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Monday October 23, 2017
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Jason Stein

 

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tonal palette and, in the right hands, a span of four octaves or more, but it is relatively quiet and thus was not often heard in a jazz band before the coming of microphones. Nevertheless, musicians used it in studios as early as the 1920s, when Omer Simeon played a bass clarinet solo on "Someday Sweetheart." For decades it was used for specific effects, as a double by clarinetists and saxophonists, primarily in big bands, with occasional solo spots. In the 1950s, flutist Herbie Mann and clarinetist Buddy DeFranco recorded whole albums on the instrument, but got tired of lugging the big case around, and remained true to their first horns.

All of this changed around 1960 when the multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy appeared on the scene. Dolphy had an amazing bass clarinet technique; his solos were exciting, with big interval jumps, fast fingering, and a big bluesy tone, often tinged with a voice-like cry. Most important, he turned it into a normal, acceptable instrument, and many took it up under his influence. But while it soon became normal for saxophonists to double on the big horn, very few musicians used it exclusively. The exceptions were people like Walter Zuber Armstrong or Michael Pilz, but they never achieved major status. More recently, one thinks of the German Rudi Mahall. And then there is Jason Stein.

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