There has been a wave of Tuba theft stories circling the internet. It all started when an a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, while covering the theft of a sousaphone from Ben Jaffe of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, realized that a number of tuba thefts have been reported by local media outlets over the last decade.
Tubas and their marching band cousins, sousaphones, are not the thing you expect to disappear as you pack up after a show. They are, of course, very valuable instruments—ranging in cost from two to twenty thousand dollars. When you add that to the image of a thief trying to slip a tuba into his jacket you can see why appeals to local media for aid in their recovery are so often answered with tongue-in-cheek stories. But for a working musician short a tuba it is no laughing matter.
Hearing of the thefts many fear the instruments are, because of their size, being stolen for scrap. Thankfully that is rarely the case, meaning recovery can always be hoped for. Starting in 2012 there were a number of school band rooms broken into with tubas as the specific target. The break-ins seem to have been related to the increased popularity of a musical style called “banda” in which tuba plays a prominent role. With prices for the instruments running so high a black market was created.
As with any theft, the safe return of a stolen tuba is the exception not the rule, but there are happy endings. In 2016 a tuba belonging to the Minnesota Brass drum and bugle corps was stolen out of a vehicle. The perp was busted when a local pawn shop owner tipped off police after determining the man in front of him knew nothing about his instrument.
Ben Jaffe’s story also has a happy ending. After the media coverage, an anonymous tip led to a private handoff of the instrument somewhere in New Orleans. Musicians often have special relationships with their instruments. Jaffe said in an interview with local radio that he purchased his sousaphone to replace one lost in Hurricane Katrina and “every little nick and ding on that horn has a story behind it.” The theft caused some damage to the valves, and specialist repair will be needed to get the instrument back into concert shape, but Jaffe is relieved to have the instrument back where it belongs.
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