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Jazz Clarinet

Some members of the clarinet family

The Clarinet Family

There are actually a lot different types of clarinets. The type of clarinet you are probably most familiar with is the "Bb Clarinet" - this is the clarinet most often used in bands, jazz and orchestras. If you played clarinet back in school, this is the instrument you would have played. There are over ten different kinds of clarinets in the Clarinet Family. Additionally, for each kind of clarinet there are a number of different variations in terms of keywork and bore. Let's just say there are a lot of different types of clarinets.

<Regular-sized Clarinets
Bb bass clarinet, basset horn (in F with telltale low C extension), A clarinet, Bb clarinet, C clarinet, Eb clarinet

"Big Clarinets" >

BBb contrabass clarinet, Bb bass clarinet (with low C extension), Eb alto clarinet




Buddy DeFranco


CT & BDF - Old Friends Chatting No man living has witnessed more jazz history than clarinettist Buddy DeFranco. Born in 1923, he first played in public at the age of 12. Working in some of the top swing bands while still a teenager, DeFranco then contributed to the bebop revolution in New York during the 1940s. He recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and many others.  With his mastery of the harmonic language of modern jazz, his characteristic tone and his scintillating command of the top register, Buddy's grit, groove and grace won him 20 Down Beat Polls, 14 Playboy All Star Awards, seven Metronome All Star Polls, and three Melody Maker polls.

DeFranco was the jazz clarinet player of significance during the decades that followed the mid-century hegemony of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Now, past the age of eighty, he still plays elegantly. For evidence, hear his new CD, Cookin’ the Books (Arbors Records, ARCD 19298).
<Clark Terry & Buddy DeFranco

“There are two approaches to playing jazz. In one area, which is still valid – don’t misunderstand me – the players believe that too much practising, or any practising, inhibits you from playing good jazz. So they don’t like the idea of study, or practice of any of the fundamentals. Using that approach to jazz are some very well known players. Pee Wee Russell was a good example. He was not a schooled player, but he did play a form of jazz, as opposed to Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw, who obviously had formal training. I’m from the latter school. I believe that you need as much technique as you can acquire, in order to say what you are going to say immediately, extemporaneously.
“You’ve got to learn the formal scales, arpeggios, chords, before you can go into jazz and execute what you’re thinking. I acquired the technique from formal training. I was a symphonic clarinettist before I started playing jazz.”
Have you worked hard at gaining command of the very high notes?
“What started me thinking about playing that high register was Artie Shaw. He was just fascinating, the way he had control of the high register. He was unstoppable. Most clarinettists, when they played high, they played fail-safe music, fail-safe licks. They would play what they were comfortable with, so that there would be no trouble. Artie disregarded that. He just played. That’s what I try to do. In those days you couldn’t get close to Artie or Benny. I did get close to Benny, but even Benny Goodman, when you brought up the clarinet, he didn’t want to talk about his secrets.
line drawing of Buddy considering the clarinet.“Times have changed. Now it’s very open. You can study so many different ways. I approve. Unfortunately, it sometimes turns out automatons or clones, which I don’t approve. Originality is more important than anything you can do on the instrument. There’s no such thing as mastering an instrument, but if you want to develop your technique, all it takes is practice. But you cannot develop a personality by practising. Somehow, it has to come through from within. The trick is to bring your personality into your playing. If you are staying with all those patterns that you cloned, you are not going anywhere. It’s easy to talk about; it’s not easy to do.”
Nevertheless, Buddy admits that there is a place for fail-safe playing.
“There’s a trick that I learned from Charlie Parker. That is, to be so zeroed in on what you’re playing that no matter what is happening behind you, it doesn’t really matter. Through the years Charlie Parker has played with some of the worst rhythm players. But when you hear him, you’re convinced that he’s got a great rhythm section. He blanks it out. He’s so dominant, so positive."
How do you develop that?
"By listening, observing. It all boils down to the same thing: fundamentals. I practise the fundamentals every day. The only change that I made (it’s a question of my ego) is some years ago I wrote a book – it’s still available – of Hanon exercises. The original Hanon exercises for the piano are all in C. I decided that a Hanon exercise for clarinet should be in all keys, so I called it Hand in Hand with Hanon, and it’s a Hanon exercise in every key. I added that to my practice. I’m very strict with practice. It’s a question of being very compulsive."
Does Buddy regard himself as compulsive?
"If you weren’t compulsive, you wouldn’t be a clarinet player."

Buddy DeFranco has been a Yamaha artist since 1985. He performs on the Yamaha Custom V. Buddy is one of Yamaha's most notable performing artists. Mr. DeFranco is one of the most influential jazz artists in history, winning countless awards and appearing on a multitude of jazz recordings. He has appeared with Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, and Count Basie to name a few. At the young age of 80 Buddy remains imaginative and active as a performer and international clinician.

My Yamaha Custom clarinet "covers all the bases"! It is free blowing, the intonation top to bottom is quite good, and very even. It has a full, rich tone, and a very comfortable key mechanism.

