Saturday, December 27, 2014

Buddy DeFranco on JazzWax

One of the finest jazz blogs out there, Marc Myers has posted a brief overview of Buddy DeFranco's career on JazzWax, along with links to his many interviews with the late clarinet giant.

Myers's work makes his blog one of the finest compendiums of thought on Buddy's importance and contribution to jazz history. I'm personally grateful for his work, and highly recommend others check it out.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

R.I.P. Buddy DeFranco

The Chicago Tribune has reported that one of the greatest of jazz clarinetists, Buddy DeFranco, passed away at age 91 last night on Christmas Eve.

Buddy was a virtuoso whose dazzling skills brought the clarinet decisively into the bop era, and whose consistent excellence over the decades had few parallels or equals in the world of jazz.

According to the article, DeFranco had not performed in the past two years, and there will be a celebration of his career sometime next year. May he rest in peace, and may his loved ones be comforted this Christmas season.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Acker Bilk (1929-2014)

R.I.P. Bernard Stanley 'Acker' Bilk, who was a major figure in the UK trad jazz revival of the 1950's and '60s. His playing paid homage to early New Orleans clarinetists such as George Lewis, Edmond Hall, Sidney Bechet, and others. Bilk's biggest hit, 1962's "Stranger on the Shore", was the first song to be a number one hit on both the UK and US charts.

Read the BBC News article on his passing here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hot Djang!





For all those readers of The Jazz Clarinet who didn't know it yet, I'm now a proud member of the Cleveland-based gypsy jazz ensemble, Hot Djang. For several months I've been subbing as a lead voice whenever jazz violinist Reed Simon or guitarist Kevin Richards had a gigging conflict--and always jumped at the opportunity, as these guys are some of the best and most soulful players out there. 
As a clarinetist, it's a dream to work in this particular genre, with this group of talented musicians. There is probably no greater freedom for a clarinetist, as all registers jump without trouble--and being the sole wind voice gives me a melodic and timbral scope almost impossible to find in other ensembles. Each of the musicians in the group--Brad Smedley, Bryan Thomas, Kevin, and Reed--bring out new things in my playing every time out: it's jazz at its best!

L to R: Eric Seddon, Kevin Richards, Brad Smedley, Bryan Thomas, Reed Simon

Hot Djang has a standing monthly gig every third Friday evening, from 7:30 to 10:30 in the lounge of Rockefeller's Restaurant at the corner of Mayfield and Lee Roads in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. We play a wide range of Django Reinhardt tunes and hot jazz numbers. If you're in Cleveland, or nearby, stop in and hear us--I'll keep this blog up to date as to our whereabouts and activities. 

You never know who'll show up at Rockefeller's for a Hot Djang gig:
here I am with Franklin Cohen of the Cleveland Orchestra.  


Thursday, September 11, 2014

"No America, No Jazz": Some Reflections on the Place of Jazz in American Culture on the Anniversary of 9/11

Art Blakey summarized and resolved many historical and philosophical difficulties when uttering his compact assessment of the origins of jazz:

"Jazz is known all over the world 
as an American musical art form 
and that’s it. 
No America, no jazz."  

Though he was addressing specific issues within the jazz community at the time, his observation had long reaching implications. Jazz musicians are often viewed as a fringe of society, rather than central to it; as an anachronism rather than of contemporary relevance; as a protest to the established culture rather than culture itself. The central paradox is that the jazz musician, arguably more than any other artist in the nation's history, has developed the artform most inextricably linked to that history, yet not answering to the materialism and consumerism which most people assume (for better or for worse) are the substance of America. 

When commercialism pushes hedonism, jazz still sings about true love. When our musical mainstream glorifies violence (whether urban or militaristic), jazz reminds us of greater values than brute strength. When materialism denies a spiritual component to public discourse, jazz counters with Bechet, Ellington, Coltrane, contemporary works by Wynton Marsalis, Don Byron, Dave Douglas, and countless artists in between. 

Alexis de Tocqueville noted almost two centuries ago that the American myth was dependent, in part, upon a rhetoric of individuality masking a practice of rigid conformity. Jazz ignores and rejects that hypocrisy, demanding a fully developed, responsible individuality. 

America prefers huge corporate entities with elaborate hierarchies; Jazz remains purest when practiced in small groups of equally responsible members.

Finally, the ultimate paradox: Jazz is respected in many places globally more than its homeland. Big name jazz musicians more frequently play in Tokyo, London, or Paris than they do in many American cities.       

Considering this bleak and strange relationship, what is the jazz musician to think about patriotism? Is there a place for the jazz musician in the discussion of country? 

On this anniversary of 9/11, I look back and think about the roots of it all. Blakey was right: No America, no jazz. If we love jazz, we must in some very deep and often paradoxical ways love America. We must love that something beautiful, life-affirming, intensely creative, inexhaustible was brought out of the darkest of experiences of inhumanity here--that the oppressed and abused were given a place to sing, praise, and shout the complexities of redemptive suffering through the medium of sound. We must acknowledge that it grew here, that the soil was good enough for it, that there was indeed enough air, sunshine, and nutrition to bring it all about and sustain it.  

Jazz, this unique system which allows humanity that utterance of joy, even if we walk the Via Dolorosa, was born and raised here. That wasn't an accident. Sometimes, our consciences aren't appreciated--they seem to keep us from having fun, or getting what we think we want. And jazz can be like the conscience of America--it reminds us we're not perfect, that we don't always make the right decisions, that our sense of morality, progress, and self-congratulatory attitude is suspect. But at the same time, the conscience reminds us of the real things, the beautiful things, the eternal things. And jazz does that too. One moment, Coltrane is screaming, howling--the pain of injustice blazing through his horn. The next, he's soothing, comforting, praising with a Psalm. One moment Bechet is moaning in sorrow, giving voice to an existential weight; the next, he's lightening our load and our feet--reminding us, like Ellington, that if today is Friday, Sunday is on the way. Sonny Rollins, Artie Shaw, Charles Lloyd, Sidney Bechet, and countless others did the disappearing act at one time or another: dropping out of the commercial scene altogether for years at a time. They taught us how to prioritize the music and the soul first, for the truth it was supposed to contain, and to come back when ready--when it was good for themselves and America. 

Jazz reminds us of a place we've never been: a place we're supposed to be. Then it paradoxically whispers and shouts of an America that is always there, but overlooked, sometime trampled on. Jazz is freedom above ideology, love above violence, truth above mammon. It's true there is no Jazz without America, but it's also true that Jazz Happened Here--there is, in essence, No America (as we know it) without Jazz. 

