One of the more interesting things about studying with the great and formidable Gino Cioffi was of course, his incredible playing. His sound was as distinctive as any clarinetist as far as we all were concerned , his tongue was faster and literally nothing ever stopped him, especially in his earlier years as Principal with the Boston Symphony. He had been a fabled clarinetist for years, having played first for Rodzinski and Walter and having been the clarinetist who played many of the rather incredible early “Tom and Jerry” cartoons, which is you have the opportunity to listen to one or many of them, he like the others,played these difficult passages at sight.
He used a softer reed on his own mouthpiece, which was an Obrien with whatever facing he used. Crystal is always talked about by the experts as being an ideal material for a clarinet mouthpiece and his was most certainly. Sitting next to him at a lesson or at a job was always a lesson in itself. It seemed to me that he could play literally anything on either clarinet and it was seldom less than beautiful.
Another facet of the maestro was his attitude about himself , his place within the world of the clarinet. He was famous for his most noted statement, which most people still know and smile about.
He used to say quite frequently, and especially to all of his students in his remarkable English, “When ahma play good, its justa like Jesus Christ! When ahma play bad, it isa still bettah than anybody else.” This is what he said and all of us would just stare back at him and then in the cafeteria, all hell would break out as we would begin to spread the word about the latest Ginoism everywhere.
The funny thing was that he actually admitted to plying badly, an interesting thing for any clarinetist to admit, but in many ways, it is easy to think that he was correct. It was really that good.
Of course, with his mouthpiece, he would ask, (read force) all of his students to play them. When he got to me, I asked him, “Mr Cioffi. will the mouthpiece I get play like yours?” He answered quickly, Mah, day alla play da’same.!
And he would often cajole me during a lesson with, “Hey Frie, you gotta such a nicea disposish! How come you donta play my clarinets?”
Yes, he sold his Selmers, a pretty set of full boehm, minus the low eb, silver plated and with a beautiful french style case. He also sold insurance on the clarinets.They came with a crystal Obrien mouthpiece with his name etched on it. I have one, which Richard Hawkins beautifully, made playable for me.
In any event the stories about Gino are all over , still. He was one of the great clarinetists of my time, whenever that was, and a very lovable fellow.
The only story few know is when he received his “pink slip” from the orchestra,when he was Walking back to his apartment with Phil Viscuglia, (himself another legend). Every few steps he would stop and say, ” Hey, what I did? What I did?”
Nobody will ever forget him.