An interview with Robert Marcellus by James Gholson
(Originally published in the Australian Clarinet and Saxophone Magazine, March 1999)
Edited by Ed Joffe
Robert Marcellus, one of America’s greatest and most influential clarinetists and teachers, died on March 31, 1996. He was principal clarinetist of the Cleveland orchestra under George Szell from 1953-1973. During his tenure in Cleveland, he was head of the clarinet department at the Cleveland Institute. After his retirement from the orchestra, he was Professor of Clarinet at Northwestern University from 1974-1994. His week-long masterclasses held at Northwestern each summer from 1974-1987 were one of the highlights of his teaching career. This interview was conducted during one of those summer sessions and is part of a series of interviews with a number of prominent American clarinetists and teachers conducted by James Gholson, Professor of Clarinet at the University of Memphis.
by Dr. Ron Odrich
An expanded version of an article in The Clarinet, September 2017
Minor Editing by Ed Joffe
As woodwind players, we are all striving to find the best way to express ourselves musically. This means that the sound we produce must first inspire ourselves then hopefully those listening. To this end, there are as many pedagogical techniques as there are teachers. There are also as many unique mouths as there are students and performers and teachers. There are then many variables.
It is common to be exposed to a wide variety of rules to follow such as: “play with an open throat; support the column of air with the diaphragm; arch the tongue; blow like you’re blowing out a candle; hold the clarinet at this angle; push the jaw forward to meet the reed,” etc., etc., etc. A unique approach to producing the best quality sound for each player begins by applying scientific principles of fluid dynamics. This approach leads to a physical method that satisfies those scientific principles. Combining those principles with each player’s unique anatomic structures creates a specific “feel” that produces the best distinctive musical sound. Let’s see how.
Throughout much of the first half of the 20th Century, musical knowledge was considered one of the important disciplines in a learned individual’s education. Every student had mandatory general music courses in elementary, middle and high schools. More importantly, students had the opportunity to participate in a band, orchestra, or a choir in grades K—12. In fact, during the 1950s and into the 1960s when the U.S. was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, the Arts in our country were given great priority (funding) since we needed to demonstrate superiority in this sector in addition to military might, space exploration, athletics, etc. There were also numerous jobs in the music industry during this period. Steady work could be found in symphony orchestras, opera and ballet companies, musical theater, choirs, television and motion picture studio orchestras, society dance bands, jazz bands, Latin music ensembles, touring groups, freelance recordings, as well as composing and arranging gigs. However, today we find ourselves in a radically different environment.
Renowned pianist/composer/musical director Billy Stritch recently posted a listing of the many ways that the musical community has been adversely affected by the ongoing Covid-19 virus pandemic. Since the Arts are not a politically sexy topic to discuss on mass media, we have been largely forgotten. Over 12,000,000 people work in entertainment production—not an insignificant group. This industry survives by shared live experiences which needs to attract audiences at near capacity attendance levels. Therefore, by definition, we will be among the last industries to resume in any “normal” fashion.
An Interview with Stan Getz by Mel Martin
Originally published in the Saxophone Journal, Winter 1986
Edited by Ed Joffe
Music critic/historian Irving Kolodin writes in the Introduction to “The Unconscious Beethoven” by Ernest Newman: “…music exists only as a succession of impressions that must be correlated sequentially if a total impression is eventually to be derived.” I believe that the improvisations of saxophonist Stan Getz epitomize this description. His endless flow of creative melodic lines weaved together in the most logical fashion offer the discerning listener a landscape of everlasting beauty. This interview provides a brief glimpse into the mind of Stan Getz.
Mel Martin: The one question that is most important to me when I think of you and your music is your sound. Could you fill us in on how you conceived your sound and how you actually developed this concept?
