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'A Strict Taskmaster': 5 Ways To Play The Jazz Clarinet

by Ben Goldberg
May 9, 2013

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Ellington album cover Jimmy Giuffre 3 album cover Michael Moore album cover Sidney Bechet cover Jimmy Hamilton (left) and Harry Carney were among the reedmen who played clarinet for the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

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Ben Goldberg

Earlier this year, the clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg released two remarkable albums with two almost entirely different bands. Goldberg has left a mark in many modern improvising contexts, including the New Klezmer Trio he co-founded and the Tin Hat chamber ensemble. So we asked him to reflect on some of his influences on the instrument, past and present. His two new albums, Unfold Ordinary Mind (with Nels Cline and others) and Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (with Ron Miles and Joshua Redman), are available now via Bandcamp or other outlets. —Ed.

I'm happy to have been invited to reflect on five clarinetists whose work has enriched my life, and to share a track by each of them. Clarinet, like many instruments, is a strict taskmaster — an instrument that at times responds better to the oblique glance than direct confrontation — and we are still at the beginning of working out its many wonderful possibilities.

Of course, cultivating difficult terrain with determination and perseverance often yields a flowering of unique and personal beauty. Here are five individuals who have worked that field, and a taste of their lovely and astonishing results.

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