Monday, February 20, 2017

Jazz Clarinet Gear Review: 1958 Selmer Centered Tone Clarinet in A

Several years ago, while playing gypsy jazz in many keys particularly well suited to guitarists, but more rarely used in the jazz clarinet repertoire--keys like D major and A major at concert pitch--I began experimenting with the use of a clarinet in the key of A for certain numbers. At first, my matched pair of 1951 Fritz Wurlitzer Reform-Boehms yielded good results. Eventually, though, I found myself wanting to use my regular gigging horn, a 1955 Selmer Centered Tone, and switching between the Selmer Bb and the Wurlitzer A was proving too awkward. The breathing, mouthpiece, reeds, and voicings demanded of Wurlitzers are very different from those of a Selmer, making for an uncomfortable evening if attempting them both. Beyond that, to really get the most out of either a Selmer or a Wurlitzer, I've always found it best to be committed, daily, to one or the other. To command all of the colors or power of either, it usually takes me a couple of weeks serious practice, at least, after having been away from a certain model. So in a sense, for me at least, it's all or nothing when playing these instruments.

With that in mind, I picked up this 1958 Centered Tone, Model 806 (seven rings, with articulated G# and left hand Ab/Eb key, serial number R-1***). It's a beautiful horn, with a huge, rich sound; possibly the most purely beautiful tone of any clarinet I've played.    

1958 Selmer Centered Tone Model 806 in A

The chalumeau is so big it has what I call the "crackle" or "crunch" sound you can get on a bass clarinet, opening up interesting timbral possiblities. Like all Centered Tones, you can really lay into the chalumeau without going terribly flat--in stark contrast to more contemporary model clarinets of nearly all manufacturers, with the popular small, reverse-conical or polycylindrical bores. This is one of the major reasons the CT is regarded as a great jazz clarinet--models designed for the classical market seem to miss the importance of being able to really crank in the chalumeau, with a variety of timbres.

The clarion register on this Centered Tone is mellow and rich, and the altissimo is the famed Selmer altissimo, as usual--simply the best ever made, in my opinion. 

When this R-series A first arrived in my hands, its silver keywork was in disrepair, needing quite a bit of work. While the basic tone quality was remarkable; obviously a fine instrument under all the problems, I couldn't quite get all of the subtlety needed from it. My decision then was to put it away and play all of the gypsy rep on the Bb in keys like E, B, etc. In retrospect, this was the right decision. With a couple of studio sessions coming up, though, it seemed the right time to get this gem of a horn refurbished and ready to capture on record. This CT came back from my tech on Friday...he did an outstanding job, and it's as ready to go as it could have been in 1958. Stay tuned! I'm looking forward to performing and recording this classic Selmer Centered Tone.