Stan Getz: I never consciously tried to conceive of what my sound should be. I never said, “I want this kind of sound!” I believe it was because of the bands I played with from the ages of 15 to 22. The first one was Jack Teagarden, who we all know played trombone. But his sound was so great, so…(pause) sort of legitimate, and effortless. I never tried to imitate anybody, but when you love somebody’s music, you’re influenced. Then I was with Benny Goodman when I was 18 and I believe his sound had an influence on me. Such a good sound that he had in those days. And, in-between I heard Lester Young of course. And it was a special kind of trip to hear someone like Lester, who sounded so good and almost classical in a warm way. He took so much of the reed out of the sound. I really don’t know how I developed my sound, but it comes from a combination of my musical conception and no doubt the basic shape of the oral cavity. I did always try to get as much of the reed out of the sound as I could.
MM: You mean, hear more of the reed?
By Robert Bloom
Reprinted from Woodwind World, Jan/Feb 1959
Minor Editing by Ed Joffe
“No, my dears, I am conscious of a flute and a bassoon. That’s not what I want. I want to hear a third instrument, the result of a happy marriage between the two.” The speaker is Arturo Toscanini and the phrase occurs in Debussy’s Iberia at the beginning of the third movement. Those few words of a great maestro contain the key to one of the secrets of fine solo and ensemble woodwind playing: the ability to vary the tonal color of one’s instrument at will for the purpose of blending with other instruments or voices. Many players think they are fulfilling their duty to music when they play with a pleasing tone, good intonation, finger dexterity, a good range of piano-forte, and a good feeling for rhythm. The foregoing is very necessary, but there are other important factors that distinguish the artist from the merely competent performer. Unfortunately, these other qualities are less tangible. They are difficult to teach and learn. Being closely allied with one’s personal talent and imagination, they belong in the category of aesthetics rather than mechanics.
By Daniel Bonade
Reprinted from The Clarinet, No. 6 (Summer, 1951)
Minor Editing by Ed Joffe
Slurring on the clarinet has always been, in my estimation, the greatest problem for the artist wishing to phrase and sing beautifully on his/her instrument. The root of this problem [for clarinetists and saxophonists] is the “single” reed vibrating against the hard surface of the lay of the mouthpiece. Anyone can notice that players of the oboe or bassoon have more facilities for sustaining the tone while playing a phrase, without distorting the real sound of their respective instruments. When an oboe plays forte it sounds like an oboe. When the clarinetist plays very loud, it takes a lot of skill and flexibility of embouchure to keep the quality of tone true as in a mezzo forte. The single reed is a great help in fast passages. The pressure of the teeth on the upper part of the mouthpiece gives a solid grip and consequently steadies the embouchure when the fast motion of the fingers would otherwise unbalance the instrument in the mouth. But when it comes to slow phrasing passages, the upper non-vibrating part is a handicap that a good clarinetist has to overcome with his/her own skill.
Shown below are the 20 albums that I owned during my first 20 years that influenced and inspired me to become a professional musician. They are shown in the categories that I was most drawn to during that period—jazz, classical instrumental, orchestral, and pop. There were many other artists that influenced me during this period that I heard on radio & tv or listened to on cassette tapes including Phil Woods, Buddy DeFranco, Jackie McClean, Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Cannonball Adderley, The NY Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein, The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and The Beatles.
Having taught privately for over 50 years, been involved in institutional music education for roughly 30 years, and a student of music for close to 60 years, I feel that I have a decent understanding of how to gain the most from a private music lesson. In this article, I will attempt to articulate an approach to taking a one-on-one music lesson that I have found most beneficial, both for the student and the instructor. While the intended student groups for this article are college music majors and young professionals, many of the suggestions presented here can be used at any level of study.
