Stuff Jason’s Been Listening To: Clarinetists
I started out as a clarinet player. My grandpa was a clarinet player, too. So was my cousin Todd, from whom I inherited my first clarinet when he switched in high school to the much cooler electric bass. I play soprano saxophone now, but I still love the sound of the clarinet. Today on Twitter (follow me at @jasondcrane) I asked folks to suggest some of their favorite clarinet performances. Here are their jazz suggestions, along with a few of my own:
Ben Goldberg – Orphic Machine
John Carter – A Suite of Early American Folk Pieces For Solo-Clarinet
Jimmy Hamilton – Ad Lib Nipon (Duke Ellington)
Artie Shaw – Complete Gramercy 5 Sessions
Jimmy Giuffre 3 – Emphasis & Flight (Live 1961)
Benny Goodman – The Legendary Small Groups
Who are some of your favorites? Let me know in the comments! – Jason
As usual, you’ve got a terrific cross section of players here, but I have to throw in some more names myself as a fan of the instrument and music. Ben Goldberg has been one of my favorites since I found one of his New Klezmer trio recordings in the 90s. I finally got to catch him live last November when he played with a trio in Waltham which included one of your selection of guitarists, Mary Halvorson. Clarinet aside, I think Ben Goldberg is a leading voice of his generation as this album and his band, Orphic Machine, demonstrates. There have been, of course, other combinations of poetry and improvised music, and this album adds substantially to a small but growing collection. Others of Ben Goldberg’s generation include Michael Moore (another unique and gorgeous sound like Goldberg’s) who consistently breaks new ground and, of course, Don Byron, perhaps the most visible clarinetist of his generation.
And who could not include John Carter in a look at clarinetists over the past few decades? His combination of instrumental virtuosity and the breadth of his artistic vision produced seminal albums we are all indebted to. Others of Carter’s generation include Perry Robinson whose work in the 60s and 70s was as pioneering as any other reed player (all saxophonists). Though he recorded primarily on bass clarinet, Eric Dolphy stretched possibilities every time he played on all of his instruments. His playing on Warm Canto (Mal Waldron, The Quest) is the only recording of him on the soprano that I have heard and is a gem. Many instrumentalists owe Giuffre a debt for his musical vision as well as his clarinet playing. Buddy Defranco stands out as one of the few to play bop type music on the instrument; few others dared in a music with so many saxophone players. Back further, there are the other Ellingtonians Barney Bigard and Russel Procope not to miss, even sometimes Harry Carney, though his clarinet playing was mostly limited to ensemble work. Of other swingsters besides Shaw and Goodman, I have been a fan of Pee Wee Russell since I first heard him. He as much as any other musician fits Ellington’s description of “beyond category.” Just a bit farther back, Edmond Hall, was one of the most unique of the New Orleans players, though then there were flocks of great clarinet players then.
I have to mention one current Boston area musician, too, Todd Brunel. It is easy to overlook those currently playing in our neighborhood when thinking of all these terrific players, but Brunel is as good as they come, and fortunately, he does play in this area semi regularly. He plays both the soprano and bass instruments with all you’d want from an improvising musician: tone and expressiveness, imagination, and broad knowledge of lots of music.