I am a devoted fan of Benny Goodman (have been for years) and try
to play in the style he perfected – although nobody can emulate
the great man!
My question is twofold …
1. What make and model of mouthpiece did he favor?
2. Did he use hard or soft reeds?
In reading your responses to peoples questions, I notice you are
very familiar with Benny (and indeed have met him!), so I thought
you might know the answer to my question.
Thank you so much for your contribution to the Clarinet Pages and
music in general.
My Dear Richard,
Thanks for your questions about Benny Goodman. He was the most
important human reason I played the clarinet. He was my sound role
model, my physical role model, I wore the same glasses as he and
carried my horn the same way and more than that I listened to his
records over and over again, first the Jazz records, mostly the
jazz chamber music recording I called them. The trio with Teddy
Wilson, Red Norvo, all of those great ensemble performers were an
inspiration to me as a young boy trying to find his way
emotionally and musically and Benny led the way for me long before
I ever met the man.
When I told my parents I wanted to play the clariet they suggested
that I certainly would starve playing the clarinet and for an
instrument I should “write to Benny Goodman for one of his old
ones” I never did but always remembered the story and later when
interviewed for a Montreal-based journal I quoted the story and
naturally it was printed, but by then my parents had passed away.
That is how important he was to me. The popularity that Benny
Goodman and Artie Shaw enjoyed was truly amazing for the time, for
they were as big as Britney Spears and any of the huge names in
the music business today.
You may be interested to know that I am a watch collector, so I
really became amazed when I read in Artie Shaw’s Autobiography
that he was making so much money that he bought a Patek Phillipe
wrist watch each week. They are the best watches made in the
world, then and now, and are more of a collectors piece than any
other. Imagine, buying one a week … that story all by itself
knocked me out … as they say. Artie Shaw was one of the greatest
and original clarinetists.
I met Benny Godman while I was playing as Prinicpal Clarinet with
the Milwaukee Symphony Ochestra. He came to perform as a soloist
with the orchestra , playing the Debussy Rhapsody and the Weber
Concertino and I was the rehearsal clarinetist, there being little
time to reharse with the man himself.
Of course, I picked him up at the airport. All I remember about
him was that he had a huge green felt hat and he talked slurring
all of his words, and that he called me “kid”,(I was all of 26 or
7). He used a nondescript mouthpiece when I met him and made no
mention of any specific brand. At that time it was the practise to
play Chedeville mouthpieces, but he did not as I recall. He used
medium or medium soft reeds.
The sound that he made was very pure, it might be called thin
these days, but my memory says “pure” for certainly it was the
sound of my dreams. He asked me if I played any jazz and I mumbled
a bit, not remembering exactly what I said.
Later on I also met his daughter, Rachel (for whom “Rachel’s
dream” was written). She played the piano quite well and was going
to accompany her father in a concert at the Isabelle Stewart
Gardner Musieum in Boston. They asked me to listen for the balance
at the rehearsal; needless to say I was delighted and honored to
His jazz playing and his commissioning of composers to write for
the clarinet cemented him in the minds of musicians everywhere and
from every style. Those whom he commissioned to write were Bela
Bartok, who wrote Contrasts for Benny, Szigeti and himself and
they recorded the work, a not too great recording of a then
impossible piece to play. Paul Hindemith wrote a Concerto for
Benny Goodman. So did Darius Milhaud and I think Jean Francaix.
Perhaps the most memorable concerti is the one by Aaron Copland,
still quite difficult to play in the original version. Benny was
himself heavily influenced by the English clarinetist Reginald
Kell, and he found the laid-back phrasing of Kell quite
interesting. He also used approximately the same style of vibrato
favored by Kell at the time. I think that Benny played Selmer
clarinets, however he may have also performed on Buffet.
At that time, it was much more the player himself who set the
style, rather than the instrument, the facing of the mouthpiece
and the kind of reed. They took second chair to the player himself
as perhaps should be the case.
There is more to be said about Benny Goodman, for certainly he was
the influence behind many players interest in the clarinet. He was
“larger than life” for me and I shall always remember his sound,
and yes, his influence. My glasses are still clear plastic, the
same as Goodman used.
Good luck with all your projects, and thanks for bringing Benny
back to mind for the millionth time.