[Dixielandjazz] Best Clarinetists - Listening to Music - For Reed Players

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Mar 26 09:47:32 PST 2004

Here is one of the "best" clarinetists around. If any reed men are in a
"studying" mode, you might look him up when he gets back to the
University of Washington after the current Brubeck tour.

William O Smith played clarinet with Brubeck way back when, and is now
touring with Brubeck's Octet again, at age 78. He is a wondrous
clarinetist who gigged jazz in NYC in the mid 1950s while attending
Juilliard. When not gigging in NYC, he was very visible in the audience
of jazz clubs all over town along side Juilliard faculty. Listening to
reed players from Simeon to Bird.

For all you reed players on the DJML, check out this bio, of a clarinet
master. Especially the last paragraph about some of his sounds. Though
not stated in the review, besides listening to Darius Milhaud, and
others, he listened to Pee Wee Russell.

Steve Barbone


By Philip Rehfeldt, New Directions for Clarinet, Revised Edition (1994)

Born in Sacramento, California, in 1926, William O. Smith began playing
the clarinet at the age of ten. In his teens, he initiated the dual life
that he has followed ever since: leading a jazz orchestra while also
performing with the Oakland Symphony: after high school and a year "on
the road" traveling with various bands, he attended Juilliard during the
day while playing jazz clubs at night.

Smith studied composition with Darius Milhaud at Mills College in 1946
and with Roger Sessions at the University of California at Berkeley,
receiving B.A. and M.A degrees from that school in 1950 and 1952. He
also attended classes at the Paris Conservatory (1952-53) and the
Juilliard Institute (1957-58). His awards include a Prix de Paris, the
Phelan Award, a Prix de Rome, A Fromm Players Fellowship , a National
Academy of Arts and Letters Award, a BMI Jazz Pioneer Award, a BMI Jazz
Pioneer Award,
and two Guggenheims. He taught at the University of California,
Berkeley, the San Francisco Conservatory, and the University of Southern

Since 1966, he has been the director of the the Contemporary Group at
the University ot Washington. His association with Dave Brubeck began at
Mills College, where he was one of the founders of the Dave Brubeck
Octet and responsible for many of the group's arrangements. His
SCHIZOPHRENIC SCHERZO, written for the Octet in 1947, was one of the
first successful integrations of modern jazz and classical procedures, a
style which later became known as "third stream." His work with Brubeck
and others in this direction can be heard on a number of the recordings
listed below.

He was also among the earliest performers to experiment, in the early
1960s, with new color resources for the clarinet, this after listening
to Severino Gazzeloni's similar work on the flute. His DUO FOR FLUTE
AND CLARINET (1961) used these techniques, the multiple sonorities very
likely being the first of their type to be precisely notated. He was
also responsible for a number of other works using these sonorities,
including John Eaton's CONCERT MUSIC FOR SOLO CLARINET (recorded on CRI
296), Gunther Schuller's EPISODES, Larry Austin's CURRENT FOR CLARINET
AND PIANO, William Bergsma's ILLEGIBLE CANONS (recorded on MHS 3533),
Pauline Oliveros' THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE - a theatre piece based on
Smith's astrological chart - and Luigi Nono's A FLORESTA (recorded on
Arcophon AC 6811).

About VARIANTS FOR SOLO CLARINET (1963), Eric Salzman wrote (New York
Herald Tribune,
March 14, 1964): "William Smith's clarinet pieces, played by himself,
must be heard to believe - double, even triple stops; pure whistling
harmonics; tremolo growls and burbles; ghosts of tones, shrill screams
of sounds, weird echoes, whispers and clarinet twitches; the thinnest of
thin, pure lines; then veritable avalanches of bubbling, burbling sound.
Completely impossible except that it happened."

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