Selected Recordings

Crosscurrents with L. Tristano (1949, Cap. 11060)
Buddy De Franco and Oscar Peterson play George Gershwin (1954, Verve 314 557 099-2)
Art Tatum-Buddy DeFranco Quartet with Art Tatum (1956, Verve 8229)
Buddy DeFranco Meets the Oscar Peterson Quartet (1985, Pablo 2310915)



Alan Barnes

Born in 1959 in Altrincham, Barnes plays all of the single reeds, and is a superb clarinettist. His live album, Cannonball, was voted album of the year in the 2001 British Jazz Awards and he was named BBC Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year. He now has his own record label, Woodville Records. Barnes possesses an in-depth knowledge of jazz history, coupled with a sincere love of pre-1950s jazz.
“The difference between jazz and classical clarinet is that if you choose to have a jazz career there are so many different ways you can go. With the classical thing, there’s pretty much an agreed path. There are sets of exercises and repertoire. But in jazz, with all of the different sounds, for instance, on the clarinet, you can go different ways.
"The difference between Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds and Artie Shaw is phenomenal. I’m not sure that any one clarinettist can get all of those sounds. Maybe Tony Coe could. So I guess that if a student was interested in playing jazz you’d have to choose more specifically than just jazz. It would have to be down to individuals, to clarinettists that enthuse that student.
Listening is absolutely paramount. The first thing I say to any student who comes to me, before I accept them, is: ‘Who do you listen to?’ It’s phenomenal to me that certain people don’t listen to anybody. And they want to be a jazz clarinet player! For instance, I’ve had tenor students say they haven’t heard Don Weller, and they haven’t heard Dick Morrisey, or Bobby Wellins. And I think, if they haven’t heard these people… and they are on the doorstep...”
Alan shrugs, and smiles.
“Often people don’t realise that’s what music is about: listening. Performing is about listening. In jazz, when you’ve finished your chorus, you don’t then ignore what everybody else is doing, because it should change what happens next.
"I would start with Johnny Dodds – with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five – in Weary Blues. Anybody of Grade 2 or Grade 3 standard could probably play the two Johnny Dodds choruses on Weary Blues, a beautiful solo. You don’t have to have the greatest technique in the world to play great jazz. Dodds’ sound is probably an acquired taste for some people, but it’s instantly recognisable, and it’s certainly full. It’s only two choruses long, so you learn brevity."
Do you recommend that they memorise or transcribe?
“Whichever you want to do. If you can sing it, you’ve learnt it. There’s also a value in writing it down; you can learn to read by transcribing. To me, the early jazz players played the clarinet like a clarinet. And as it went on, you thought – oh, isn’t it amazing that they can do that on the clarinet?
“In the old days they played clarinetty things. Which is what I think is the instrument’s strength. So you get Barney Bigard doing all those odd intervals that would be difficult on the trumpet. That’s why I don’t really play bebop on the clarinet. I always use it at a point in the programme where it’s either a ballad, or something where you can play a clarinet like a clarinet.
“Some of the early clarinettists exploited the problems of the clarinet, like the three different sounds, instead of trying to make it smooth from bottom to top. Why not have three different sounds, as Sidney Bechet did? And then there’s Pee Wee Russell, getting in all the wheezy throat notes. Jimmy Guiffre is another one. There’s a man who has obviously got the whole of the musical concept together, then he chooses to play the clarinet in the low register! I love his playing.”
Is there a place for practising patterns for jazz?
“I think you’ve got to do some sort of exotic scale practice. For instance, if Bflatm7flat5 to Eflat7aug#9 comes up, for a bar each, you’ve got to have practised whatever you think fits that. I actually get some phrases going on those things. Otherwise, with the clarinet, and the cross-fingering, when you are improvising, you are going to end up in all kinds of trouble.”
So, preparation is acceptable?
“There are two schools of thought. Lee Konitz thought that improvising should be just that. Yet Louis Armstrong played the same solos night in and night out. I don’t think that stopped it from being some of the best jazz ever played. Jazz is prepared, but not totally prepared.”