America needs Jazz: needs a truth-teller, a reminder, an art challenging it to live up to its rhetoric. And Jazz musicians can never forget their humble roots in this American soil. So today, when we raise our horns to our lips, on whatever gig we're playing, or wherever we're shedding, I hope we're blowing out blessings on this people, this place that needs us, that we love, even when it doesn't recognize us, and even when it's hard for us to try.     



[ Prayers and Peace to all who lost loved ones on or after September 11, 2001].

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Value of Musical Education and the Purpose of Music

Anyone deeply involved in the field of music is de facto interested in music education. We've all benefited from it (whether privately or publicly), are in some ways products of it, and should have a natural concern for the level of understanding of music in our society at large, as well as the transmission of that understanding to future generations.

The plight of music education has never been particularly good here in the USA. There are historical, cultural, social, and economic reasons--books and studies have been written as to why; theories promoted as to how things might be improved. The purpose of this post isn't to dig too deeply into these areas, but to present a few ideas that aren't mentioned in the public discussion, largely because of cultural hitches in the American system which make it difficult to reach the roots of meaning. What I mean, specifically, is that what might be called the Materialist Egalitarian Imperative of American education tends to diminish any spiritual basis of truth in education for fear of crossing a traditional Church/State line. That Church/State line can be explained historically, and I'm not commenting here on the relative wisdom of that line: only that it impedes a deeper discussion of music on a societal level.

In practical terms, the line means that the roots of music--whether dealing with Notre Dame Organum or the African American Spiritual--can never be presented as spiritual realities (as their composers would have understood them), but must always be couched in sociological, cultural, or even psychological terms, if they are mentioned at all. Despite the long and documented understanding of music as a spiritual discipline, with spiritual implications and often religious roots, we find ourselves repressed--unable to investigate or promote the art of music using the very understandings so many great composers (of all branches of music) have applied--those roots which nourished their art. It's like saying we shouldn't be allowed to analyze the physical sciences with mathematics, because there should be a Math/State line we're not allowed to cross. Such a line wouldn't stop us from learning certain things, but Science, as we know it, would shrivel, as we couldn't possibly divorce math from science without harming science itself.

To divorce the human spirit, and its reaching towards the divine, from music, would strike many of the greatest musicians in history as ludicrous. But since we can't talk of spiritual realities, we can't make progress. Music shrivels if we can't quote Sidney Bechet's understanding of the blues and spirituals,and their relation to God and reality--their importance to humanity. It shrivels when we can't suggest John Cage's purpose for music ("To still the mind and make it susceptible to divine influences.") It shrivels if we can't quote Vaughan Williams, when he asserted that music's purpose was to reach out to spiritual realities by means of ordered sound. It might very well be an unintended consequence of our political system, but it is a result nonetheless: any discussion concerning the ultimate purpose for music in relation to the human person are pretty much forbidden, in a public and educational sense.

In recent years, music educators have used research suggesting that the great value of musical study is its boost to cognitive skills helpful for math and science. Music, it is argued, will help us keep ahead in areas of technology, and therefore keep us wealthy and powerful. By this argument, music is an economic resource, subjugated to material concerns. But then what are we to make of the starving artists, the ones who didn't care about money--who scraped and struggled to do something more important than materialism? Were they insane, or were their lives meaningful? If the ultimate purpose and value for music is found in economic gain, then commercialism ought to be its highest expression. But it never is. Rarely in the history of the world have the greatest musicians--the greatest explorers and discoverers of music--been anywhere near the most wealthy for their art.

I don't suggest that the cognitive argument is invalid--if it's true that music helps develop the mind, and has a helpful effect on other necessary skills, I think it should be aggressively promoted by music educators--and I'm happy to see that it is. But there is much more that ought to be addressed.

A few years ago, an old friend asked me if she ought to invest in music lessons for her children. She had minimal musical talent herself (or so she claimed), and her husband was about the same. Why have her kids study if they would never amount to anything as musicians? My answers weren't composed as a music educator (I'm not one and I don't have any degrees in music education), but as a friend, and like the friend who asked the question, a practicing Catholic. What I discovered was that, in answering as a Catholic rather than as a professional teacher, or one with any vested interest in the educational system in general, I was able to talk more freely about what I believe music to be--what it is "for." Below is a lightly edited copy of my response to her question, summarizing many of these issues. It's my hope that this response, while not having direct application to everyone's beliefs or needs, might open up a different conversation about the importance of music--that music has a deeper function in the lives of human beings than as an aid to the Wealth of Nations.          


***

Dear [xxxxx],

Your question has raised all sorts of others, and I'll gladly give you my opinion...though it's grown to a type of essay. Here are some points to consider:

1. There have been cognitive studies done which strongly support the assertion that the study of music, which utilizes different parts of the brain than other disciplines, aids mental development specifically in relation to math and the sciences. If this is true, I shudder to think what my science grades would have been without music. This aside, I have little interest in this line of reasoning. It's used as the big argument for school music programs these days, and since it's all pretty strong research and seems entirely valid, I think music educators should keep pounding it. Having said that, I despise utilitarian arguments and have no personal use for them. If one is going to study music simply on hopes of becoming a brilliant mathematician, I think the point is being missed. This paragraph, therefore, is the last I have to say about it. 
 
2. I doubt you have zero innate musical talent. I've known people who were literally tone deaf--bellowing songs without knowing pitches at all. I don't ever remember hearing you sing, but if you can carry a tune, you're not a flat liner. I also don't remember much about our time in [High School] band together, but you played [xxxxx] at one point, didn't you? You never stuck out--which is what happens to people with no rhythm. Therefore, by deduction, you had at least decent rhythm. Believe me, this isn't insignificant. Be careful not to sell yourself short when thinking of your kids--perfectionism can end up selling their potential short as well. [...] But this is not the real topic either, so let's shove this line of reasoning aside. 
 
3. A final red herring debunker: Kids can possess talent their parents do not. [...]  Talent happens despite our extremely limited (and therefore often presumptuous) knowledge of genetics. But this is no reason to give your kids music lessons either, so away with it, and on to the real matter. 
 
4. My deepest belief is simply that God gave us music so that we might empty our souls to Him, unload our burdens, and carry our hearts to Him in ways that we can't find, even with words. Everyone needs to sing, just as everyone needs to shout when their too happy to hold it inside and groan when they're in profound pain. If you're looking for a monetary balance for your investment in music lessons, you'd do well to check the balance sheet on prayer and love as well.  

If we take this notion of the purpose for music seriously, it can lead us to some interesting observations. Let's look at the question from a radically different angle than most folks ever do. As Catholics, let's consider the Mass itself. 
 