In music, there remains a rule of thumb to tread very carefully before bringing up any pitch discrepancies within an ensemble performance. This would be the musical equivalent of asking a stranger on which side of the political spectrum they tend to vote. One’s pitch-playing ability is among the most sensitive issues for any musician. My experience as a professional musician has given me a perspective on this topic that I wish I’d had as a younger player. To fully explore the nature of this subject, it is crucial to understand the evolution of harmony and scales in Western European classical music. Continue reading
In the late 1970s the great saxophonist and woodwind artist, Ray Beckenstein, took me into the pit of the hit Broadway musical, Sugar Babies. There I encountered another wonderful woodwind legend, Dave Tofani, and I proceeded to ask both of them how they could continue to play the same music every night without going crazy. (I had not done a Broadway show at that point.) One of Dave’s responses proved extremely helpful throughout my years of playing in the musical theater. He told me that in order not to get bored, he would try to mentally transcribe what the other musicians were playing and thereby re-imagine the orchestration. That little bit of advice led me to think about and uncover other ways to improve one’s musicianship when doing a steady Broadway musical. Continue reading
Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Not Taken begins with the line: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” In the Fall of 2017 I interviewed multi-reed virtuoso Eddie Daniels as part of my Woodwind Legacy Series and that line occurred to me as we were conducting the interview. During the course of our conversation, Eddie said that he initially began studying flute so that he could play the flute parts on a Broadway show (Mame) and on studio recordings. However, as he got more involved with the flute, he realized that “I want more on this instrument.” The more proficient he became on the flute, the greater was his desire to sound like a flutist and not just a competent doubler. He then proceeded to study with great flute artists such as Harold Bennett and Tom Nyfenger. (His achievements on the flute can best be heard on his album, A Flower For All Seasons.)
Eddie’s “I want more” statement touched a nerve within me because it brought into perspective something that I have observed throughout my career—the difference between “part players” and those with loftier artistic goals—the two roads in Frost’s poem. While these two different approaches to music-making might seem worlds apart, I believe most players have moved back and forth between these two paths in their musical lives. Continue reading
During the course of a music-performing career, one encounters a variety of jobs that vary in their musical orientation and degree of difficulty. The expectation of performing at a high level on any gig is often enough to cause stress in any musician’s life. However, nothing compares to the stress, anxiety, and nervousness that a concerned, sensitive musician experiences when subbing for a colleague on a job. Whether in a musical theater show, orchestral concert, chamber ensemble performance, cover band gig, recording date, rehearsal, or any other type of musical engagement, the position of the sub is unenviable. I consider it the hardest job in the music industry. Continue reading
When I began to study music, it was much like other baby boomers—piano lessons during grade school years. Eventually, I chose clarinet, then saxophone, and finally flute as my principal instruments. During the course of studies that I embarked upon, I always worked privately with a variety of excellent teachers. Some of these mentors were associated with the schools that I attended, but most were individuals whose playing I admired and sought out to study with on a private basis. These studies occurred not only while I was a student, but also after I had finished my formal schooling and was working as a full-time player; while I was a professor at a university; and continue presently. In other words, I have never stopped studying. I have always found the help of an accomplished teacher to be inspiring while elevating my performance abilities and understanding of different musical genres. Throughout my years of study, the singular motivation was to improve, to learn more. I never picked a teacher because I thought he or she might “connect” me in the industry. Perhaps I was naïve, but that was the approach that felt right for me. It was verified for me during my college years when one of my woodwind heroes—Phil Woods—told me backstage after one of his performances, “If you’re good enough, they’ll (industry people) find you.” Continue reading
During my years as a professor, I had the good fortune to create a Masters degree in multiple woodwind performance (woodwind doubling). As someone who has been involved with this part of the music industry for most of my life, establishing this kind of an opportunity for talented students was a labor of love. It also was a pragmatic solution to finding a career path for talented students since the music industry of today offers very few career opportunities for woodwind performers. (By career, I refer to a forty-year period of employment that provides one with a steady livable wage, health benefits and pension.)
Institutions of higher education typically segregate their woodwind performance majors into categories such as “classical, “jazz,” “contemporary,” etc. And if there’s a “commercial” music component offered in a music department, it’s often Continue reading
[This is a brief excerpt from Ed’s book: Woodwind Doubling for Saxophone, Clarinet & Flute. The article appeared in the December, 2016 publication of the Local 802 newspaper— ALLEGRO.]
