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 a Selmer L series horn 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. He may have also played Boosey & Hawkes for a brief time.

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

John Murnane said...

I took Eric's advice and ordered a Selmer C85 (115) for my Selmer 10s clarinet. I played with a Vandoren 5R for more than 30 years; but the Selmer C85 is much better--it projects and has warmth. I am using Fibracell reeds (I recently switched to synthetic after joining a big band and needed to play loud enough to be heard about the brass section on tenor sax, tried it with my clarinet and love it). So with the 3.5 synthetic reed and the Selmer C85 mouthpiece I can hear (and feel) a big difference. I will be playing in a concert soon and at a Dixieland jam session. Cannot wait to to test it out in a live situation. Thanks Eric. I enjoy your blog.

Eric Seddon said...

Glad the C85 is working out for you, John! It's a very nice match for the 10S--in fact, if I'd stuck with the 10S and not gone the route of vintage large bores, I almost certainly would have just stuck with the stock C85 that came with my horn--it really is a good mouthpiece.

Keep swinging!

John Murnane said...

Hi Eric. What ligature do you recommend with the Selmer C85 and the 10s? I am getting a very clear sound but getting tired quickly--going from a 105 opening on my old Vandoren to a 115 on the Selmer seems to require more force. I have a metal ligature made for a classical-sounding mouth piece that I used many years ago. I use a Rovner on tenor sax and really notice a difference--it is so easy to play (soft, loud, growl, grace notes, etc.). Thinking about ordering a Rovner for the clarinet (?).

Eric Seddon said...

Hey John--

My advice with ligatures is always the same: use anything that works.

Having said that, what I like to use hasn't changed much in 20 years. For the last 17 years or so, I've used a Rovner Eddie Daniels model. Before that I used a Rovner Dark for nearly seven years. Before that a Bonade inverted (which I disliked intensely, but used because there was a bit of a vogue for them among the classical players I knew). Before that, in High School, I used a vintage Harrison (which I liked very much, until it snapped in two in the middle of a solo of mine on St Louis Blues at a restaurant gig in Connecticut!)

I used an expensive Silversteen ligature for one gig a few years back, but disliked the bolt mechanism and didn't get the warmth of the Rovner. But to each his own.

You can still buy those cheap Leblanc 'L' ligatures that Pete Fountain used--think I've seen them pretty regularly on eBay. They work well and sound good, but to me sounded a little too much like Pete! (Not a bad thing, but not me!) Plus I've always preferred inverted ligs.

So to summarize again: Play whatever you want; use what you like.

Keep swingin'!

Pete N said...

I tried a 10S in my local shop recently and really liked everything about it except the lowest notes (G down to E), which seemed small and surprisingly hard to get any power out of. Had no problems just above the break in the same part of the instrument (B up to D). Does this seem unusual for a 10S (i.e. could it just be that particular instrument?) or something inherent in the design?


Eric Seddon said...

Hey Pete--

That is NOT normal for a 10S. My guess is that something is out of adjustment and good tech could fix it for you, though not having played the actual horn, I couldn't say for certain. My own 10S can crank on those notes.


Pete N said...

Thanks Eric.

Unknown said...

Hi Eric,

I was wondering if there is any difference between the Leblanc Dynamic H and a older version of the Pete Fountain model? I have a Dynamic H with the forked Bb/Eb and a articulated G#/C#. I wanted to know if there was any slight differences or did Leblanc just slap the Pete Fountain name on it just to sell more.