At Mass, most people no longer do the very thing they too often define themselves as--their profession, that is--the thing that provides their income. Teachers don't teach at Mass, Doctors don't practice medicine, Lawyers don't litigate, Painters don't paint, even theologians are not properly engaged in the discipline of theology during mass! But the musician still makes music. Isn't that odd? The Church does not suggest that we all paint at mass, but regardless of our talent, She teaches us to SING! Why?
 
5. Music is powerful. It's been used since ancient times to recruit young men to war, to seduce women, to whip people into trance-like frenzies. It has been called a balm of souls, a vehicle of the devil, a religion in itself. Sickened and twisted versions of it produce terrible results both personally and socially. Yet used for the right purpose it can heal, reform, inspire, convert, soothe.  No one knows exactly what music is. It's mysterious. But even deaf people have been known to need it (there is a percussion virtuoso named Evelyn Glynnie who is deaf, yet has made her career from music. She says that the vibrations are felt physically, even if not heard. She's no novelty act, either, but a real musician who is seriously respected for her abilities).
 
6. I asked my kids at dinner if yours should take music lessons. Their response was yes. I asked them for their own reasons. Here are some:
 
"Because they might find joy in it." 
 
"Because they could give other people joy; because they might do something good in the world; and because they might do something difficult and prove it to themselves." 
 
"Because they might give joy to God by making music." 
 
7. Finally, a personal reason unrelated to these better arguments. When I was in High School, I had no interest in trying out for any sports team, or participating in any. My future, from the time I was 13, was clear: I was going to music school, and my fate would rest on how I played a thirty minute college audition. That was true enough. Unlike other majors, I didn't need to be well rounded, or have a varsity letter on my application: I needed to be able to play clarinet like mad, period. But some friends convinced me to go out for the track & field team. I never became a great shot putter or discus thrower, but I learned lessons in camaraderie that were irreplaceable. If talent, aptitude, or tangible return on my investment are the criteria for judging my time on the track team, it was a failure. But it wasn't. How much more so is a powerful, beautiful thing like music?
 
You guys undoubtedly have limited resources, both time and money. There are many, many ways you can go about addressing musical instruction--many different instruments, potential ensembles; the avenues are diverse. You don't have to make those decisions now--and there are ways you can let those decisions blossom, so that your kids will have a positive, encouraging experience of music in their lives. But it has nothing to do with money, and talent has almost nothing to do with it either. Even tone deaf folks who bellow out at mass are engaged in the important act of praising God musically--the pitches are as superficial as physical beauty is to the beauty of the soul--never let any snob tell you otherwise! Those who sing to praise God ALL sing beautifully. Check out the essays of Charles Ives for deeper information on that perspective!
 
There are few gifts you can give your kids that are more pure, if done in the proper spirit. And if you need any suggestions, or more music to listen to, let me know.
 
Eric
 
    

Monday, June 16, 2014

An Interview on Harttblogs

I'm honored to be the subject of the most recent Hartt Alumni Interview: "5 Questions with Eric Seddon." Many thanks to Michael Menapace for giving me a platform to talk about what I've been up to on the Cleveland Jazz scene.

(This will also explain why I haven't been posting quite as much since the new year!)

Keep swinging, everyone!


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Public Service Announcement: Benny Goodman Autographs (Caveat Emptor)

Before you drop a significant chunk of change on that Benny Goodman autograph you've always wanted for the studio wall, check out this post by Chris Albertson over at Stomp Off. According to the post, Albertson worked as a ghost signer for hundreds of Goodman autographs during the summer of 1962. It makes sense that the King of Swing would have others handle the tsunami of fan mail that came his way, and really serves as a cautionary tale for those bidding on auction sites, hoping to land a piece of Goodman memorabilia.

Beyond the autograph information, there are some great Goodman quotes and stories on the blog--well worth the read. 

  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jazz Clarinet Q&A: Mouthpiece Strategy for Selmer Centered Tone

Hi,

Great blog. It's a joy to read. Because of your blog, I have a question. I'm a life long sax player, studied in college, etc. Unfortunately, I never needed to play clarinet. My double was always flute. Anyway, for the past year or so, I've been diving into clarinet. I've always loved it, especially in traditional Jazz and Brazilian choro. I play soprano in a trad jazz group and in a choro group, but I really want to play clarinet as well.  So...

I recently acquired a beautiful Selmer Centered Tone and I'm in love. Can you recommend one, two or a few good mouthpieces that seem to work well with the Centered Tone? It came with a HS* oval mouthpiece which is way more closed than I'm accustomed to, but it definitely sounds good. I know how personal sound and mouthpiece choice are, but some of problems have to do with how open I should go. I know a lot of sax players seem to like open clarinet pieces, but I like to approach the clarinet as its own instrument.

Thanks.

Wayne Swanson
Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute & EWI


***


Hey Wayne--

Congrats on the Centered Tone and thanks for the kind words regarding The Jazz Clarinet. As you probably know I'm a CT player myself--I think they're the Mark VI of the clarinet world. 

As to your mouthpiece question, all the usual caveats apply (I'm sure you know them)--the choice is individual; use what works for you; etc., etc. 

Having said this, I think you're smart to ask, because it's quite possible to make a mistake with that HS* oval, which would be a real shame. The obvious advice would be to say "go ahead and have someone open it up", but the trouble is that it's axiomatically easier to take rubber off than add it back on, and you're looking to stabilize your concept right now, first and foremost. 

So, my suggestion would be to do something like this:

Although they're not perfect for a CT bore, you can sometimes get very good results from a contemporary Selmer C85 mouthpiece. If you have the time, money, and inclination, I'd buy, or at least test, a few different facings (105, 115, 120), and see if one of them is more comfortable than the others. You're job might be done there--if a C85 120, for example, works well for you, the search might be over. Be forewarned, though, that while many players like myself have had no trouble with the C85 on a Centered Tone, others have experienced intonation problems--a lot of it comes down to embouchure and air flow concept. 

After experimenting with the C85, and determining which facing is best for your playing, you might want to have the HS* oval opened up to your specs. But I'd make sure you really believed in what you were asking for first--in other words, make sure you know and are comfortable with your playing before having a great vintage piece worked on. That HS* oval is, in my opinion, the equivalent of a vintage Otto Link for a tenor player. If and when you get to that point, let me know and I can offer a suggestion or two regarding who to send it to.

Keep swinging, man!

Eric   


Willie Humphrey * New Orleans Clarinet * 1974 * Smoky Mary Phonograph SM 1974 W

Willie Humphrey * clarinet, vocals
James 'Sing' Miller * piano, vocals
Joseph 'T' Butler * vocals
James Prevost * bass
Frank Desmond * banjo, guitar
Josiah 'Cie' Frazier * drums

Recorded May 16 & 18, 1974 in New Orleans. 


