Can a real jazz musician record an "easy listening" album? Louis Armstrong did, so the answer must be yes. With this irrelevant question out of the way, once and for all, let's get on with the music.
There are quite a few high quality easy listening clarinet albums out there, not all of them from jazz musicians. Both Reginald Kell and Artie Shaw dabbled in the "light classical" genre beginning in the 1940s. The best results of these can be found on Reginal Kell and his Quiet Music, fortunately still available on CD, and Modern Music for Clarinet, a rare Columbia LP of Shaw's. The Shaw disc tends to sell for rather high prices these days, owing to both its rarity and the rumor that the cover art might be an example of early Warhol. It's also one of the more interesting in the genre, for its blending of both jazz and classical repertoire.
Yet even with these efforts in mind, my favorite in the Jazz Clarinet Easy Listening category is Pete Fountain's I Love Paris. This is music with absolutely no pretense: no throwing in Debussy's "Petite Piece" to "legitimize" the album, no busting out a virtuosic Django Reinhardt number to save face... this is straight up "turn-on-the-A/C-and-mix-your-martini-after-a-hard-day-at-the-office-to-unwind-with-the-missus" bourgeois relaxation. This is Rob and Laura Petrie chilling to some "jazz." This is suburban America trying to unwind (and that's no easy task--trust me, suburban America can be a bizarro world of reality denial).
The arrangements by Bud Dant are brilliant--lush strings, but spare in their lines, uncluttered. So many jazz "with strings" albums are ruined by arrangers bent on proving they can make a Hoagy Carmichael tune sound like Schoenberg. Bud Dant is much better than that.
Pete's playing is great--probably better than on any of his many Easy Listening projects. His tone takes over and he sells every tune well. I'm not a big fan of tunes like "La Vie en Rose" or "Autumn Leaves", but Pete's playing of them, his use of subtone, and his spare but tasteful solos transform them. He has a lightness of touch and intimacy that keeps these songs from slobbering over-emotion.
If you ask me in the winter time how many reeds I rate this, I'll probably answer "three." But as soon as the A/C has to be turned on, and summer heat rolls in, this album is Five Good Reeds. It's just the best in the genre for me.
If you're lucky enough to get an LP in good condition, be sure to check the right hand corner of the cover: just above the blue I LOVE PARIS lettering, it should be marked STEREO in white block letters. If it's unmarked, it's likely one of the mono versions. I highly recommend the STEREO version: one of the great joys of this album is to hear the ride cymbal and trombones on the left channel answered by the accordion and bongos [sic] on the right! So don't gyp yourself! Turn that A/C on full blast, in stereo!