Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jazz Clarinet Question & Answer: Legere Reeds and Backun Products

Hi Eric;
First I want to thank you for excellent "The Jazz Clarinet" that you produce every month. It's very informative and just FAB!
I have a couple of question about clarinet accessories:
What are your feelings about the synthetic reeds manufactured by Legere, a Canadian firm? I read an article about Artie Shaw that he used a plastic reed called Enduro. [...]
Lastly, does pay to purchase the Cocobolo Barrels and Bells from Backun? Does the tone and projection really improve?
Thank you, very much, for your time and consideration.
Best regards,
J. A.-Chicago
Thanks for reading, J.A.!
I'm glad you brought up the question of synthetic reeds, as I've been meaning to get to it for quite awhile.
If you check out any of my reviews, you'll see that I "rate" recordings in either "good reeds" or "broken reeds." All of my good reeds are Legeres; the broken ones are cane from an undisclosed reed manufacturer who will never see any of my money again. When I first tried Legeres over a decade ago, it was one of the best moments in my clarinet playing career. Not only did they eliminate the frustration and time consumption of reed selection and adjustment, they just flat out sounded and felt better to me in all registers.
It's true that Artie Shaw used Enduro reeds extensively. The Enduro was developed by Arnold Brilhart, who also made Artie's mouthpieces (even producing an Artie Shaw model) and served as editor to Shaw's Clarinet Method. In interviews, Shaw noted that his famous 'Stardust' solo was played on an Enduro. No doubt it benefited Shaw to be in the unique position of having his reeds and mouthpiece made by the same craftsman.
Ultimately, the choice of a reed is a very personal matter, and each player makes their own decision, but my experience has been that Legeres smooth out the timbral contrasts between registers, making a more homogenous experience from the bottom to the top of the horn. Perhaps the Enduro did the same for Artie.
Regarding Backun cocobolo barrels and bells, I have no experience. I play vintage large bore Selmer Centered Tones and am not looking to change. Having said this, many pros use and endorse Morrie Backun's products. If you're looking to change your sound, I say check his stuff out for yourself and see if you like them.
Keep swinging!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Artie Shaw's Smithsonian Interview

Public Service Announcement:

There's a great interview with Artie Shaw available on the Smithsonian Jazz site here.

Shaw's thoughts are expressed in his trademark dogmatic edginess, discussing jazz history and his place in it. Some quotes to whet your appetite:

No classical player worth his salt, that I know of, can play jazz.

I’m the only world-class clarinet player who started on saxophone.

What do we mean by the best? It’s not a pole vault, where you can measure. Who’s better? I don’t know who’s better. Who do you like better? And what causes your likes and prejudices? Why do some people like Coltrane and others like, like I do, Lester? I think Lester was the prototypical
tenor player. I don’t think anybody’s gone past him. I think he invented the tenor, he and
Coleman [Hawkins]. Just as Benny and I invented the clarinet, the jazz clarinet. I don’t
care who they talk about that came ahead of that. It’s not significant. There it is.  

Music isn’t . . . It’s not rote. You don’t plan it out. What you think about is psychology.
Get the audience’s nerves jangling, and then smooth it out. It’s psychology through the
medium of notes.

[Tip of the hat to one of The Jazz Clarinet's readers, Frank Jellison, for letting me know about this].