Few jazz musicians have put together the sort of life Willie Humphrey did. Born in New Orleans in 1900, like many of his generation, he found his way to Chicago, where he gigged with no less than Joe Oliver's Band at the 1919 "Black Sox" World Series. When the Great Depression hit, however, he took the unusual step of returning to New Orleans rather than moving on to New York, eventually becoming an important figure during the foundational years of Preservation Hall.

Recently I was fortunate enough to come across a factory sealed copy of his 1974 record, "New Orleans Clarinet", which features not only his clarinet, but his singing on several tracks.

There is much talk about the "New Orleans" clarinet sound, as though there was some sort of unified concept, or "school." But the fact is that New Orleans clarinet is marked by an extremely wide a variety of tonal approaches. Jimmie Noone, Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, Irving Fazola, Leon Roppolo, Albert Nicholas, Omer Simeon, Edmond Hall, while all sharing a soulful 'talking' quality, are more marked by unique personality than something which might be codified. Willie Humphrey's playing represents yet another take on New Orleans style, and one which I believe all jazz clarinetists should be exposed to.

From the outset of this record, if you're not accustomed to the more reedy approach to clarinet, you might be shocked. When I first heard it, Humphrey's clarion register sounded like a strange combination of a kazoo and a soprano saxophone. This wasn't the entirety of his approach, though, and his range of tonal expression included a mellower, rounded, chalumeau when he wanted it. He demonstrates a great deal of that range on this Lp.

A rarity among jazz clarinetists, Humphrey was an excellent singer as well--warm, swinging, able to shout a tune mellifluously when needed, he switches back and forth between clarinet and vocals on "Little Liza Jane", "Bourbon Street Parade", and "Bill Bailey." Other vocals are handled well on the album by James "Sing" Miller, and are sometimes entertaining (but sometimes distractingly theatrical) when handled by Joseph Butler on the flip side of the Lp (what works at Preservation Hall in front of a live audience doesn't always work well on a recording--and some of Butler's antics tend to get in the way of what the band is doing on a couple of cuts). Humphrey voice was the best of them, in my opinion.

The star of the show, however, is Humphrey's clarinet, which growls, bites, swings, shouts, rejoices, and broods in turn, always as a vehicle for Humphrey's clear, balanced, beautifully considered musical statements.

The album itself, as quickly as it flies by, represents a remarkable mix--really a cross section--of important styles. Bourbon Street Parade, Bill Bailey, Sweet Georgia Brown, My Blue Heaven, Amen, When the Saints Go Marching In, several blues numbers--they all rub up against each other on this album, and are characterized by crisp, well executed ensemble.

At the end of side one, we're treated to Humphrey's take on the clarinet show tune "China Boy." It's a satisfying version, worthy of listing with the many others set down by jazz clarinet greats. "I did my best that time," we can hear Willie Humphrey say after the tune ends. Humble, clear, honest. That's what this music sounds like, and it has rarely been executed so movingly. He did indeed do his best, and it shows.

Four good reeds for this classic of New Orleans.

     


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mouthpiece Review: Vintage Great Neck, N.Y. Brilhart 'Tonalin' with Serial Number

Vintage Brilhart 'Tonalin' Clarinet Mouthpiece


Whenever I get the chance to pick up a vintage Brilhart Ebolin or Tonalin mouthpiece, I try to do it, if only to preserve a piece of jazz history. Unlike the saxophone market, there are very few clarinet mouthpieces, accessories, or instruments made with any sophisticated notion of jazz in mind--we are usually left to re-purpose classical equipment. This has had catastrophic results for jazz clarinetists, especially since the demise of the large bore clarinet. Of the major Parisian manufacturers, only Leblanc continued to make a worthy large bore jazz model clarinet after the early 1970s--the Pete Fountain model, which has since been discontinued. Mouthpieces suffered a similar fate, with occasional nods made to jazz players, but usually with a shallow understanding of jazz history and equipment. It's a false stereotype that jazz players use soft reeds on wildly open mouthpieces. At least two major jazz clarinetists (Benny Goodman and Edmond Hall) used medium close or close mouthpieces during important years of their careers.

Likewise, the merely raucous has been celebrated as the "jazz sound." Young players are sometimes advised to stick chewing gum into the mouthpiece, lowering the baffle, in order to sound like a "New Orleans" player. (Those who give such advice never say just which New Orleans player that is supposed to sound like--it's doubtful they've ever heard Albert Nicholas, Jimmie Noone, Irving Fazola, or Pete Fountain, among many others). The fact is that jazz clarinet sound is as diverse as jazz saxophone sound, and once upon a time there was a diversity of equipment to enable that individuality. During that time, among the most interesting mouthpieces were those made by Arnold Brilhart during his Great Neck, NY period.

Brilhart was a veteran of the Big Bands, and worked closely with Artie Shaw at one point--even co-writing Shaw's Clarinet Method. Shaw's famous clarinet sound is closely associated with Brilhart mouthpieces, and while owning one won't make you sound like Artie, I have a hard time thinking you'd get very close to that sound without something very similar to a good Brilhart Ebolin mouthpiece.

The Tonalin is a very different sort of mouthpiece. Distinguished by its ivory color, and made famous by it's association with players like Charlie Parker (on alto sax) and Woody Herman on clarinet, it seems to have been designed to emphasize a more mellow, less biting quality than the outspoken Ebolin.

For me this mouthpiece is a real treat--smooth, full, warm--the sound really cushioned in all registers. It yields a very big sound that can hover when called upon. I don't know of anything currently on the market to match it.

Brilhart Tonalin Clarinet Mouthpiece
 
Just as vintage large bore clarinets are becoming standard equipment for jazz clarinetists looking for the flexibility and personality of a bygone era, so too with these mouthpieces. My hope is that, one day, some mouthpiece maker will be inspired to reinvigorate the jazz scene by making new models based upon vintage models. An artist who could create a line of mouthpieces to match the old Selmer Benny Goodman Signature model, Brilhart Tonalin and Ebolin models, Pete Fountain crystals, and a few others, would be doing a great service to music.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Jazz Clarinet Gear Review: Vintage Ligatures

Reviewed today are three vintage ligatures, associated with three jazz clarinet masters: The Leblanc "L" ligature used by Pete Fountain, the Benny Goodman single screw model produced by Selmer in the 1950s, and the original Eddie Daniels model put out by Rovner c. 1999.