Multi-tasking has become a staple of modern living and is certainly a requirement for surviving in today’s music industry. The contemporary saxophone doubler represents the greatest example of this characteristic in music. While most people believe that the origins of this discipline occurred with the Paul Whiteman Orchestras of the 1920s, woodwind multiple instrumental performance dates back several centuries.
In 16th century Vienna, consorts of wind instruments were used for ceremonial occasions, processions, and dances. The musicians changed from one instrument to another to avoid monotony of tone color and to accommodate a variety of musical forms. Continue reading
I retired several years ago as a professor of music from a NJ State University after 24 years. This ended a 30-year career of institutional teaching that spanned 4th grade through graduate school. Having also been a full-time musician for the past 45 years while completing two Masters degrees and a DMA in music, I have a somewhat unique perspective of having lived inside the music industry as a performer, student and teacher simultaneously. While this article might be considered by some as biting the hand that once fed me and a means to vent frustration at a failing and out-of-touch educational system, I hope it will be taken as an honest look at the state of today’s music industry and a prescription for music programs to change in order to help aspiring instrumental music students prepare for the real world.Continue reading
Excerpted from Woodwind Doubling for Saxophone, Clarinet & Flute
Day 1: Remove the reeds from their container(s) and let them sit belly up (the flat side facing the ceiling) on a flat surface for an hour. Do not play them or wet them. This allows the reeds to become acclimated to the temperature and humidity in which you will play them. Then, store them in a reed pouch with a 49% Boveda Reed Vitalizer pack.
Day 2: When you’re ready to begin the process of preparing the reeds to play, lightly rub the flat side (back end) of each reed in small circular motions on 3M polishing paper of 3000 grit until totally smooth. Be careful to apply light pressure with the 2nd/3rd/4th fingers of your hand above the stock (or bark) of the reed in order to move the reed over the polishing paper. This will help seal the flat side of the reed as well as correct any unevenness so that the reed can vibrate evenly on the mouthpiece table and side rails. The residue of the paper’s fibers fills in the spaces between the fibers of the reed. Put them back in the reed pouch with the 49% humidity pack. Do not play them yet!
An Interview with Lew Tabackin
Originally Published November, 2006
The New York Flute Club Newsletter
This interview was conducted on Saturday August 19, 2006 at Lew Tabackin’s upper westside townhouse, which he shares with his wife—pianist/composer/arranger Toshiko Akiyoshi. Mr. Tabackin will be presenting a recital with his jazz trio on Sunday November 19, 2006 at 5:30pm at the Yamaha Piano Salon, 689 5th Avenue.
Lew Tabackin has been a vital part of the New York music scene since 1965. A virtuoso on both the flute and tenor saxophone, he has enjoyed a diverse career as a sideman working with some of the great jazz legends (Elvin Jones, Shelley Manne, Tal Farlow, Donald Byrd, Attila Zoller); a featured soloist in a variety of big bands (Maynard Ferguson, Duke Pearson, Chuck Israels, Cab Calloway, Thad Jones & Mel Lewis, Clark Terry, Joe Henderson, and Toshiko Akiyoshi); a studio musician (Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show Band and the Dick Cavett Show Orchestra); and as a leader of his own jazz groups. Beginning in the 1980s, he won both the Down Beat critic’s and reader’s poll awards as top jazz flutist. He continues to tour the world extensively as a soloist, performing in both clubs and jazz festivals. His biography, discography, and upcoming performances can be viewed on his website: http://lewtabackin.com/.
Every professional musician owes part of their success to the talents of their repair technicians. The need to have one’s instrument in top performing shape for any job is self-evident but finding the right repairman is akin to finding the right medical doctor. It is more than just their abilities we seek; it’s also their understanding, creativity, flexibility and support that we need. One never knows when a pad or spring will break down at the 11th hour, a support post gets bent, reeds stop sealing on the mouthpiece, or the instrument has been jostled in the carrying case and suddenly doesn’t work as well. THAT’S WHEN WE REALLY NEED OUR REPAIRMEN!
