Gino Cioffi, the greatest pure clarinetist .

July 24, 2006

Dear Sherman,
I have been playing clarinet professionally in Los Angeles since 1970, mostly commercial work, although I am basically a classical clarinetist and studied with John Neufeld and Gary Gray, winding up working with them on many film and TV dates over the years. My friend B.N., the bassist, played in the BSO from 1964-68, when he quit to come to L.A. And told me a few Gino Cioffi stories. Once Gino asked Buell after a concert,
“You coming to the party at (a horn player I cannot recall)?” So Buell met him there. It was a bitter winter night. Finally at about 2:00am, Buell offered Gino a ride home, but Gino replied, “no, its OK, my student drove me here, and he’s waiting in the car.”
But my favorite is when Gino’s last season ended, Buell was in the BSO locker room collecting some music from his locker, when he noticed Ginostaring for the last time at his locker. Then, outside Symphony Hall, Gino,with several clarinet cases under his arms, took a last look at Symphony Hall, not noticing Buell sitting on his motorbike a few feet away, and
said to the Hall: “Fucka da Boston Symph!”
Anyway, my question is: I’ve been fortunate to be around many talented
clarinet players with good equipment who were generous and I started out atage 11 playing on a Bettoney Columbia model mouthpiece that Kalman Bloch gotrid of. I still have it, although it was refaced by Glen Johnston (another great teacher – the first clarinetist to play the Rhapsody in Blue solo when Gershwin brought the piece to rehearse in L.A. Charlie Chaplin introduced them.). I’ve also got a sweet Kaspar Cicero #16 Glen closed up (refaced),and played on it for the last 15 years, until a friend on a job let me try his new Kanter (Zinner) facing. And on my Selmer Signature clarinets it
was heaven! My friend is a doubler, mostly a tenor man, and liked his Kasper better, so I kept it and for the last year or so I’ve been playing that,with great results. But the reason I’m writing you is that yesterday the same friend gave me a G.G. crystal #3 and it’s something else! But the facing is more open (I haven’t measured it) and favors lighter reeds. I
use Evolution 3 1/2s, and the very broken-in ones play fine after I work them down with the knife. What blew my mind was that the first reed I took out of my case played perfectly well. I learned how to fix reeds studying oboe for seven years with Allan Vogel, student of Gillet. (Allan once told a story of visiting Gillet in 1985. Thru the door he heard a beautiful oboe solo. He knocked, Gilet let him in. “What reed was that?” Allan asked. Ferdinand looked down at the reed and said, “a student made this in 1936.”
Anyway, I’ve got a wonderful LP set of the Boston Chamber Players from 1958,and Gino kills on that record! My friend Gene Cipriano says Gino played a G.G. Crystal. What facing was it? I must have a dozen glass mps from no-name to O’Brien and Selmer, but they all feel too resistant. Except the G.G. I also have one from Kalman Bloch on the bass clarinet, which is great, but since Sheridan Stokes gave me his dad’s (Franklin, bass cl with the L.A.Phil) mp collection I’ve been playing on a 1930’s Selmer B*. I’ve been in training practicing the Brahms op 120 #1 sonata for arecording, and I’m in heaven with the G.G. Real dolce emerges on that mouthpiece. Hope you are well and I totally enjoyed reading your correspondence.
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Hi Mart: Many thanks for your informative humorous note on the condition of music. If he is still among us, give Buell my fond regards, please.
I played a heavenly GG for 5 years until a student broke it at the intermission of a chamber music concert, but more on that later.

I studied with Gino when I first got out of the army in 1957. My brother was teaching at BU so I got half tuition at the university, plus GI bill made it very simple to go there.
I would go for lessons at Ginos apartment. I would ring the bell and.
When he answered , I would tell him “Sherman is here for his lesson”.
A very typical answer would be. “Oh, Frie…., you cuma back later. Ahma take a shower”
Of course, then I came back, there would be no response to the bell.
When I did get in for my lesson, it was all sales, all the time.
“Hey, Frie…. you gotta such a good dispozish, how come you don’ta play my clarinets!”
or
“Hey Frie….., why you know buy my moutha piece?”
I would try his mouthpiece, which would make me swoon .
“Will the one I get be the same as this, Mr. Cioffi?”
“Hey, they alla pay da same.”
Cut to me getting a Masters degree at U Mass.
Joe Contino gave me 6 GG mouthpieces for 35 bucks. I was trying them ,finding
them all stuffy, when my wife said from the next room, “Whats that?”
I answered it was one of the GGs. She said to keep it. It was without
question the best most gorgeous mouthpiece I ever got near and I played in to great success. Reeds were a little bit of a problem, but in that era I used to leave the reed on the mouthpiece for a week, my theory being that I owed it to the rest of the section. I just ran water through it backwards,
wait a minute and then play away.
(Who knows what they sounded like 45 years ago?)
Anyway, it lasted for five years when it was broken by a student at the intermission of a chamber music concert. I drove home and got my spare crystal, played the second half of the concert ( I have the recording, it is great)
Then I never found another as good, never, never, never.The GG I had was a minus 1 and played a reed that must have been maybe 2
1/2, but who knows?
The student waiting Gino in the car is very typical of the concern of the man.
One of my friends who played very frequently in the BSO was Felix Viscuglia, who also played tenor and everything and recorded the Debussy Saxophone Rhapsaody with the BSO and Leinsdorf.
Phil told me that when Gino got his “notice” from the orchestra he walked him up the street to the aparment on Gainsborough street. Every few steps
Gino would stop and say to Phil, “hey what I did?” “What I did”?)
But………., he was probably the greatest pure clarinetist who ever lived.
I played the Stravinsky Three Piece to audition for Tanglewood. Gino said,
“hey, why you play dat? Datsa Sheeet!.”
I got in to Tanglewood( we called it stranglewood) and he told me , “Hey they didn’t wanna takea you, but I fix it
up”
But when he played good, as he said, “:It was justa like Jesus Christ” “When
ahama play bad, it
stilla bettah then anybody else”