L to R: Leblanc "L", Benny Goodman model, Eddie Daniels model

L to R: Leblanc "L", Benny Goodman Model, Eddie Daniels Model


This post is as much a public service announcement as it is a review, for the simple reason that some of these ligatures (especially the Benny Goodman model) are fetching rather high prices on internet auction sites. I've seen the Goodman go for over $100 at least once this past year. 

Now it's none of my business how a fool and his money are parted, and if someone wants to buy a Benny Goodman lig to put on their mantle for display as a piece of rarely used clarinet memorabilia, I say have at it. But if the buyer is a serious player, looking for a functional ligature that gives good reed response and doesn't hinder the sound, my advice is to ignore all vintage ligs, go to your local music shop, and test them until you find what best works for you.

In my experience, for what it's worth (and beyond personal practical value, no one's ligature experience is worth much) the Leblanc model plays well, and can often be found on eBay at a low price. The Eddie Daniels model (now sold, I believe, under the name "Versa") is the one I currently use daily. The Benny Goodman model, very rare and usually highly priced, is undoubtedly the worst ligature in my entire collection. It's telling that I've never seen a picture with Goodman actually playing it. The pressure plate seems to merely deaden the sound.

Maybe some folks would buy a Benny Goodman Selmer model just to see that rarest of combinations: a Selmer CT with a Benny Goodman Signature Mouthpiece and a Benny Goodman Ligature. If that's the case, look no further:


1955 Selmer CT, Circle BG mouthpiece, Benny Goodman Ligature

Look real close, though, because you'll never see me play this set-up on the stand.

Bottom line: if you want the vintage Benny Goodman sound, save the Ben Franklin you were gonna drop on the lig, and spend it on old recordings. The only way to get Benny's sound is to let him do it. Then pick up a lig that works for you, of the many models available today.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

CD Review: "Chicago Rhythm-Apex Blues" * The Recordings of Jimmie Noone 1923-1943 * JSP926

Perhaps no virtuoso has been more obscured over the decades since his death than the great Jimmie Noone (1895-1944), whose achievement as a jazz clarinetist is unique and in many ways unparalleled. As a player of the Albert system clarinet, his technique was unmatched--none of the 'second generation' New Orleans clarinetists could complete with his executive skills. Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, Leon Roppolo--all of these men were important and foundational to the history of jazz--but none of them could match Noone's mastery, which went beyond the realm of jazz men from that era, surpassing many classically trained 'virtuosi' in the process. It wasn't until a younger crew of jazz clarinetists--Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Buster Bailey--all undoubtedly influenced by Noone, would play in such a way that might even admit comparison to this master's chops.

Like Goodman and Bailey, Noone studied clarinet technique with Franz Schoepp in Chicago. Yet unlike those younger players, he was already an established professional. It is a mark of his seriousness and humility that he would take the highly unusual step (in that day) of bothering with lessons. From the recordings we have of Noone, it's obvious he could have matched up with any clarinetist of his day without them. Some deeper musical reason must have compelled him to press forward and master the instrument further, and because of this he catapulted the art of jazz clarinet.

Noone's facility over the the 'breaks' of the instrument remains one of the marvels of his playing. He was so fleet and flawless that the most difficult of his figurations can sound simple and straightforward, when in fact they are nearly impossible for lesser players to accomplish. I've often wondered if this hasn't hindered appreciation--had he made his passages sound more strained, his virtuosity might be paradoxically praised (this has certainly been true of other, lesser 'virtuosos', whose playing has pulled the wool over the ears of more than one critic). Ultimately, this isn't important, though--what is important is finally recognizing how much we have to gain from a proper look in this master's playing career, and that's what this remarkable box set of CDs put out by JSP Records affords us.

The first disc begins with Noone's earliest recordings as a sideman in little remembered groups such as Ollie Powers' Harmony Syncopators and Cook's Dreamland Orchestra, though quickly enough the set is distinguished by recordings from Noone's seminal Apex Club Orchestra, which twenty years later was compared to Thelonious Monk's early groups at Minton's--"That band at Minton's made an era of it's own," wrote critic Paul Bacon, "much as Jimmy Noone's did at the Apex Club." [The Record Changer, Nov. 1949]. This group's recordings are extremely important to the history of jazz, as they form an impressive body of work by a band leading clarinetist--demonstrating the strength of the instrument as a lead voice, and breaking with the already traditional New Orleans lineup of cornet dominated melody lines. For the next decade and a half at least, the clarinet was to prove the equal or superior of the trumpet/cornet as a lead instrument--from the Apex Club through the Casa Loma Orchestra to the zenith represented by the Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw Orchestras, the sound of jazz clarinet was to lead the way to the mass popularity of jazz in American culture. It is significant that, if Goodman and Shaw presided over the era in which jazz was America's popular music, Noone's revolutionary approach with the Apex Club Orchestra provided the initial proof that it could be done.

This box is dominated by great Apex Club sides, which fill roughly two and half discs of the set. Over the course of those cuts, a significant portion of the jazz clarinet canon was established, with Noone laying down the first important interpretations of such tunes as "I Know That You Know", "Sweet Sue", Four or Five Times", "Sweet Lorraine", "She's Funny That Way", "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", "After You've Gone", "Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me", "Am I Blue", and "Ain't Misbehavin'." Anyone familiar with the work of Benny Goodman, Edmond Hall, Pete Fountain and countless lesser known players can immediately tell how influential Noone's choices were. Speaking personally, as a gigging jazz clarinetist in Cleveland, it is a rare week indeed when I don't play at least one or two of these tunes on a job. Audiences still love them, and they are perfectly suited to our instrument. Over 80 years later, Noone's leadership and soloing at the Apex Club on the South Side of Chicago echoes wherever clarinet is swung.

Having said this, the Apex Club recordings are generally well known to fans of early jazz, and have been available in other collections long before now. More rare, and extremely gratifying are the recordings collected on the last disc, especially the live date of the Jimmie Noone Quartet recorded at Chicago's Yes Yes Club on July 17, 1941. Seven tracks of unsurpassed brilliance await anyone who listens, including essential versions of "A Porter's Love Song", "Body and Soul", "Lady Be Good", "Memories of You" and "Honeysuckle Rose." So many of these tunes had been given unbeatable performances by Benny Goodman that it can seem daunting for a clarinetist to attempt them differently. Noone, of all the clarinetist contemporary with Goodman, was perhaps the only one who could take on the very same tunes and reveal equally compelling, yet entirely different interpretations.

Jimmie Noone's rich chalumeau, which never sacrificed intonation for depth, his clarion and altissimo registers which were never overblown or distorted, while still retaining extreme levels of subtlety and power, was unmatched in his day. He paved the way for Goodman and Shaw, especially, whose music was to unite, for one brief era, jazz with mainstream popularity. This four disc set finally does justice to his work.