There have always been many capable technicians available but in my career, I’ve experienced a few who went beyond that category who were also ARTISTS and enjoyed sharing their time, knowledge and experience with their customers. They were always there in case of a last minute emergency in addition to their regular appointments. Here are a few who made my life better, in alphabetical order.
The opening verses to two compositions that were both #1 hits, seventy-five years apart, are shown below. While both sets of lyrics describe unsettled relationships, I believe the difference in the sophistication of the lyrics mirrors the “dumbing down” of America’s musical culture over that span of time. It has been reported that the United States is forty-ninth in the world in literacy. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has been involved in education for any length of time. Yet, the plain truth is that we have slid equally far down the music cultural ladder.
Excerpted from Woodwind Doubling for Saxophone, Clarinet & Flute
- Play each instrument because you love that particular instrument!
- Aspire to play each instrument as if it were the only one that you play.
- Set up a disciplined daily practice routine.
- Have a consistent set of warmups including tone, articulation and scale studies for each instrument.
- Listen to recordings of an assortment of great artists for each instrument on a daily basis. Focus intensively on one artist each year. Choose their greatest attributes to emphasize—tone, vibrato, articulation, phrasing, technique, etc.
- Study each instrument privately with teachers who have a similar philosophy with regard to breathing, phrasing, tone, etc. and are sensitive to a multi-instrumentalist’s role in the music industry.
- Study with only one teacher at a time on each instrument.
- Try to play in as many varied musical contexts as possible (especially helpful are saxophone quartets, woodwind quintets and jazz combo settings).
- Buy the best instruments possible (and all the major ones of each family of instruments).
- Buy instrument cases available that provide the best protection for each instrument and are ergonomically sound.
- Find an excellent repair technician for each instrument and cultivate that relationship. Make sure that you always have someone to go to in an emergency.
- Subscribe to all relevant professional journals and organizations.
- Attend concerts, masterclasses, and instrumental conventions as often as possible.
- Perform, rehearse and practice great music as often as possible.
- Become an excellent sight-reader on all of your instruments in all styles of music.
- *Developing an excellent sense of rhythm, pitch, stylistic knowledge and collegiality are essential for success in the music industry!
The following is a brief listing of notable soloists, recordings, and study materials with which a high school clarinetist should become familiar. This information will be particularly useful for those wishing to audition as music majors in college. In all cases, the young clarinetist should be encouraged to study with a professional clarinetist who also has formidable teaching experience. In addition, all clarinetists should become members of the International Clarinet Association.
While the traditional big band setup is desirable for most rehearsals, it is very useful to occasionally establish alternate seating formations, including a box formation and triangle formation. This allows the players hear the music in a different way and proves beneficial when they are reseated in their usual fashion.
The standard big band alignment calls for 5 saxophones (2 alto saxes, 2 tenor saxes and a baritone sax), 4 trumpets, 4 trombones (3 tenor trombones and a bass trombone), and a rhythm section (piano, bass, drums, and guitar). An additional trumpet can be added as well as Latin percussion instruments and a vocalist(s) and still maintain the traditional sound. There are also “flexible” arrangements published by Kendor (convertibles) and Smart Music that allow for reduced instrumentations that sound full. A typical reduced big band arrangement might include 4 saxophones, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones and 3 rhythm. Try to avoid doubling parts within the traditional alignment of instruments—i.e. having 2 alto saxophones play the lead part; having 2 bass players playing a bass part together; etc. There are numerous arrangements available from a variety of publishers for quartets—nonets if there are not enough instrumentalists for a full band program.
The following offers a list of historical big band arrangements that emphasize the saxophone section that can be used by high school jazz bands as well as college jazz ensembles. These charts will enhance the students understanding of different styles of big band orchestration as well as saxophone section performance. Also listed are a variety of materials that relate to saxophone ensemble playing, saxophone study and notable artists on the various saxophones.