Friday, April 14, 2017


This a tune of mine, part Gregorian Chant, part Klezmer, all Blues, meant as a mediation on Christ's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. I first wrote it about seventeen years ago, but haven't had the chance to perform it publicly. Recorded on a Tascam DR-40 in my studio just now. For some reason I like sharing rough takes, and this certainly is one. Blessings on everyone this Good Friday.
"Then Jesus came with them into a country place which is called Gethsemani; and he said to his disciples: Sit you here, till I go yonder and pray. And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to grow sorrowful and to be sad. Then he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with me. And going a little further, he fell upon his face, praying, and saying: My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.And he cometh to his disciples, and findeth them asleep, and he saith to Peter: What? Could you not watch one hour with me?" (Matthew 26:36-46)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Jazz Proverbs

It's better for a musician to have their technique pulled forward by expression, rather than the other way around.

Always be listening, engaging, acting and reacting in music. Never just recite: participate.

Music is the thing that happens between you and the others in the room, not whatever you think you prepared beforehand.

Always allow the moment to be what it truly is. Don't try to force it to be something else.

A good jazz solo shouldn't be bossed around by the one playing it. It needs its own freedom too.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Masterclass at the Cleveland Institute of Music

Some photos of my masterclass with Franklin Cohen's studio at CIM last week:

The Porkpie Goes to The Conservatory

Hanging out with a talented bunch of young players (Photo: Franklin Cohen)

(Obligatory group selfie: we had to get Frank into the picture too!)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Happy Mardi Gras!

To all the readers of The Jazz Clarinet, Happy Mardi Gras! My band will be performing at BLU Jazz + in Akron, Ohio. This year will be an extra special celebration of the music of Pete Fountain. Wishing everyone a happy and healthy celebration!

Monday, February 27, 2017

'St James Infirmary' at ChamberFest Cleveland * February 27, 2017

Here's a clip of my solo from "St James Infirmary" last Saturday night at ChamberFest Cleveland's annual gala. The fine musicians with me are Phil Anderson on keyboard, Kip Reed on bass, Anthony Taddeo on drums, and Dan Wilson on guitar.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Two Sides of Bill Smith * CRI * 1974

Concerto for Jazz Soloist and Orchestra
William O. Smith, clarinet
Orchestra U.S.A.; Gunther Schuller, conductor

William O. Smith, clarinet
Robert Suderburg, piano 

Variants for solo clarinet
William O. Smith, clarinet

I first heard this recording on LP, nearly twenty five years ago, while an undergraduate clarinet performance major at the Hartt School of Music. Our 20th century form and analysis professor, Dr. David Macbride, had given us the assignment of presenting the class with recorded examples of extended techniques on our major instrument. I presented two clarinetists: Artie Shaw and this album by William O. Smith. Shaw's Concerto for Clarinet served as a primer for how jazz timbral language had broadened our understanding of the expressive sonorities possible on the clarinet, outside of the classical canon. William O. Smith took matters even further, showing how a clarinetist equally comfortable in jazz and classical realms could expand both genres exponentially.

I'm not going to do a full analysis of this album, which would look and read more like a graduate thesis than a blog post. Suffice it to say there is actually enough material here for a graduate thesis, and a good one at that. There have been many attempts at concerti for jazz soloists and orchestra, and many clarinet concerti have been written with jazz clarinetists in mind. But this has to be one of the finest. Applying his extensive knowledge of jazz, modern classical methods (such as serialism) and an inside knowledge of extended clarinet techniques (many of which he discovered and charted), the concerto on Side 1 is a unique tour de force. I know of no other wind player who has done anything quite like it for their instrument--expanding our knowledge of the capabilities of the instrument while mastering multiple genres, seamlessly fused together in a thrilling and meaningful musical expression.

It helps tremendously that the orchestra was sympathetic, could swing and articulate like a jazz band, and was lead by a champion of  this music. Indeed, the conductor, Gunther Schuller, coined the term "Third Stream" to describe a potential fusion between European concert music and jazz, so successfully accomplished here. Beyond that, the music itself is fully effective: the liner notes to the album point out the following:

A twelve-tone row is the basis for both the orchestral material and the improvised clarinet part. Although the listener is not expected to follow the various permutations of the row, it is hoped that he will feel a psychological cohesion. The row itself utilizes only two basic intervals, the major 2nd and the minor 3rd, and is simply the transposition of a four note figure which happens to be the first four notes of I Got Rhythm. The simplicity of the the row lends itself to spontaneous improvisation. The four movements correspond roughly to traditional concerto form. In style, the jazz idiom is consistently employed. 

Here serialism isn't presented as dry or melodically meaningless. Upon listening, the reasons for using twelve tone method seems to be manifold, but include a chance to focus more on timbral issues, and tone color. There is an expansive, lyrical quality to it rather than restrictive (the technique can be used either way), and the connection to jazz history really works.

Side 2 features a more intimate chamber setting, and for those interested in Smith's jaw dropping, abstracted use of extended techniques (including multiphonics, extreme altissimo, and even mutes, if my memory of the score to Variants is accurate after 25 years) this will keep you interested. When I was in music school, it was common for clarinetists to program William O. Smith's Five Pieces for Clarinet Solo on recitals. Those are great pieces, and a worthy addition to the unaccompanied clarinet repertoire, but I always thought the more challenging and intriguing pieces of his for solo clarinet were the Variants. They are certainly more demanding on both the clarinetist and the audience, and are also the fruits of Smith's extensive research in the area of extended techniques. Combined with this recording of the composer himself, the Variants represent a real watershed moment in the history of the clarinet.

This album is off the charts, should be in every clarinetist's library, and ought to be more widely available. Buy one of the vinyl copies still to be found before they're all gone.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Chris Barber & Hugh Laurie * Abbey Road Studios * 2013

Here's a fascinating YouTube video by Rick Walker featuring famous actor and not-so-closeted bluesman Hugh Laurie with one of his heroes, trad jazz trombone icon Chris Barber. Though short, this brief presentation and interview can help fill in the gaps of our understanding of 20th century music, and the significant role trad jazz and New Orleans style played in the various waves of British rock and pop music.

I'm greatly heartened that Laurie would take the time to honor Barber and the music. I've argued for years that soulfulness and melody will never go out of style: he and Chris Barber have offered further proof!