Clarinet Exponents

Dave Shepherd born London 7 February 1929 clarinet
Dave became interested in the clarinet at the age of sixteen after hearing The First English Public Jam Session recorded 6 November 1941 (the recording featured Harry Parry playing clarinet on I Found A New Baby). Dave was taught to play the clarinet by Bernie Izen, Freddy Randall's clarinet player at the time. At eighteen he was conscripted to the army for national service and posted to the British Forces Radio Network Quartet in Hamburg, Germany. During this time he received lessons for the two years of service from the principal clarinettist of the Hamburg State Orchestra.
After leaving the army in 1949 he turned professional and in 1951 joined the Joe Daniels' Hot Shots (which later became the Joe Daniels Jazz Group). Dave joined the Freddy Randall Band in 1953, played with the band until early 1955. During this time he played on two LPs for the American market at the IBC Studios in London circ. 1953 (Salute to Benny Goodman for the solitaire Manhattan Label, with the Teddy Foster's Big Band and also with his quartet). Then in 1955 Dave decided to go to America, playing in New York with many of the best U.S. musicians at that time.
He returned to the UK in late 1956, toured with Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic, and worked with the Oscar Peterson Trio, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Sonny Stitt, Lou Levy, Gus Johnson and the Dill Jones Quartet to name a few. During this time he formed the Dave Shepherd Quintet and began broadcasting on BBC Radio as well as working with the The Jazz Today Unit and touring with Gerry Mulligan, Billie Holiday and Mary Lou Williams.
In 1960 Dave rejoined the Freddy Randall Band until the end of the Trad Boom, and then commenced a series of tours with Teddy Wilson in the UK, Europe and South Africa.
During the middle of 1972 the Northern Arts Council approached him to join a band called Britain's Greatest Jazz Band. The band was formed from a nominated group of British jazz musicians for a tour in the far north of England from 28 July - 1 August 1972. From the tour an LP was recorded. After the tour the band decided to remain together and called themselves the Freddy Randall/Dave Shepherd Jazz All Stars, which played several concerts and numerous BBC Radio broadcasts. LPs were recorded for Black Lion and the band represented the UK in the Alan Bates Salute to Swing event at the Montreux Festival in July 1973. An LP was also recorded with Teddy Wilson at this event.
After Randall disbanded, Dave played with American jazz legends such as Bud Freeman, Yank Lawson, Ruby Braff, Wild Bill Davison and Barney Kessel. In the 1980s he toured with the Benny Goodman Alumni Sextet (Pete Appleyard, Barney Kessel, Bobby Rosengarden, Major Holley and Derek Smith) before becoming leader of the Pizza Express All-Stars in 1981. Dave toured New Zealand in 1986, and appears regularly in various venues/jazz clubs all over the UK with and without the quintet.
Jazz festivals he has played include; Montreux 1973, Edinburgh throughout the 1980s, Cork, The Hague, Dresden, Nice, Glasgow, Isle of Man, Jersey and Chichester.

Chris Walker  - born in 1939 and took up playing clarinet at the age of 15, having been a member of the school recorder band since he was 11. After leaving school he played regularly around the London jazz scene, as a member of The Freddy Shaw Jazzmen, before becoming a professional musician with The London City Stompers and, later, with the Mike Daniels Big Band and Colin Kingwell’s Jazz Bandits. Chris moved to Hampshire in 1969 and, since then, he has worked with most of the local jazz personalities, was a member of The Real Ale & Thunder Band for 18 years, and has run his own highly successful 5-piece ‘Swingtet’ for the last 15 years. Whilst with the Real Ale & Thunder Band, Chris was, in 1987, the musical director for an historic BBC “Songs of Praise” from The Maltings in Farnham and, since 1980; he has produced a series of music and information based jazz programmes for BBC Local radio all across the South. Currently he can be heard, every Sunday, presenting the Jazz hour between 4pm and 5pm on BBC Radio Solent and on BBC Southern Counties Radio. He also produces and presents the complete jazz diary for the area on Tuesdays and Fridays on BBC Solent. In addition to managing and fronting ‘The Chris Walker Swingtet’, Chris has, for Messrs P&O Cruises, co-ordinated Jazz Themes aboard 7 highly appraised cruises on both Canberra and Oriana. He also acts as jazz advisor to Portsmouth City Council for their Jazz Day every summer on Southsea Sea front, helped set up the original concept for the Chichester Real Ale & Jazz Festival, and now, annually arranges and hosts the jazz programme for the Reading Real Ale & Jazz Festival every July.

Mark began his musical training by earning a degree in music performance at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. He moved to London to study on the postgraduate jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music after winning the Young Jazz Player of the Year Competition in 1991.  Since leaving college Mark has worked in a wide range of musical settings including classical work and shows but is most at home in the jazz world. He has played in all of London’s top jazz venues and at jazz festivals up and down the country. A recent highlight was a week’s engagement at Ronnie Scott’s with the John Critchinson Quartet opposite the Mingus Big Band.  Mark’s own group features his clarinet and tenor with the brilliant guitar playing of Colin Oxley and is featured on his highly-rated CDs “I Won’t Dance” and the brand new “How My Heart Sings”.  Mark is a member of the Back To Basie Orchestra and the John Wilson Orchestra. He also enjoys appearing in a two-tenor “Al and Zoot” group with Jim Tomlinson and a two-clarinet “Benny” quintet with Julian Stringle.  Mark was the featured soloist in a gala “Tribute to Artie Shaw” concert in Dublin’s National Concert Hall in January 2006. A hand-picked 26 piece orchestra accompanied Mark in scintillating performances of original Shaw arrangements including the infamous Interlude in Bb for clarinet and string quartet and Shaw’s virtuoso Concerto for Clarinet .The concert was such a great success that Mark was immediately invited back to perform a Benny Goodman programme in April 2007 and to reprise the Artie Shaw with Strings Concert in October 2007.

The Chiltern Hundreds Jazz Festival - yes it is possible - given Arts Grants and Corporate support.  There are sufficient venues both in the Town Centres and the surrounding Villages to create a Major Annual Event (even Bicester organises one) - If you are interested then declare here in what capacity you are prepared to assist.  Chiltern Hundreds Jazz Festival Support

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Last modified: 18/02/2012