Benny Goodman ” Avalon” the whole story

October 30, 2014

Like many of you, Benny Goodman was my inspiration to play the clarinet. Soon after I started, I found him, wore glasses like, listened to all his records, followed his career in swing and jazz and his study with Reginald Kell, his commissions of “Contrasts”, by Bela Bartok, The Copland Clarinet Concerto, Darius Milhaud Clarinet Concerto and all of the others. I listened to the first radio performance of the Copland on NBC radio in 1947, and was a devotee of him and his music for much of his life. AS i’ve written previously, I met him while in the Milwaukee Symphony, and reminisced about his complaints about the local musicians who played in his “pickup” quartet.
I had to play both the DFebussy Rhapsody and the Weber Concertino in rehearsal with the Orchestra. He just came ih, asked me if I played any Jazzand we went to the hall. He said to us all, “playing in this hall is like spitting in the ocean”, and then played with the most relaxed unforced sound I thought I had ever heard.
The version of “Avalon” in this writing is almost the same as he played on his Carnegie Hall Concert in 1938.
I still listen to it quite frequently and always find it quite wonderful. I wish I aged as well as Avalon.
But, wait a minute! there is a very interesting story to tell as well concerning this old standard.
It has to do with another famous clarinet solo, from the Third Act of “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini, composed in 1900. The clarinet solo of which I speak is in the third act of the opera. ” E lucevan le stelle”, which is like Avalon, but in minor. It speaks of the heros love of Tosca, before he is executed and Tosca commits suicide. (yes, it is dark, but one of the most sensually gorgeous works one will ever hear. It certainly affected me in that way.

In 1921, the famous pop singer, Al Jolson, recorded “Avalon”, which became very popular. It is virtually the same melody as Puccinis, but in major, rather than minor. Puccinis estate sued Jolson and the other authors of the pop tune, and Puccini was awarded 25,000, a huge amount of money in the 20s.

If you wish to listen to the Aria from Tosca, it can be found on YouTube, its title,” E lucevan le stelle”. There are many versions. Certainly best is Luciano Pavarotti.

The Benny Goodman  (also found on youtube)version is simply called “Avalon” with Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa. and Teddy Wilson, Avalon being a place in California. Somehow the two seem to have  little comparison. But that is not the way the law suit was settled.

Keep practicing. Learn both versions, and play  or listen  often.
stay well.