All in quotations was stated to me or to Phil Viscuglia by Gino , I swear it.
Stay well

Sherman.

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Reeds are non-returnable. But is it a reed?

July 18, 2006

Dear Sherman,
just an advice from your big experience. I’m very open to anything new
about the clarinet, so recently I bought a couple of Legere reeds, which are covered by a guarantee for refund in case of nonsatisfaction. Well, I decided to use that guarantee and sent a couple of messages there, but they ignored me.
My question is: what are the best ways to buy for what refers to
clarinet? Is it advisable not to buy, say, from small firms? Or are there special firms clarinetists tend to buy from due to their correctness?
Perhaps my question is a bit outside the current categories, but I
believe that much people would be interested to your reply.
Thanks for your advice. Regards.
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Hi: Thanks for your note. It does bear repeating and discussing. For me, that Legere guarantee is the plastic in which the reed comes and that is all.
If you buy a Legere and expect your money back you are asking for something that does not exist. They never refund, at least in my experience.
Interestingly enough you bring up an interesting point.
Speaking about where to buy, I would say buy from the bigger companies, the big ones on line. You have the biggest leeway for a return with these places and I can tell you that they are very efficient and honest.
But, back to reeds, there is no return on reeds, an interesting point to note.
There is a better selection of reeds from the bigger companies and more in stock,and they are priced more reasonably and they have attractive sales, but nobody gives you money back for a returned reed, nobody.
There are so many kinds of cane reeds available and they are so improved that I see no reason whatsoever for purchasing a plastic reed.
It is like buying a kazoo that plays forever….you need this?
As clarinetists all we talk about is the beautiful sound that a clarinet can make, the emotion it can impart. The most subtle thing you can put on your clarinet is the reed….well after the mouthpiece, and that is a whole other article and question.
stay well and play well.
sherman


The mysterious Leblanc Serial numbers, gone forever

July 18, 2006

Dear Mr. Friedland:
I recently purchased a Leblanc L27 clarinet serial number 49244. My
> local music store says it was the top of the line professional
> instrument in its day. I’ve gotten nowhere through Leblanc as far as a
> manufacture date goes. Any ideas?
> Thanks!
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Hi:
Well , so much of what you write is advertising for the company or any
company, let me say that the “top of the Line” is perhaps only the most expensive and in the case of this maker, there are many other clarinets made by this maker that play better, that is if you play them all, which strangely enough I have, at least most .
But intrinsically, the L27 is one of my favorite Leblancs, and a very fine instrument, but then again I had a terrific instrument.
I have recently been sent an L27 by a friend for me to try and it was not as good as the one I had, at least not in my memory, another variable. It is a good good instrument. Think the 60s and you will be there.Leblanc no longer exists as a company and they were never that free with their dates of manufacture. All owned by Selmer-Conn now, the french instrument is still made and available but at all sorts of prices depending upon the seller and where he purchased.
As I said, the Leblanc clarinet, that is the one made in Paris is a fine instument, better in tune than any Buffet , better sounding than any Selmer, and most probably less expensive to purchase.
Good luck with your L 27.
best,
sherman friedland


Mazzeos 309 Fingerings for Bb

July 12, 2006

Hi Sherman,
I have a Selmer Signet Mazzeo coming to me and I was
wondering if I could get a breakdown of the facets of the horn that are not found on Standard Boehm clarinets. Do you have a graphic fingering chart or such that I could reference? Plus, are there really309 fingerings for throat Bb?

