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Shrdlu

The bass clarinet

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When I was a teenager learning the alto saxophone and immersed in the Dave Brubeck Quartet, a neighbor brought around a copy of "Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard". It blew me away, especially "Spiritual". It had a soprano saxophone, a bass clarinet, a pianist playing all those new (to me) fourth chords, a fine bassist and this drummer with a new (to me) triplet feel. Just amazing.

From that point on, I wanted a soprano saxophone and a bass clarinet. Just a little beyond a teenager's budget.

So, let's look at the bass clarinet a bit. Here is one of the best of today's models

http://www.selmer.fr/fiche.php?code=1108044011

In its modern form, it was designed by Adolphe Sax in 1838, which explains why it looks a bit like a saxophone.

Before getting into it, I need to point out that the "ordinary" clarinet (as in Benny Goodman) is in Bb and its bottom note is E. Players in symphony orchestras always have a second one, in A, a half-tone lower: the one that's easier for the current key is used.

The most common bass clarinet is in Bb, an octave below the regular clarinet. Historically, there have been bass clarinets in A, but they are very rare, and their parts are played on the Bb model, which then needs a low Eb in order to reach the low E of the A clarinet. Pay attention now, class: this will be on the Test.

For a long time, bass clarinets extended to a low C (concert Bb) have been available. The poor old little fingers on both hands are presented with cumbersome double stacks of keys, and one has to be careful not to get a finger stuck under them. One hopes, ha ha, that they never make a "low C" A bass clarinet.

When, as a young man with a trip to Paris, France, coming up, I was contemplating buying a bass clarinet, an orchestra musician very kindly lent me a Selmer "low C" model, to see how I went on it. I liked playing it, but we didn't have microphones at sessions, and the middle register was drowned out by the drummer. The middle, or "Clarion", register on a bass clarinet is thin, and if you try to push a note, you get a squeak, which is actually a high harmonic. I decided not to buy one at that time.

There is another problem with bass clarinets. Unlike the regular clarinet, they need two register holes ("pips"), as on all saxophones. The cheaper ones, such as my current one

https://used.samashmusic.com/product/bass-clarinet-student-model-sn56336-circa-1970-1975/

only have the one pip, at the top end. The extra pip goes on the (metal) gooseneck, if fitted. Its absence makes the middle register harder to play well, but I can manage. You don't wanna know what a new Selmer Paris costs.

I'll end by posting a link to an amazing bass clarinet player called Earspasm. Watch him rip through "Giant Steps" along with the record

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQFySnj-NbM

 

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Thanks for posting that Giant Steps video. I also watched his Body & Soul video. Excellent player.

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Thanks, Late. I just had a look at the Body & Soul video. He really gets Bean's sound.

I didn't notice at first, but he's reading those solos out of a book of classic jazz solos.

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We might as well look briefly at all the sizes of clarinet.

You can see pretty much the whole list here, in this very impressive montage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjERmUZUY78

The common one in jazz is in Bb. If necessary, it is called a soprano clarinet, to differentiate it from the other sizes. Its saxophone equivalent is the soprano, both sounding a tone below the written note. Clarinets have a cylindrical tube, and this causes them to overblow a twelfth higher, rather than an octave. As a result, they have a huge range, much larger than that of the saxophone. Their note has only odd harmonics, this giving them their distinctive sound. It so happens that the clarinet tube is only half-a-wavelength, which explains why the common clarinet goes down to D (concert) half-way down the bass clef - a low note for an instrument that is only 26" long.

I disagree with some of their names. I would follow the saxophone names, and call the bass clarinet the tenor clarinet. (It does go up to the Bb above the treble clef, at least.) The contra-alto (in Eb, an octave below the Eb alto clarinet) would be the baritone clarinet. The contrabass (in Bb) would be the bass.

The "octocontra-alto" piece of plumbing in the video (in Eb, an octave below the contra-alto, yet) is very rare.

Believe it or not, Leblanc actually made one an octave below the (Bb) contrabass. I have seen a picture of M Leblanc blowing into it, but there doesn't seem to be any audio anyplace. It has been simulated on Youtube by lowering the notes from a smaller horn.

There have been several clarinets higher than the common one. The most common is the Eb clarinet. (That's all it's called.) It was used very effectively by Johnny T. Williams in the score for "Young Sherlock Holmes" during the final scenes. The guy who loaned me the bass clarinet had one, and let me blow it. It went easily up to its top C. The smallest clarinet is the little Ab piccolo clarinet. They managed to fit the standard Boehm mechanism to it. It is apparently mainly used in Italy. Its bottom note is C, the bottom note of the flute. I assume that they went for the bizarre key of Ab because a Bb piccolo clarinet would be too small to accommodate the Boehm mechanism.