Five good reeds.







Friday, February 21, 2014

Coleman Hawkins on Clarinet

In Fletcher Henderson's band, the Hawk was known to take some choruses on clarinet, one of which was preserved for posterity on 1931's "Hot and Anxious" which can be heard here. We can all be glad he decided to focus on tenor sax shortly after this, but still, it's Coleman Hawkins taking a chorus on clarinet, and the solo (which begins at around the two minute mark) has quite a bit of Hawkish character!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Buddy DeFranco & Count Basie

It can be very difficult to find any of the music Buddy DeFranco made while a member of the Count Basie Sextet in the early 1950s. Fortunately, some great footage of this group has been posted here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Autobiography of Benny Goodman * The Kingdom of Swing * 1939

It's a generally annoying habit of celebrities to publish an autobiography just after their first flush of major success, resulting in little more than commercial fluff. The genre is cliché-ridden: glossies in a middle section, often of more interest than the text, optimism writ large, and celebrity itself celebrated. America likes these stories, and rarely wants volume two, the sordid discontents, which generally follow.

There are a couple of major exceptions to this rule in the history of jazz clarinet autobiography, most notably Sidney Bechet's Treat it Gentle, which was compiled from interview tapes and published posthumously, and Artie Shaw's The Trouble With Cinderella--a challenging book questioning the premises of fame, fortune, and their relation to music.

Goodman's The Kingdom of Swing was co-written with Irving Kolodin, and published in 1939, at the zenith of Goodman's popularity. Benny himself was still in his late 20s as it was being written, and so this book bears all the hallmarks of commercial fluff. It therefore comes as a great surprise that it isn't.



From the dedication page reading "To the Memory of My Father, David Goodman" forward, Benny talks quite a bit about his family. His father is depicted as the reason he got into music in the first place, due to his love of it and their poverty--a type of poverty that made free concerts at Douglas Park, and affordable lessons at the synagogue, particularly attractive. If America likes rags to riches stories, this is certainly a good one. As Benny wrote:

My memory of those early days is hazier than that of most kids, because we moved around a lot. But I can remember a time when we lived in a basement without heat during the winter, and a couple of times when there wasn't anything to eat. I don't mean much to eat. I mean anything. That isn't an experience you forget in a hurry. I haven't ever forgotten it.

The thumbnail sketches of Benny's childhood are deftly chosen and portrayed, rendered in admirably true voice by Kolodin. He describes the now famous time the young Goodman went down to Kelelah Jacob Synagogue with his brothers to pick out instruments. Benny, being the youngest among them, ended up with the clarinet.

I remember going down to the place for the first time with Harry, who was about twelve, and Freddy who was a year older than me. This was in 1919, when I was ten. Harry was the biggest, and he got a tuba. Since Freddy was bigger than me, he was given a trumpet. The only thing left for me, the smallest, was the clarinet. There have been stories that I went for the clarinet in a big way because it had shiny keys and looked pretty. There might be something in that, but I know that if I had been twenty pounds heavier and two inches taller, I would probably be blowing a horn now instead of a clarinet.

Goodman's description of Franz Schoepp, and his influence, are more forthcoming and gracious than many jazz musicians tend to be, regarding a teacher's influence.

About this time, I started to take clarinet lessons from a man who probably did more for me musically than anybody I ever knew. He was a German named Franz Schoepp, who once taught at the Chicago Musical College. He was quite an old man when I studied with him, and he died only a few years ago at the age of 77.

[...] Buster Bailey, the fine Negro clarinet player [studied] with Schoepp about the time I did. Schoepp was a small man quite white-haired when I studied with him., and he used to look over the top of his glasses at me. He was very strict about details, and never allowed a mistake to pass without being corrected. For a while Buster came for lessons on the same day I did, and we'd play duets, while Schoepp stood over us, counting time and watching that we played correctly. Another very good Negro musician who studied with Schoepp was Jimmy Noone, who still plays a lot of clarinet. As a matter of fact, one of the first things I heard about Schoepp was that he gave lessons to anybody, regardless of color, and I guess that sort of impressed me, because there was plenty of prejudice about such things, even in Chicago. If you remember, they had those terrible race riots there only a little while before, in 1919.

The two years I spent with Schoepp was the only real teaching I ever had, but I went through the regular books like Baerman [sic], Klose, and Cavallini with him, and got the foundation for a legitimate clarinet technic. After all, the most any teacher can give you is a foundation--after that, you're on your own.

This is one of the things that makes this book so interesting: Benny didn't use it as an opportunity to build a mythos--he discusses the hard work without exaggerating it; gives credit where credit is due, and shares more than a little wisdom along the way for aspiring musicians.

His mention of other clarinetists is almost always positive--including a gratuitous nod to rival Artie Shaw at one point. But the most important thoughts concerning jazz clarinetists occur early on, when discussing his formation. The influence of Leon Roppolo on Goodman is of historical interest, and best expressed here:

My idea of a great player...was Leon Rapollo [sic], who was playing at the Friars' Inn then with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, and I did my best to sound like him. I never heard him play in person more than once, but there were plenty of good records to study up on.

Benny's preference for Roppolo's approach to playing had a direct influence upon his career and the future of jazz clarinet. In terms of his career, it helped land the breakthrough gig of his early career--playing with Ben Pollack. Pollack was somewhat of an enigma, and even a tragic figure in the history of jazz. He had an eye for talent, and even an ability to develop that talent as a bandleader, but inevitably those players he recruited would find far greater musical success only after leaving his ensembles. It was his love of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings's sound and approach that made him hire a young Benny Goodman.

Benny's youthful hero worship of Roppolo lead to him playing slouched in his chair--almost on his back--as 'Rap' had done. This, and Benny's ability to play like Roppolo, impressed Pollack enough to offer him the gig, which eventually took Goodman to both coasts.

For the history of jazz clarinet, the connection is equally important, as it links the first great recorded soloist--Leon Roppolo of New Orleans--to the next generation's most important jazz musician, Benny Goodman of Chicago. There is a natural rivalry, especially in the world of jazz clarinet, between New Orleans and Chicago, stoked by the fact that many of the most famous sons of NOLA did their gigging and living in Chicago. The artistic link between Goodman and Roppolo, however, demonstrates a kinship between styles, and the natural growth of an artform. Sidney Bechet once commented that there was no real difference between New Orleans and Chicago style, and Goodman's story helps corroborate this understanding: Chicago style was a development of New Orleans style, not an opposing force.

This also highlights the importance of Leon Roppolo to multiple branches of jazz history. His influence extended through Goodman to most mainstream jazz clarinet that has followed, but also back to his native New Orleans--both Irving Fazola and Pete Fountain's playing bore a strong family resemblance to Rap.

