitive period of his career occurred during his time with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
It was during this period when he recorded the album that would ultimately make him a household name, “Gravity Is Light Today.”
While Bobo often joked that the title was primarily designed to poke fun at a physicist friend of many years, the name was nonetheless apt.
For a less skilled player, it is easy for the levity of the tuba’s tamber to be lost. Yet, the sensuality of the instrument was always respected by Bobo, who unwaveringly described it as “one of the most elegant instruments ever conceived.”
As mentioned above, there are numerous ways to measure greatness when discussing a topic as nuanced as the tuba. In terms of cultural influence, few tubists have achieved more impact on society as a whole than Gene Pokorny.
Many tuba players resound themselves to a life in the shadows, cast behind the string section of an orchestra like a forgotten brass backdrop.
And yet, Gene Pokorny was never afraid of finding his spotlight. Pokorny quickly developed a reputation for flexibility in his playing style.
One critic noted that he could “turn Bach into a pop song, or Lady Gaga into a classical masterpiece.” Pokorny utilized this versatility throughout his career.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of his career was his work in countless theatrical productions.
Beyond his three solo albums, Pokorny was a key figure in numerous soundtracks including Jurassic Park, The Fugitive, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. If the question of greatness comes down to wide-spread appeal, few could beat Gene Pokorny.
The tuba is an instrument often held back by tradition and history. However, Danielle Allen is an artist who was never afraid of defying restrictions.
She has long been considered a rogue artist for her non-conventional playing style and innovative melodies. Beyond her creative approaches to classical technique, she is also notable for her choice of instrument.
Allen is an outlier in the world of professional tuba players, as she was quick to wholly embrace the sousaphone. Many more traditional players cast the sousaphone aside and call it a “marching band novelty.” Allen disregarded this criticism and made the instrument her own.
It is difficult to delve into the world of masterful tuba playing without ruffling more than a few feathers. Few instruments bring about more passionate responses and opinions than the tuba. As such, trying to ascertain the best tuba player in the world is not a task for the faint of heart.
However, the title should be given to a player who truly embodies the potential of the instrument. For their combination of skill, intellect, innovation, and vision, the claim to the title of best tuba player in the world can be given to only one person.
Carol Jantsch is not only an inspiring character, but she also demonstrates a level of mastery that has arguably never been seen before. To think that her career is just beginning is a truly thrilling idea. Thus, there is no question. She is the best tuba player in the world.