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Discovering Jazz Clarinet

Last week's blog explored the repertoire of classical saxophone. Jazz clarinet may not be as lesser-known as classical saxophone but this is a musical instrument that is usually labelled as a classical instrument in Western tradition. Let's explore how much jazz music there is out there for the clarinet.

clarinet lessons near me


The clarinet as we know it now (more or less) is thought to have been created by Johann Christoph Denner in Germany around 1700. It was a modified version of the earlier invented chalumeau, now utilising an octave key. Clarinets have been pitched in various keys, C, Eb, A (commonly used in orchestras), and Bb, which is perhaps the most common.

With the dawn of New Orleans jazz in 1910, the clarinet was at the forefront of the music ensemble and stayed that way moving into the big band era of the 1940s. Pioneering American clarinettists included Alphonse Picou, Larry Shields, Jimmie Noone, Johnny Dodds, and Sidney Bechet.


With the dawn of swing music, the clarinet helped steer the helm with the help of players like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Woody Herman. Sadly, the swing music big bands began to decline in the late 40s and the clarinet soon lost out to the saxophone in many ensembles. At the same time, however, there was a revival of Dixieland and traditional New Orleans jazz with Pete Fountain being one of the best-known performers of this time.

In the 1950s and 60s, here in the UK, there was a surge in popularity of the 'Trad Jazz' genre. During this time, Acker Bilk released Stranger On The Shore which, alongside eleven other singles, was so popular it reached the top 50 in the UK pop charts. In fact, Stranger On The Shore reached second place in the charts in 1961.

It's always been quite common for clarinettists and saxophonists to take up both musical instruments and players of jazz clarinet today include Eddie Daniels, Anat Cohen, Ken Peplowski, Paquito D'Rivera, and Evan Christopher. Again, another Google search, this time of 'jazz clarinettists' will come up with loads of amazing players I encourage you to listen to.


Songs that have inspired me to play jazz clarinet include a lot of Benny Goodman - Sing, Sing, Sing (1937), Stompin' At The Savoy (1936), I Got Rhythm (1938); Ross Gorman in George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue (1924); Artie Shaw's Concerto For Clarinet (1940); Hubert Rostaing in Django Reinhardt's Belleville (1942) and Vendredi 13 (1940); Acker Bilk's Stranger On The Shore (1961); and Evan Christopher's Farewell Blues (2008).

One of my favourite pieces to perform is Paquito D'Rivera's Three Pieces For Clarinet And Piano (1991-1994) with three short songs full of Latin jazz themes. There are loads more songs out there that I enjoy but if I continued to list them here, it would be a long list so go and explore them for yourself.

Let me know which songs and clarinettists are your favourites.


If you are looking for clarinet lessons or a saxophone teacher near you, I offer face-to-face music lessons in Wells, UK and online music lessons to anyone worldwide. Feel free to get in touch!


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