This digression aside, Benny's autobiography has a good amount of quotable material on other topics.
Here he is on conductors:

With some conductors I got along well, but I had trouble with some of the others, especially when it came to doing jazz, and they would tell me how to handle something on sax or clarinet. That rubbed me the wrong way for two reasons: I hadn't grown up in the habit of following somebody else's idea of what the music meant--I had knocked around the business, at that time, for almost ten years and figured I had a way of playing the instrument that was my own, and I wanted to stick to that way. Then, too, some of these conductors didn't know their stuff.

On other peoples' opinions:

Well, lots of musicians and leaders have had their say about me, just as I've expressed my opinion about a lot of fellows I've worked with.

On growing up poor:

One game we played pretty much all the time , though, was cops and robbers. A funny thing about this was that the cops always got the worst of it, because in that kind of a neighborhood, the cops represented something that never did much for the poor people.

I grew up with pretty much of a resentment against the way folks like my father and mother had to work, trying to take care of a big family, making a go of things with most of the breaks against them. Even in the hottest part of the summer they never could get anything like a rest or a vacation.

I was no great shakes in school. I gave more time to music than I did to books, and, like all kids, did the most in what I was interested. Only in my case it didn't happen to be sports, but music. What I might have become if I didn't play an instrument--I never stopped to think about that. From the time I was old enough to think about working, music was in my hand, and I guess I grew up with it. As a matter of fact, judging from the neighborhood where I lived, if it hadn't been for the clarinet I might just as easily have been a gangster.

On the first clarinet he ever owned:

...[was] a swell Martin that my sister Ethel helped me to get. She was also responsible for my first "tux," which I needed for work. At that time she was working for a clothing firm (Kuhn, Nathan and Fisher) as a bookkeeper, and I went down there to see about a suit. But I was so small (what she called a "peanut") that none of the ready-made suits fitted me. So they made one to order for me, for which she paid back by working extra. That was the first tuxedo in the Goodman family, a very big thrill.

On growing up in a big family:

Growing up in a big family naturally put us kids on our own a lot more than if there had been fewer of us. Ida was already married; Harry, Ethel, and the rest were out working, so we didn't see so much of each other except on Sundays. But occasionally things happened that brought us together. For example the time during the summer when Mom discovered there was another baby coming. The youngest one, Gene, was then about six, and Mom didn't have any equipment in the house for the next one. So one night after I had got my week's pay for the job (about fifty dollars) she took the money and got the things she needed. It made me pretty proud to help out that way in preparing for the arrival of the baby of the family--Jerome.

At fourteen I was able to bring home some money regularly, and help out with things which was even better.

The book is filled with interesting notes on a bygone era, as seen from one its most important musicians. The centrality of Benny's family to the motivation for his career, and his background of extreme poverty (but also extreme talent) give a different perspective on his life story, not always sympathetically rendered in more common histories of jazz.




Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Gear Review: Vito V40

You get an emergency call to play the national anthem at Lambeau Field in January. They need you to warm up the crowd, like the clarinet soul singer you are. So you go to your equipment room and panic--all you've got are vintage large bore beauties, ready to crack as you vainly attempt to float your sonic power over the unforgiving tundra. But you need to take this gig: you'll be nationally televised, and Aaron Rodgers has promised you a spot on a State Farm commercial if you do it.

That's when you need a Combat Clarinet. A plastic or hard rubber beast that can withstand the most extreme environments: hot, cold, and smoke machines.

My recommendation is to get an old Vito V40 and put it into adjustment.
  


Vito V40
 
 
According to some internet the sources, the Vito V40 was based off of the Pete Fountain model, making it an ideal horn for a large bore jazz clarinetist. Invariably the keywork will need some adjustment for each player--it's nowhere near the quality of a vintage Selmer or pro level Leblanc, but the sound of these horns with a good mouthpiece is quite beyond your average student model.
 
The sound is consistent from the top to the bottom. The clarion is centered, with a compact Leblanc tone, and a very responsive, neat altissimo. Most importantly, the intonation on these horns is very good. Projectionwise, these aren't as powerful as a good Selmer, but they do have considerable 'jump' to them.
 
Don't be caught when that call comes in from Green Bay next winter. Line up your Combat Clarinet.

 
 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Edmond Hall Sextet * Rompin in '44 * The Complete Session * Circle Records

Few windplayers had as immediately identifiable a sound as Edmond Hall. Gritty, warm, earthy, by turns biting and tender, he was a stellar sideman--perhaps best remembered today for his tenure with Louis Armstrong's All-Stars. He'd be even better remembered today had he taken Duke Ellington's offer to replace Barney Bigard in the early '40s. Instead, he stayed with Teddy Wilson's group at New York's Café Society. This was, for Hall, an artistic decision, and ultimately one we can all be glad he made. According to Frank Driggs, who wrote the liner notes to the album reviewed here, Hall considered playing with Wilson the zenith of his career. He wasn't the only jazz clarinetist to feel strongly about Wilson's playing, though, and when Benny Goodman managed to convince Teddy to return to his band for another stint, Hall was left to lead his own group.

A New Orleans native, Hall maintained the traditional front line of trumpet, trombone, and clarinet, but with a twist: instead of playing NOLA style polyphony, with the trumpet taking the vocal lead, he tended to mute the trumpet for color, as Artie Shaw had done with his Gramercy 5, and work from the type of head arrangements that both the Gramercy 5 and the Benny Goodman Sextet favored. The end result is something rare and exceptional: Hall's New Orleans "talking" quality fused with streamlined swing.  The group played the Café Society and, brilliant as they were, struggled to record. Ultimately, they landed only one date: December 4, 1944. Hall didn't waste his opportunity: during that session he laid down no less than three classics of the jazz clarinet canon--"Caravan," "Besame Mucho," and "The Man I Love." While many other clarinetists have successfully recorded these numbers, none have surpassed Hall's depth of soul and originality.

The session took place in New York City, under the supervision of Milt Gabler of World Broadcasting Systems. Hall's band at the time was comprised of Irving Randolph on trumpet, Henderson Chambers on Trombone, Ellis Larkins on piano, Johnny Williams on bass, and Art Trappier on drums. They had from 3 to 6 p.m. During that time, they recorded the following numbers:


Opus 15
The Sheik of Araby (four takes)
Night and Day (two takes)
I Want To Be Happy
The Man I Love (a false start and two takes)
Rompin' in '44 (a false start and three takes)
Caravan (three takes)
Besame Mucho (a false start and one brilliant take)
Face


For some unknown, blessed reason, in 1983 Circle Records released the entire recording session on LP [CLP-52], though it has not, to my knowledge, been rereleased.  This was perhaps the most important session of Hall's career as a leader. He was surrounded by sympathetic musicians of a high caliber, especially the brilliant Ellis Larkins on piano. The Circle disc contains all incomplete takes, false starts, and unissued takes--giving us a window into Hall's creative approach (his opening improvisation on "The Sheik of Araby" for instance, was carefully worked out before the session. As Duke Ellington once pointed out, the emphasis on coming up with solos on the spot is perhaps exaggerated--whether one comes up with a solo a day before or a second before, the important thing is to have come up with it).

