[Dixielandjazz] of clarinets and sopranos...

Charlie Hooks charliehooks2 at earthlink.net
Mon Jun 6 17:24:23 PDT 2005

Many years ago I gave up playing clarinet outside unless the leader 
demanded I do so.  Clarinet is a naturally soft instrument, and great 
players like Eddie Daniels ride hobby horses for diminuendo.  Sir 
Reginald Kell entitles his lecture, "The Gentle Art of Diminuendo."  
I once asked him what I should do when the conductor calls for more 
sound, and he looked quietly down his aristocratic nose and murmured, 
"You resign."  On the other hand there's Kenny Davern, or John 
Kenneth O'Davorin if you insist.  I almost wrote "players like" Kenny 
Davern, then realized there aren't any.   He can produce a gorgeous 
sound outside against the wind--or inside over the crowd noise.  He 
hates microphones, won't use one, and if you can play like Kenny 
Davern, then you won't need one, either; otherwise, you will.   Good 

So I long ago switched to soprano when I needed to be heard.  Some 
leaders loved it--Tommy Saunders, for one, always wanted me to bring 
"the little horn."  Back then I was using a saxello, an almost 
straight soprano  with a neck cord ring, the neck very slightly bent 
back, and the bell making an abrupt right turn to the front right 
down at the end.   They look funny as hell but the neckcord was a 
blessing and with a metal mouthpiece outdoors I could easily compete 
with trumpets.  Maybe that's why Tom liked it: he was used to 
two-cornet work with Wild Bill, and could relate to the idea.  Then, 
too, if you play as well as Tommy, you don't have to worry about 
anyone upstaging you.  Now if only I could have sounded more like 
Wild Bill... (Lots of guys have felt that way.)

Other leaders, other opinions: Pee Wee Hunt hated it.   I never used 
it on the ensemble (after the first time) and then stopped even 
bringing it, since we never played outdoors anyway.   I moved to 
Chicago some 28 years ago and promptly lost the saxello, stolen off 
the bandstand.   They were worth real money by that time and I should 
have sold it when I had the chance.  I'd paid $15 for it in 1944: it 
had been in a fire and looked it; still, I had loved drowning out the 
brass with it.

So a year or so later my wife (along with Kurt Bjorling of Klesmer 
fame) found a silver Buescher curved soprano made in 1927 and in its 
original case; took it out of the case, and it played.  I bought it 
from its original owner who had bought in new in 1927, two years 
before I was born.   I like the sound of this horn much better than 
the saxello or the straight soprano--more like a high pitched alto 
sound, more like a cornet than a trumpet.  You want to be heard?  
You'll be heard.  Anywhere.

So naturally I wanted to play it at the Cubs games and did until Ted 
Butterman, the leader, said the people expected to see a clarinet 
with a Dixieland band.   Maybe he was right, maybe not, but he was 
the leader; it was his call.   And I might have been overblowing: 
outside I still try to fill up the room.   With clarinet there's 
never a problem of being too loud.

I'm told that New Orleans bands in the old days used Eb clarinets 
quite a bit, these being higher pitched and therefore naturally able 
to carry outdoors. ( I own an Eb Albert system, and it takes some 
woodsheding to go back to where I started on an Albert at age 9.)  
Another trick was to lower the baffle in the mouthpiece--that's the 
inside top in playing position--by wedging a layer of chewing gum 
inside.  This makes a smaller chamber and thus produces a more 
piercing sound that can be heard--if only the listener can stand it.  
Takes some adjustment to get the gum thickness right.

My other trick for parades, useful also for resting your clarinet 
chops, is to bring my piccolo.   They can hear that, man!  And think 
what fun you can have on "The Stars and Stripes Forever"!

Charlie the lurker

"A world without music would be a mistake."--Nietzsche

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