Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jazz Clarinet Gear Review: Introduction & 1981 Selmer 10S



What is a jazz clarinet?

The short answer: a clarinet played by a jazz musician.

The longer, better answer:

A jazz clarinet needs to enable the player a range of textures, flexibility, and volume needed to perform jazz.

This sort of instrument is not so easy to find as you might think, especially as most manufacturers these days are making instruments to suit a very specifically defined classical scene. I'm personally a vintage, large-bore partisan--I think the decline of the large, straight bore has accompanied, not coincidentally, the decline of the clarinet playing a dominant role in contemporary jazz. Having said that, great jazz has been made over the years on a wide array of instrument makes. Some quick history:

Benny Goodman played Selmer K series horns in the 1930s, then the Selmer CT (or at least he endorsed them), then Buffet R13s once he'd gone into semi-retirement and was playing both classical and jazz gigs more evenly.

Artie Shaw played Selmers with his big band. He endorsed and possibly played Conns as well. His final Gramercy 5 sessions were recorded on a Buffet.

Pete Fountain played a Leblanc Dynamic H, then his own 'Pete Fountain' model developed by Leblanc, later renamed the "Big Easy" before discontinuation after a run of about three decades.

Edmond Hall played Albert models, then a German System Hammerschmidt.

Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, Omer Simeon, Jimmy Noone, Barney Bigard, Raymond Burke, and Jimmy Hamilton (early in his career) played various Albert system horns (often Selmers). These are instruments with a large, straighter bore than most clarinets played today. You'll note that this list contains many of the great New Orleans players--the NOLA sound is dominantly Albert system.

Dr. Michael White, who continues the New Orleans jazz clarinet tradition, has performed and recorded on many makes of clarinet, most recently a Wurlitzer Reform-Boehm, which is a hybrid of German bore with French Boehm-style keywork.

Eddie Daniels has made masterful jazz on a variety of clarinets over the years, including Yamahas, Leblancs, Buffets, and Backun clarinet. 

I've played jazz on several makes over the last few decades and thought my impressions might be of some help or interest to other jazz clarinet fans out there, begining with my first:

1981 Selmer Series 10S

The Selmer 10S was the first pro clarinet I ever purchased, at age 14. Looking for a free blowing horn that could match the sort of Big Band era timbre of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, it was chosen from a batch of several horns, including a 1980's era Buffet, a pre-R13 Buffet, and a Yamaha.

1981 Selmer Series 10S

The chalumeau of this horn is very liquid, mellow, and bulbous. It has a nice 'boom' to the sound and 'jumps' well in the chalumeau and clarion (that Selmer 'shout' Artie Shaw used to mention). Intonation in the very low chalumeau is tough, like most clarinets. (For what it's worth, and probably due to my playing style, I tend to find modern polycyclindricals a little harder to play in tune than straight bores--the angle of the horn probably has a good deal to do with it--I've always felt most comfortable holding the horn out like early Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw).

The clarion is really nice on this horn--great mellow quality, like the chalumeau. Everything matches well, timbrally. It's very warm, yet perhaps the sound doesn't yield the same 'crackle' or quite the same depth that the CT does when pushed. This isn't a big problem, though--the character of this horn is warmth, and that's not a bad thing!

The altissimo is a pure, 'fretless' Selmer altissimo. No clarinets are better at delivering this violin-like quality, where glissandi are possible, with a tremendous amount of power.

Bottom line: For me, this horn is excellent in many ways. It has the shout, the punch, and mellowness associated with the Selmers of old (though even the 10S is getting more scarce on the used market). Highly recommended for jazz, with the caveat that those who want a wider color palette will probably prefer a CT.


Anonymous said...

Which mouth piece do you use or recommend for jazz on this clarinet? I play a 10s myself, thus far classic. Thank you for any suggestion!

ES said...

The 10S is a really mouthpiece-friendly horn, so it's hard to go wrong--at least that's been my experience. I've played a variety of Vandorens on it--B45 and B40--a Zinner, and a couple of different Pomaricos (crystal and even wood) . But the best mouthpiece for me on this horn is the one designed for it--the Selmer C85. I like the C85 so much that I use it on my Centered Tones as well (which are my main horns these days).

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Many thanks from Sweden. I will for the time being stick to my vandoren 5rv and ask father Xmas for a c85.

Daniel McBrearty said...

Nice blog. I have been playing a 10S since the early 1980s, a few years ago I bought a second (nickel plated) one as a backup, and I have just received a lovely 10S A clarinet (which I use occasionally for playing gypsy jazz, typically on tunes in A or E concert). I agree with your description of the character of these horns. Very sweet sounding but capable of great power and a wide range of expression. I have used a number of mouthpieces, one which I bought from Ed Pillinger in London (very sweet but a little narrow for jazz when things get strident), a Vandoren 5JB (very open but a little uneven across the registers) and most recently a custom one that I bought from Evan Christopher (which seems to combine the best qualities of both). -- best regards Daniel

Clifford Tetle said...

I just bought a Backun Pro Model. It will be here tomorrow. Can't wait. I've been playing on a Selmer !0S