Hello:
Regarding your note concerning the Mazzeo Signet clarinet you are awaiting and the question concerning the 309 fingerings for the throat Bb, let me explain :
The point is not to say “Yes, there are 309 fingerings for the throat Bb”, but simply explain the Bb mechanism and the principal involved in executing any of these fingerings.
If you will close the 2nd ring of the left hand and watch closely, the third trill key will open giving you a rather fuzzy throat A. If you add the A key you will have the best and clearest Bb available on the boehm clarinet. The third trill key is opened by an articulation. In fact any combination of rings and the A key will give you this best of all Bbs for the same articulation occurs with each key or combination that is depressed.
Moving into the upper register is really terrific because you finger the Bb with the combination of fingers for the note following the Bb, that is to say ,if you are going to play f on the 5th line, you depress the A key and the register for the Bb, and you also add the first finger of the right hand
When you go to the F all you do is to move from the A key to the fingering you have already depressed, the index finger of the right hand and the 2nd and third fingers of the left.
You have just made a lovely and simple legato move from the Bb to the F, not an easy or fluid motion on the plain boehm clarinet, especially for the younger player.
It is the same for any of the notes on the instrument: depressing any key or combination of keys opens that third trill automatically, the finger you add will give you the desired note, a very simple movement requiring much less motion.
One of the more difficult gestures on the clarinet is moving from the throat Bb to the B, the long B involving placing all of the finger down plus the lever for the B.On your Mazzeo Clarinet you finger the B prior to playing it,however you have already prepared to play the B. The Bb is again perfect and all you do to get the long B is to allow the A spatule to close.
It is an utterly simple system. It is the most simple way to cross the so-called break of the clarinet and not emit a sharp and fuzzy,incorrectly fingered Bb. Now there have been improvements to the plain boehm clarinet, especially in the area of the throat Bb, however there is no plain boehm that simplifies the physical motion of entering the upper register from below than does the Mazzeo. You can talk about the various double vents or opening holes that have been added by various makers, however they are more troubling than is the Mazzeo and they do not use the fixed problem as Rosario does to enter the upper register without the tumult caused within the mouth, which is rendered totally unnecessary by the Mazzeo System clarinet. Turning the process around, going down from the upper register is a relatively simple operation. You cannot leave fingers down or the trill key will open. This motion I was able to eliminate within three days, and I was able to trill from the natural A to B with no blips whatsoever. This I did while on a professional engagement. But then again, nobody ever said practice is eliminated with this innovation.
On the plain boehm, the register key does double duty and it does not
“multitask” well, as it produces a sharp Bb because the register key is for moving up a 12th and is not well-located for the throat Bb.
The best location for the venting of the Bb is the third trill key, a
difficult fingering simplified by the Mazzeo Clarinet,opening this key with any combination of fingers depending upon the note following the Bb, and yes, there are 309 ways to do this.

Write if you have any further problems.
Play well.
sherman

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Festival Alexandria, July 2nd 2006

July 4, 2006

A summer concert series that has been in existance for 16 seasons was the occasion for a performance of Olivier Messiaens La Quatour Pout La Fin du Temps, the Quartet for The End of Time. Composed in 1940 while Messiaen was interned in the prison Camp Stalag 8A in Gorlitz, Austria, it is perhaps the strongest work written including the clarinet of the last century, and considered by many to be one of the composers finest works.
This performance featured Sara Bohl Pistolesi, violinist, Donald Pistolesi, Violincellist, Lauretta Altman(founder of the festival) Pianist, and myself as clarinetist.
I have written many times of this work and all are listed within the archives of this site. They include a performance analyses and a description as well.
Surprisingly the work is not heard with that much frequency and many clarinetists know little if anything of the Quartet.
(One professional player whom I met recently, thought that certainly it must be a work for “folk clarinet”, and this was a fellow with a doctorate in the clarinet).
Now Festival Alexandria is one of the most beautiful spots for such a concert series I have ever seen or in which I have performed.
It is reminiscent of Tanglewood, fully as beautiful, only a tanglewood yet to flourish, perhaps needful of a benefactor.
It reminds me of Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony because of the house on the property located near the performing area which is an old barn with a corrogated metal roof. Surrounding this is a very large tract of beautiful countryside all a part of the Festival.
My wife and I have been married for 41 years and after our marriage ceremony we spent our honeymoon in Tanglewood where I was a Fromm Fellow, performing contemporary music . I was immediately brought back to Lenox and Tanglewood when I first saw Festival Alexandria.
The barn holds only about 80, however the acoustic is excellent and they have two modern facilities for those who are in need.
I was taken and very much moved by this little jewel of a little Tanglewood.
The program included the Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano by Bohuslav Martinu, a very pleasant happy work, a pefect foil for the Messiaen.
I would like to call your attention to this lovely Festival Alexandria and to the work of Lauretta Altman and Ken Milkman who are the force behind this truly lovely place for summer music.
I thank them both for programming the Messiaen and for asking me to perform. It was my 13th time playing this very special work.
All of the performers were in very excellent form and performed as I have never heard the work before. Wonderful and inspired.
A work of a spiritual nature it was truly a performance of the nature of the heavens.
Thank you all for your beautiful inspired work.
sherman