I have had several people write with this question:
“I would like play jazz on clarinet. Which one of your reconditioned clarinets would you recommend?”
Here is my response:
To best help you, I need to know more information. I am assuming that you are an adult who wants to learn to play jazz on the clarinet. Do you have woodwind experience, or did you play clarinet in school? Will you be playing by yourself, or with a group?
On one level, any clarinet that is working well (good pads and key adjustment) will work fine for jazz. What you want for jazz is an easy-playing instrument, one that won't fight you. A horn that is leaking will always be hard to play. But once you have a good-working instrument, the main thing that will give you jazzy sound and fluid response is your choice of mouthpiece and reed. [Recent comment (March 2016) from Harold Edwards: “ It is the artist and not his tools that makes music.”]
If you look at the Leblanc and Selmer advertisements, you will see a lot of jazz players played those two brands. (Or, rather, they were happy to be given free instruments in order for the companies to use their names.) But people can and do play jazz on any brand of instrument. If you get to a really advanced level, you may find that you prefer a wide bore horn over one with a medium bore, like some of the classic big band and Dixieland players. Many of these same players preferred to play with a rather open mouthpiece and a rather soft reed. The mouthpiece and reed choice is the prime determiner in making an free and easy sound, and this also allows you the maximum flexibility in bending notes and playing with vibrato.
Focusing on Intonation: One thing to note: In the jazz era, poly-cylindrical bore technology had not yet been invented. Any instrument with a wide 15mm bore will have difficulties in intonation. Since intonation is important to me, for jazz I personally still pick the same instrument I play for classical music. Then I simply adjust the reed and mouthpiece to match the style of music I am playing. However, if you like the easy playing and dark sound of a 15mm bore, you will certainly also choose a good jazz mouthpiece and reed combination. The flexibility of your set-up will allow you to lip some notes into tune. And for the rest, while playing with vibrato, it will be “close enough for jazz,” as the saying goes.
Wide bore instruments: A few special Leblanc models and many Selmer clarinets have a wide bore. Also Conn 424 and 444 models were prized back in the big band era. I have a few vintage jazzy mouthpieces I can include with instruments purchased from me. More information on this found here: How to compare models, bore sizes, …
Mouthpiece: Brilhart Tonalin, 4 on table
Reed: Rico Plasticover #2 1/2, or Mitchell Lurie #2 1/2
Ligature: Rovner Dark
Clarinet: Boosey & Hawkes 8-10, or Ridenour Lyrique 576BC
For me, it all starts with the mouthpiece. I have about 16 in my collection and the Brilhart, overall, is the best compromise I've ever found. It has a moderately open tip, facilitating pitch bends and a nice vibrato, yet is still closed enough to offer much of the control and stability of a classical mouthpiece. The plastic that the Brilhart is made out of faciliates excellent projection, yet doesn't add stridency to the tone. With the addition of a Rovner Dark ligature, I find I can play at extremely high dynamics without worry of squeaking or the intonation going awry. Tonally, I find I can get anything from a reasonably classical tone to an edgy jazz wail simply by changing reeds and/or embouchure.
I think the notion of a wide-bore instrument being a necessity for jazz is bunk. Yes, my main instrument is a very large-bore B&H 8-10--it's a nice sonic match for our section leader's Selmer Centered Tone and has the power and presence that makes it easy to keep up with an overmanned trumpet section. With the smaller-bore Lyrique, however, there's the exciting option of adding an brilliant edge to the tone without going strident, keeping pace with the brasses by floating the sound on top of the ensemble as a piccolo does. I play alongside sectionmates with Buffet R13 and E13 instruments, and they use this "float on top" approach to great effect. Truly, with the correct mouthpiece/reed/ligature setup and good technique, jazz can be played on most any clarinet.
My backup mouthpiece for jazz is a hard rubber Yamaha 3, model YAC-1208 (not to be confused with the plastic Yamaha 3C). It has a more open tip and a darker sound than the Brilhart, and I typically use #2 Mitchell Luries and a generic 2-screw metal lig with the YAC-1208. For a really reedy Dixieland sound, I use the YAC-1208 with orange-box Rico #2's on my metal Pan American Brilliante clarinet. Yamaha seems to have discontinued this mouthpiece, but a few new ones are still available from online retailers.
From Ted G:
One thing I noticed is that Conn appear to have made good clarinets for guys like Woody Herman. And of course LeBlanc (Pete Fountain, etc.). Those brands sound like more of a sure established thing agreed on by pros.
From Danyel Nicholas in Holland:
Being a jazz-clarinettist myself I switched to Albert system long ago (currently Selmer). I tried everything, but what worked best for Jimmie Noone, Bigard, Sineon works best for me. Important is a long, open facing and large chamber mouthpiece (many played Selmer E, Bigard had a G, mine, a reworked 1920s Selmer, is about 1""!). Penzel-Muellers work fine and Link Reso Chamber.And listen to Danyel play! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axRtBbs0988
From Art G in Ontario, Canada:
2/27/2012 7:46:27 firstname.lastname@example.org "Couldn't see where to respond...so here is my 2 cents on jazz clarinet set up.
As is always the case, it starts in your head and the further from there you go the less it matters.
[Phil heartily agrees with that!]
My current favorite set up is a Vandoren 5JB on a Selmer series 9 and using PL Class 2 1/5 reeds.
I have at my disposal three centered tone, 2 balanced tone, two N series, K series and series 10 Selmers....and the Series 9 has the power and woody sound I like best.
On a budget? the thibouville and Fontaines I have are not too shabby and can be had for much less than the big brands.
As has been mentioned tuning with large bore clarinets will never be good enough for classical music especially with keyboard accompaniment but the intonation is not terrible and the right hand sharpness can be corrected by keeping fingers close to the holes where you can feel the air.
PS You will hear that you MUST have a large bore mouthpiece but I find that the comfort and ease of play is as important or more important than tuning since you can adjust for the tuning but not the other mouthpiece characteristics...and besides mouthpieces can be bored. Other mouthpieces i have liked include Meyer 5, and Obrien OCB crystal" Art
More from Ted G:
This is for your section on "Jazz Players' Favorite Setups...".
First off, I agree with Art in Ontario that "it starts in your head and the further from there you go the less it matters" and I'm pretty sure Buddy deFranco would say there's truth to that.
Anyway, I'm not yet at a level of ability to say what will work for me, but I'm reading and came across this endorsement of Yamaha instruments in an interview with my favorite player, Buddy deFranco (great reading here on way more than gear!):
DEFRANCO: I’ve done a lot of music festivals and also music clinics, mostly for Yamaha. They make a great clarinet. I’ve played it for about 25 years. What I find appealing about the Yamaha is it suits my needs almost to a T, as they say. It’s a very classical instrument. It has a nice tone quality… Of course you have to produce that. But built in is a good tone quality, and a very exact scale, even scale. It also affords a flexibility that I need to play jazz.
TP: What are the dynamics of the instrument that do this? You went into some description of this in our interview.
DEFRANCO: I did. Yes, not too many clarinets are flexible enough to where you could play as close to what they used to call “legitimate”…I hate to use the term, but “legitimate,” symphonic music. Then you use the same instrument to feel the freedom of playing jazz, the flexibility. Yamaha does that for me.
From Bill in the UK:
I play a nice old Buffet picked out for me in 1959 by Joe Allard. My mouthpiece is a Leon Russianoff 3* (Chedeville blank, George Jenney facing). Reeds: Vandoren
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