This recording has been long out of print, and is very difficult to obtain.

For historic value and brilliance of material, Five Good Reeds.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Buddy DeFranco * (pol*y*tones) * 1963


For sheer jaw dropping virtuosity, chances are the Buddy DeFranco/Tommy Gumina quartet of the early 1960s is the greatest jazz group you've never heard. Other than a set of standards, Pacific Standard (Swingin') Time, their collected work has been left to languish, out of print. To my knowledge, the only way to hear the other four albums is to get a hold of the old vinyl--which I heartily recommend. 

The group was formed when DeFranco was on a west coast trip in 1959 and found himself without a pianist. When Tommy Gumina, an accordion player, was suggested, DeFranco was inclined to dismiss the idea out of hand--until he heard the virtuosic polychordal approach Gumina was developing. Marc Myers, over at JazzWax, interviewed Buddy back in 2011 about the founding of the quartet. In it, Myers delves into the attraction of polytonal and polychordal music to DeFranco, documenting the group's under-reported and under-appreciated contribution to jazz development in a tonal and harmonic sense.

Rarely mentioned and long out of print, 1963's (pol*y*tones) represents, according to DeFranco himself in the interview, the zenith of the Buddy DeFranco/Tommy Gumina Quartet. On the album, Gumina uses an accordio-organ, a sort of hybrid between a Hammond organ sound and accordion. He described it in the liner notes to the album:

The instrument is appropriately named, says Tommy, because you can play organ on it, accordion, or both. It reproduces the same 16 ft., 8 ft., and 4 ft. sounds that you get on a regular organ. The organ effects were developed with 200 transistors; the accordion sounds are produced with three sets of reeds for the right hand and six for the left.

"There's a foot pedal for volume, several degrees of vibrato and three different degrees of sustaining. But it looks just like a regular accordion."

The feats Gumina accomplished on the instrument were so extraordinary that Leonard Feather felt it necessary to mention the album was made without overdubs.

There are nine tunes on the album, a mix of standards, originals, and then-contemporary tunes. Track listing:

The Monkey (DeFranco/Gumina)
My Ship (Weill and Gershwin)
Gravy Waltz (Brown and Allen)
My Man's Gone Now (Gershwin and Heyward)
I Remember Bird (Feather)
Bus Driver in the Sky (DeFranco)
Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year (Loesser)
Nica's Dream (Silver)
When I Fall In Love (Heyman and Young)

Highlights for me are the Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now" and, for sheer intensity and flash, DeFranco's own "Bus Driver in the Sky." These tunes are remarkably compact, many under three minutes, and none longer than four and a half, yet almost like an aural illusion, they seem rather vast is scope.

These albums, if neglected since, undoubtedly made a significant impact upon contemporaneous jazz musicians. It's hard not to hear, in Gumina's angular brilliance, a significant keyboard forerunner to the synthesizer virtuosi of the next thirty years. Buddy doesn't seem to have worried about taking a more mellow role on the album--for a man who celebrated his role as a developer of technique, he often fills out the sound broadly, allowing his co-leader to take the spotlight. There are a tremendous number of brilliant time changes, and the rhythm section filled out by John Doling on bass and John Guerin on drums, are more than solid: they are often almost imperceptibly remarkable.

As with so many masterpieces of jazz clarinet history, this album really ought to be reissued. As DeFranco's favorite of the era, and as revolutionary as the group was, it is important to the history of jazz as a whole, rather than just as a curiosity for those who place clarinet or accordion. These gentlemen, up against a wall of zeitgeist that saw little place for their music at the time, created something permanent and timeless.

I had hoped to get this review written long ago, before the passing of Mr. Gumina in October of 2013--may he rest in peace, and perhaps even get to ride that bus in the sky.

Mr. DeFranco, if you are reading this post, thank you for the tremendous music you have made.

Five Good Reeds.



   

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mouthpiece Review: Selmer HS * Oval (c.1955, refaced by Bradford Behn 2013)

Widely considered among the finest Selmer made, "HS*Oval" mouthpieces from the 1950s are getting more difficult to acquire. For anyone playing a Selmer Centered Tone clarinet, though, it's a good idea to have at least one of these, if only to get an idea of what the horn sounds like with its intended mouthpiece.

Selmer HS* Oval c.1955
I'm not one to insist upon matching vintage 'pieces to vintage horns--my philosophy has always been to use whatever works, even if it strikes others as unorthodox. There are those, for example, who would suggest that a C85 mouthpiece "shouldn't" be used on a large bore horn, as it was designed for the narrow bored 10S clarinet. I don't share this opinion, and have mixed and matched many different eras' equipment successfully over the course of my playing career. Having said this, I think it's a very good idea to get a baseline reading of an instrument by matching equipment, keeping in mind that doing so doesn't produce a magic wand (ultimately it's more important for a jazz musician to find a personal sound--whatever the names and dates on the equipment.)

Hoping to get exactly that sort of baseline, I acquired several vintage Selmer mouthpieces last year, this HS*Oval among them. It was in pretty rough shape when I got it, though not damaged significantly. I sent it off to Bradford Behn for refacing and was deeply impressed with the results.

Brad did a fantastic job, on this and a Benny Goodman model, both of which match well with my 1955 Selmer Centered Tone. Before this, I'd been very happy to play a C85, but after the refacing, everything got easier--volume, depth of sound, richness of tone, and even facility over the break. Everything is just much smoother, with plenty of timbral range, mellowness or bite, and on the HS*Oval in particular, an even stronger chalumeau.

These mouthpieces are getting more difficult to find, and prices are going up. Unfortunately, too, there seem to be some mouthpiece refacers who think they can be marketed as "jazz" models by opening them up to excruciating degrees-which for many of us is tantamount to mangling them. As a jazz clarinetist who uses a relatively close facing (as many jazz clarinetists do) I'm very much against this, and hope that any mouthpiece craftsmen reading will reconsider the practice. Considering the scarcity of these vintage pieces, please do not open them up before finding a player who wants it done! For those looking for a great mouthpiece to match a vintage large bore, I highly recommend this piece.