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Yes. An Eb drainpipe, lol. They also slowed the "octocontra-alto" audio down, to simulate the Bb "octocontrabass" instrument, of which no audio exists. You can count the vibrations of the lowest notes. These instruments sound best when blended with higher ones; the same applies to the contrabass saxophone.

I was terrified when I saw a picture of a contrabass clarinet with "simple system" (very primitive) keywork in a book about woodwind.

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One of my all-time favorite albums prominently features the bass clarinet.  Here it is, in its entirety, and you're welcome!

 

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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Nice!

I always liked Herbie Mann's work on bass clarinet. Before him, there's Harry Carney and Benny Goodman? Who else?

 

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Most swing era saxophone sections doubled on clarinet, and often there was a bass. As an example, Benny Goodman's performance of "Mr Bach Goes To Town" has two bass clarinets. (That excellent arrangement exists in at least two versions: a studio recording and a live version, on one of the three M.G.M. "Treasure Chest" LPs.)

A woodwind book that I have says that the automatic register key mechanism was introduced to make the bass clarinet an easy doubling instrument for the dance band saxophone player. That remark was made back in the 1950s. Nowadays, the mechanism is fitted to all bass clarinets that have two register holes.

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On 12/31/2019 at 11:16 PM, Dave James said:

R-1127344-1284892591.jpeg.jpg

I do like that one. Another one is Buddy DeFranco's "Blues Bag".

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Here's the playlist for a show I put together back in 2015 when subbing for a colleague:

 
DJ: 
 
Show: 
 
What: 
Playlist for Tuesday, February 17, 2015 (2-4pm)
 

Bass Clarinets Galore
Guest host: Jon Pollack

Time
Artist
Song
Album [Format]
Misc
 
Misc – NEW:New Release  ( ):Label, Year Rec/Rel
 
 
2:08
 
 
2:16
[Brunswick] • (Hep, 1933)
 
 
 
2:19
[Brunswick] • (Hep, 1933)
 
 
 
 
2:24
Shadowy Sands [alternate]
[H.R.S. (unissued)] • (Mosaic, 1946)
 
 
 
2:46
Far Cry [CD]
[Prestige] • (Prestige, 1960)
 
 
 
2:59
Blues Bag [CD]
[Vee-Jay] • (Koch Jazz, 1964)
 
 
 
 
3:08
Hindsight [LP]
[SteepleChase] • (Inner City, 1974)
 
 
 
 
3:18
[DIW] • (DIW, 1991)
 
 
 
3:26
[Atlantic] • (Atlantic, 1994)
 
 
 
 
3:34
[Songlines] • (Songlines, 1996)
 
 
 

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Earspasm again ...

 

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Hymie Schertzer takes a bass clarinet solo on one of the Lionel Hampton RCA dates from the ‘30’s. I’d have to go digging to tell which date.

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On 6/7/2020 at 10:14 PM, Tom in RI said:

Hymie Schertzer takes a bass clarinet solo on one of the Lionel Hampton RCA dates from the ‘30’s. I’d have to go digging to tell which date.

That's very interesting. Hymie is my favorite sax section lead alto. Benny's four sax section, led by Hymie, was my favorite of all. The absence of a baritone gave it a light, agile sound. Gerry Mulligan said the same thing, but don't ask me where I saw that. They were still able to get that sax section sound for the movie about Benny, Hymie being on board.

I recently saw the two movies in which Glenn Miller's band appeared, and I spotted a bass clarinet. I also saw one in the "Fabulous Dorseys" movie. You don't hear it on their records, because it is buried in the reed sections. An exception is Benny Goodman's "Mr Bach Goes To Town", which exists as both a studio version and a live version in the 3-LP "Treasure Chest" set. (I don't think that that set has appeared on CDs.)

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Posted (edited)

The track with Shertzer on bass clarinet is High Society from April 3, 1939.

Edited by Tom in RI
Speeling erorr

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Thanks, Tom.

 

I found it on Youtube.

 

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Posted (edited)

This might be a bit on the obscure side, but I have often wondered what the lowest note on Eric Dolphy's bass clarinet was. As I posted at the start, the bottom note is usually (written) Eb, sounding Db in concert pitch, or C (Bb concert). Well, this video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ekmrZjp5lY

settles the matter. The lowest note is D (C concert). He plays it here, on "God Bless The Child". Also, I can see three silver hole covers below the right hand little finger key stack, whereas my low Eb model has only two. The lowest of the three vents the Eb, and the D comes out through the bell. He definitely doesn't have the low C model, because those have 6 keys in the right hand little finger key stack, and his horn has only 5.

This means that Eric could play a low concert C on Trane's "Spiritual" (1961, at the Vanguard), the piece being in C.

Edited by Shrdlu

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