Easily recognizable for its shape, deep and rich sounds, and low pitch, the tuba is a part of the brass family and is used in different music ensembles and genres. For the instrument to produce beautiful sounds, you need a tuba mouthpiece of the correct size to start with but also lots of practice, guidance, and willingness to learn various playing techniques.
It might be easy to recognize a tuba, but mastering it is a long and demanding journey, which makes us raise our hats to the professional tuba players who have enchanted us with their performances and inspired beginners when the going got tough.
Also known as tubaists or tubists, tuba players spend years studying the instrument and practicing in order to reach mastery, and the world’s music stage has witnessed famous tuba players coming from different music genres.
We’ve seen tuba players performing as a part of orchestras, brass bands and ensembles, jazz groups, pop groups, and tuba quartets, which shows this instrument’s versatility, even if it produces low sounds, and the skillfulness of those playing the tuba. If you’re interested in who’s the best tuba player in the world, here is a list of candidates that are worthy of this title.
Engaging in impressive tuba performances, Charles Daellenbach is a key figure when it comes to the tuba world, as well as the most recorded tubist in history, which is indicative of his talent and skill.
He has skillfully brought forth the sonic capacities of this instrument in famous tuba pieces from the classical genre, and he is also one of the founders of the Canadian Brass, a quintet in which he plays the tuba but also has administrative and publishings roles.
In 2014, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada for promoting classical music and for his contribution to this field.
Thanks to her mastery of the instrument and bold musical approach, Velvet Brown has become one of the world’s most famous female tuba players. In a world where most players are male, Brown has earned a top place as a tuba performer, and her career includes achievements not only as an orchestral player but also as a soloist.
She has received the 1999-2000 William Fulbright Fellowship Vinciguerra Award and she is also an international chamber ensemble performer, conductor, and recording artist. She has played with various important symphonies and orchestras, such as the New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra, Altoona Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Women’s Philharmonic, to name a few.
Considered to be one of today’s most skillful tuba players, Øystein Baadsvik began studying this instrument in his early teens. It didn’t take long before his talent and hard work were rewarded as he won the first prize at a Norwegian national competition for tuba soloists.
His achievements grew in number as years went by, and in 1991, the Norwegian tubist added two more important prizes to his attainment list, namely two prizes at the renowned Concours International d’Exécution Musicale held in Geneva.
His performances, masterclasses, and tuba clinics held in numerous universities throughout the world have contoured his top place in the world of tuba players. Baadsvik has performed with famous orchestras, including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, and Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. ‘Fnugg Blue’ is one of his most well-known works, a musical piece that is representative of his skills and talent.
The world of tuba music has also been beautifully tailored thanks to Roger Bobo’s remarkable performances. His career includes collaborations with many chamber ensembles and orchestras as a guest conductor and 25 years of performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Another noteworthy achievement is his famous solo tuba recital held at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, the first recital of this type in the history of this concert venue. His discography includes various albums that have become iconic for all tuba lovers and audiophiles.
Considered to be a ‘brass legend’, Bobo hasn’t limited his professional activity to playing the tuba as he is also a teacher. He has taught at several prestigious institutions in different countries, including Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, and England.
The world of tuba music wouldn’t be what it is today without the contribution of Arnold Jacobs. The American tubist dedicated his professional activity to being not only a tuba performer but also a teacher. As a tubist, his achievements include collaborations with several orchestras, such as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
He spent most of his career as a tubist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a collaboration that lasted from 1944 to 1988. Jacobs was also one of the world’s most sought-after teachers as he became an expert on respiratory applications for woodwind and brass instruments.
Many of his students have become orchestra tubists and teachers, and his knowledge, skills, and contribution to their development had such an impact that several of Jacobs’ students wrote books about him.
When it comes to famous female tuba players, Carol Jantsch holds a top place thanks to her talent and playing skills. She began studying the piano when she was only 6 years old, moving to study the tuba in the seventh grade.
One of her greatest achievements is her position as a principal tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and besides her performances, what makes this hold such importance is the fact that she is the first woman to hold this role in a major orchestra in the United States.
She has won several awards, including the Philadelphia magazine’s ‘Best of Philly’ award, and she is also a teacher at Yale School of Music.
Gourlay’s encounter with this musical instrument occurred at an early age, and it didn’t take long for him to become a champion at tuba playing. After finishing his studies at the Royal College Music, he became the principal tubist in the City of Birmingham Orchestra.
His tuba mastery soon led to positions in the Zurich Opera House Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra, as well as to international performances and recitals. During this time, Gourlay worked with some of the world’s most famous conductors. His career has also gained success due to his performances as a chamber musician, soloist, and conductor.
He has conducted many of the UK’s most famous brass bands and has been a guest conductor with wind and brass ensembles alike. Gourlay is also the Musical Director of Pittsburgh’s River City Brass Band and a pedagogue.
Pokorny’s career includes memorable performances with several major orchestras, as well as collaborations for movie soundtracks. We can thus hear him performing on the soundtracks used for The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Fugitive, and Jurassic Park.
Although the first musical instrument he studied was the piano, he became successful and famous for his activity as a tuba player. He has worked with well-known orchestras, such as the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Utah Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Israel Philharmonic.
Gene Pokorny also holds the principal tuba position in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and he has written several articles for The Instrumentalist and the Tuba Journal.
The world of tuba music has also witnessed the praiseworthy performances of Alan Baer, an American tubist who has impressed both as a soloist and as an orchestra tubist. He has worked as a principal tuba player with several major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
His activity also includes performances with the New Orleans Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Baer has also been a teacher and has taught at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and California State University.
Besides being a tubist and teacher, Baer collaborates, as a design consultant with Meinl-Weston, a manufacturer of musical instruments.
Often referred to as England’s most famous tubist, John Fletcher engaged in performances that have impressed his audiences and contoured his successful career. He began to study the tuba early on, and it didn’t take long before he played this instrument in Great Britain’s National Youth Orchestra.
He later became the principal tuba player of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. His career also included performances with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and activity as a teacher.
The International Tuba-Euphonium Association offered him the Lifetime Achievement Award, while Leonard Salzedo dedicated one of his works, a sonata for tuba and piano, to Fletcher.
The list of the most famous tuba players can be extended as there are many other performers from different backgrounds, such as notable jazz tuba players, that are worthy of appreciation and are role models when it comes to mastering this instrument.
Tan Yao Cong, Walter Hilgers, Yasuhito Sugiyama, and Sam Pilafian are just some of the tuba players who have shaped the world of tubas and have shown the beautiful sonic capacities of this instrument through their notable performances and mastery.