Hands Across the C.larinet

October 20, 2014

A young clarinet player really has very little about which to worry, least of all, the hands. I never had a single concern about my hands or their ability to manipulate the clarinet. Never did I ever think about my fingers. I played the clarinet , then bass clarinet,then just about all of the saxophones, especially playing baritone in a big 20 piece “big” band while in school in Texas. At age 16,I saw an ad in Downbeat magazine for   scholarships for “Dance Band” musicians. There were full scholarships available,and they wanted a recording as an audition. I borrowed an alto, went to a studio in downtown Boston, and recorded a couple of banal tunes; just the melody,no improvisation. It was almost a lark. But it became an incredible education. What about never having been presented with a big book of lead alto parts in a section of five  saxophone players.One can read well in lessons or in band, but a big band, with its manuscript parts, bad copying, falling pages, to a young kid who was actually a clarinet player, it was literally  insane . And, I was playing lead alto, With a full scholarship which included tuition and a few other things.( For me, leaving home and going to the west was the most exciting thing.) Of course, I was to return to Boston later to study the clarinet for many years. But Texas, for a kid from Brooklyn, was a real adventure. It remains in my mind forever and actually I was to meet my best friend, Duncan Hale there.Now, we grow old . me in Canada and him still in Texas. But hands? and fingers? The furthest thing from the mind. I played everything I could find, first , playing saxophone, until one day in a part for alto, I had to switch to clarinet. “Wow a real clarinet sound”, was what I heard, and that story continued . I first began to get pain in my left hand midway into my teaching at Concordia University, where I began to play many   chamber music concerts. The pain began to really get my attention and I started exercising the hand by squeezing a small rubber ball, then wearing very tight gloves for pain then, I finally went to my doctor who told me that I was suffering from an elderly ladies syndrome having to do with”pouring too much tea”. (great doctor) The surgeon to whom I was referred diagnosed the problem as DeQuervains SyndromeDe Quervain’s tenosynovitis (dih-kwer-VAINS ten-oh-sine-oh-VIE-tis) is a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist. If you have de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, it will probably hurt every time you turn your wrist, grasp anything or make a fist. Although the exact cause of de Quervain’s tenosynovitis isn’t known, any activity that relies on repetitive hand or wrist movement — such as working in the garden, playing golf or racket sports or playing the clarinet or lifting your baby — can make it worse. And it got worse. I started buying all kinds of gloves, braces, anything I could find to help ease the pain. The surgeon had an assistant make me a piece of plastic material which held my hand in a tight grip, but , to no avail. He then scheduled me for a simple day surgery. What this consisted of was him , making a small cut on my left wrist. The prep took a long time, including many baths and cleansings, it seemed, but the surgery was as simple and was done with no pain and no anesthetic. It was over in a minute or so. “You’re cured”, he said. He then told me that the scar tissue would allow the tendons to move more freely and the pain would be gone. And , it was gone , quite quickly. My left hand is still ok, unless I wear a large heavy wrist watch. Spooky little thing, that scar, but I was left in peace with that hand. And so, the years went by and I was testing and buying as many clarinets as I could. For about ten years, perhaps a bit more, I played the Mazzeo System full boehm “centered tone” clarinets, had a set of them. They played well and I think I played them for as long as anyone. From the standpoint of technic,they are a terrific advantage, all fingerings are pure, and anything is possible. They were good instruments, as well. BUT, all those keys, 23 and seven rings were heavy, to say the least. I removed the big low Eb key , but that helped little. And, my hands are small, fingers as well. During the last ten years, I started writing articles about thumb rests, simply picking them to pieces, because of what I said was too big or too small or unadjustable, or just plain lousy. But, dear friends, it was my right thumb, which began to ache terribly after a couple of hours of playing. I would simply have to stop playing and rest, as it really ached. Not only that, but it hurt and really damaged my control of legato. I retired from University, and we left Montreal for Cornwall, a smallish city in Ontario, where the taxes are much less and the Province is run with a modicum of sense, if not much more than Quebec. I found the most beautiful clarinet I have ever heard. It wasn’t the make, it was the clarinet itself. The c clarinet weighs less than the Bb and is intrisically, better sounding and feeling, much more vocal than the Bb, and better in tune. I started playing the Schubert Sonatinas for Violin, opus 137, and I absolutely loved them, and all the violin music I could find. Then the Pistolesis, friends and colleagues for years, formed a trio called the McConnell Chamber Players. He is a cellist, but also plays piano, and Sara his wife, a violinist, violist and a soprano as well. We payed the regular clarinet repertoire, but on c clainet, probably the original instrument for the Mozart Trio and other works, and yes, I played the Schubert Violin Sonatinas. Finally, my right hand was eased because of less weight of the instrument, but , not forgotten. I still became fatigued because of the pain in my right thumb,   hurt legato, perhaps the clarinets most beautiful feature. I went for weirdo expensive electronic therapy, with promises of it growing new tissue for my thumb. No help at all, all those lights going on and off. My thumb hurt terribly after a brief rehearsal. I tried a neck strap, to no avail, until my answer was given to me. The tip of the thumb wherein you hold the weight of the clarinet , is the weakest part of the wrist, the thumb having the most uses of either hand. I found a gadget, please don’t neglect this thing, as it may help you.I am reluctant to mention its name. Why? Because it becomes a gadget to try. These gadgets flood the musical instrument business. But, if you really love your horn and it is uncomfortable because of your right thumb, the Tan Koiman thumb rest can save your life and your phrasing. If not, it is not needed.   it transfers the weight of the horn to the joint next to the wrist, allowing a childlike freedom of every movement in your right hand.

Extraordinary.But putting it on the horn. confused me, I finally discovered the way, after carefully avoiding the instructions that came with it. I put it one with only one screw, and it is miraculous for anyone who has this fatigue and pain. I do not think I will play Bb again, mostly because the C is so beautiful, and I am ordering a c clarinet from Tom Ridenour(the best designer of clarinets), tonight, if he will attach the gadget before shipping me the horn. That is what I call it,  a horn;Most do. Keep practicing, it doesn’t keep you young, but it keeps you. best regards, sherman

Mute, but costs and interest rates abound. The sky is the limit.

October 16, 2014

Once and for all,a clarinet doesn’t have a sound, regardless of the hype.the salesman,the necessity of his income, or anything else.
What is important is the total drivel of the mistake that is the clarinet mystique.

I love my readers. and they are very important to me, as is my experience, abilities,but, what is most important is truth.

Let us face it, very very few of you will ever be in a professional situation; on the line, eight services a week and producing with at least, perfection.

And, I will say , that it is normal to have pride in your instrument, regardless of your abilities. Playing in a church orchestra or a community band or any music is what is most important, the quality of the horn being ephemeral at best.

What is of great concern to me, is the student.

This has happened many times: A student arrives for a lesson and says that his horn doesn’t play well. I fix the horn, straighten the keys or replace the pad.
The student thanks me and then says, “I would have that new Buffet the director said I needed so desperately, but my father, who is a bus driver, is still awaiting the bank loan of 5 thousand dollars, (at 18%).

