The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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A shrill and exuberant voice in the early marching bands, still heard in the sword-crossing improvisations of the early jazz ensembles, was the sound of the clarinet. For years it ranked with cornet and trombone as one of the three principal horns in jazz, reaching its zenith with the glorification bestowed on it by Benny Goodman.
But the extraordinary musicianship of Goodman made further progress on the instrument a challenge almost impossible to meet. By the late 1940s, when there were hundreds of able saxophonists and trumpeters embellishing the jazz stage, the number of comparably gifted clarinetists could be counted on the rings of one instrument. As jazz evolved and placed ever greater technical demands on the performer, the role of the clarinet moved in an inverse ratio.
Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that in a sense the clarinet is two instruments, each played in a different register. The lower, known as the chalumeau register, is by far the easier to play and produces a rich, sonorous quality that can be changed from a gentle murmur to a bullfrog croak. With all rings and holes uncovered the clarinet makes a sound equivalent to F above middle C on the piano; as the fingers depress the rings and cover the holes it descends a tenth to D below middle C. The upper register (reached by pressing a ring under the left thumb) extends from F above middle C, upward for two more octaves. Only an exceptional musician can hit the higher notes with unerring accuracy of pitch and with acceptable tone; in addi­tion, the notes marking the transition between the lower and