Adolphe Sax's original design for the saxophone included many different versions and variations, and while we do have literature that includes bass and sopranino and maybe even contrabass and soprillo, saxophones are most popularly seen in a quartet variety of soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone.
Almost every beginning student starts on alto: its design is compact enough for younger students to hold and it seems easy enough to produce a sound when players are first starting out. Then there is soprano, which is usually not explored until students reach upper-level high school material; however, it seems when soprano is called for in a piece, every saxophonist tries to jump at the opportunity to play it due to the uniqueness of the instrument and its soloist tendencies within band literature. Baritone…well, everyone loves baritone because, just like soprano, it looks a bit different from alto and tenor, and it has access to that sweet low range that everyone is clamoring to hear. Play a low A on baritone at a healthy volume, and I guarantee every student and adult will flash a quick, youthful grin because the sound is unlike much of anything within the ensemble.
And then there’s tenor. No solos like on soprano (or even alto for that matter). It looks like an alto but is slightly bigger, but it’s not big enough to have the curb appeal of baritone. Play a low note on a tenor, and the bari player will look at you funny, play the same note and then go lower, as if saying: “anything you can do, I can do better”. The band parts can seem at times like an afterthought, where you’re always paired with the euphonium, maybe the trombone and horn, but never on the "good" parts. And, perhaps worse of all, the tenor can have an extremely unwieldy sound that can make band director’s heads roll. Simply put, the tenor seems to be sort of the awkward sibling in the setting of four saxophones.
And it really shouldn’t be because the instrument has so much potential for equal greatness among the quartet! As a saxophonist, I actually grew up playing tenor more than alto. I switched to tenor is seventh grade and played it all the way through my very first semester of college until I was able to obtain a professional model alto. I know what it’s like to play all those band parts. I know what it’s like to play far too loud and receive the “you’re way too loud and not important here” hand from the band director. But I also know how cool concert tenor saxophone repertoire can be, how important the instrument is in the jazz community, and most importantly, how great the instrument can sound when played well.