This is what hurts me,makes me weep. It is so false, the stupidity of the director in recommending a horn for a child, one that is inherently very uneven. usually not well in tune, and is made of wooden joints, which are prone to fusing together after hours of rehearsing and or marching. There are some colleges and universities that actually have “techies” on STAFF to remove joints fused together. There are even some band directors who tell their students to leave the barrel “out a bit” so that it would not come together and remain there.forever.

The pressure that is exerted by the music director for his student to own the best clarinet is criminal, and I feel there is money and/or gifts changing hands when these recommendation bear fruit.

Everyone is “into” cars these days , and they are the real American Pastime. But with a car, we ae prone to either buying or leasing , can usually get a “no interest” loan or extend the loan forever. People who have no credit still want cars, and need them. So, they pay enormous interest rates and are foreclosed upon with great frequency. But, that is North America, and it is not buying a clarinet for five thousand or much more and having the child give it up, while payment is still not complete.

stay well, and don’t stop practicing.


The most Exquisite Clarinet Ever Made

October 9, 2014

I have ben a clarinetist, professor of chmber music and a conductor and other varia, having to do wih a University,studyimg and playing in Europe and other places. During these years, I was known for knowing and/or having played, a great variety of chamber msic from all eras. Also I have 52 works composed for me by various composers. Nobody famous, but who knows, maybe some day.
All of my clarinetists life, I have searched for the most perfect clarinet, and, (by the way) mouthpiece , ligature and of course, reed, including reeds made of every conceivable material, and I made my own for a while. During these many years, I have always read of the clarinets of former virtuosi and also many “wanna-be” virtuosi. Like many of you, I have competed with everyone I could find in Conservatories and all other venues frequented by hungry clarinet players. Like many of you, students and graduates and those waiting to audition for a piteously diminished job market, thoughts of making a good living were always obscured by the desire to play in an orchestra . I auditioned for many and did get a principal position, which I first enjoyed, but then was terribly disappointed,the repertoire being thin ,the conductor, even thinner and without knowledge. The salary was nowhere near commensurate with the years of study I had invested. During this long period of study,
I remember my mother telling me that “Lipsky was making 300 a week.playing popular music.” I was terribly hurt;I moved out of the house and into a small basement apartment which were frequented by rats of all kinds, including a couple of other students. We practiced, fought, and stole each others food.

I did a lot of freelance work in Boston , managed a small music school, and existed, as many of you did. Many auditions followed. I won the audition for principal in an orchestra in a foreign country, but was asked if I would agree to share the position with a local person who had been there for many years. I refused. And, all these years, while striving for perfection, I also searched for the perfect clarinet and accessories. I cannot recall the exact count , but it was many many clarinets and even more mouthpieces and accessories.
As  ayoungter, I had hear that the late Beorge Bundy was doing researh on a reed made from sterling silver and became fascinated with that idea,which of course, went from reeds to clarinets themselves. I asked myself the question, “why do clarinets have to be made from wood? There were already instruments, though of a lower qality, made fom plastic and metal, for students, the quality of such being rather poor. So I wondered if it would be possible for one of these companies to make me a set of instruments of another material, a material not so terribly unstable as the wood,the standard clarinet material for a fine instrment since the time of it first appearance during the time of Mozart and before? I had played “Classical” clarinet, three,keyed models up to 8 keys, made of boxwood, and they were and are not in tune, not withstanding the early music movements towards playing music on early “out of tune” instruments. Always however, searching for the perfect clarinet.
Yes, I have listened to every clarinetist of my tme and as many as before my time. They are written about frequently, always with the name of the particular excellent player, never as only “the perfect clarinet”. That dear friends, is the point ofthis writing. I knew the playing of Marcellus, Bonade, Gennusa, Cioffim Drucher Combs and all of the others, both personally and from their recordings.Never the perfect clarinet without the players name Why? Because there is no such animal, nor clarinet. Unto itself the clarinet is totally mute, making no sound. All of fhem. So let us continue to talk of the wonderful players, but please no more talk of the qualities of beauty in a piece of wood. There is none.

Personally, without a doubt, the finest clarinetist was the late Harold Wright, who was principal in Boston for 23 years, making outstanding recordings of most of the solo repertoire and chamber works as well, with the Casals Festival the Marborough Festival and, on many recordings.

Richard Dyer, of the Boson Globe said of him “Although Harold Wright is a consummate virtuoso of the clarinet, you don’t so much listen to him as overhear him as he steals sound from silence; drawing us into a volatile private world of thought, feeling and dream.” Wright only possessed an understanding of making the sound of music better than any other of any time. Conception? Imagination? Ear? It remained  during his time.

Of Heifetz, it is said When his admirers remarked how beautiful was the timbre of his Strad, Heifetz opened the instrument’s case, listened, and said ” I don’t hear a thing “

Play well and cover up for winter.

best, sherman