For as long as I have had an interest in jazz, I have often been presented with the same question, “Do you play “jazz bassoon?” The short answer is, yes, I CAN… but NO I WON’T. I have always maintained the attitude that the bassoon is just not an instrument well adapted for the jazz idiom.
First of all, the bassoon is not an instrument that can generate much sound in terms of sheer amplitude. Additionally, the bassoon plays in a range which does not project very well, unlike a flute for example. These issues become very problematic when a bassoon must play in an ensemble where it must compete with the dominating sounds of a drum set. Even though the sound can be amplified, the tendency is always to “over blow.” Thus, bassoonist who have chosen to play in a jazz context almost always compromise what would conventionally be considered a “sweet” bassoon sound.
There are bassoonists who are quite successful blowing “jazz lines,” but I think you would agree by listening to examples below that their sound is hardly identifiable as a bassoon. Impressive licks though!
Please note that this is not to say that I do not feel that bassoonists should improvise… quite the contrary. I don’t see how any musician can consider themselves “complete” without the ability to spontaneously create music. I hope to compose pieces in the future which utilizes a significant amount of bassoon improvisation, but in a setting where it doesn’t need to compete against the high amplitudes/volumes of a jazz combo. Perhaps in a setting of softer textures with auxiliary or hand-percussion.
As my good friend Kyle Coughlin will attest, I was able to rip through Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” head at the same tempo as in the video below back in the day. However, in listening to the performance in the video below, I believe the viewer will agree with the points made above.