Welcome to my instrument page. I hope to eventually expound on woodwind instruments in general , especially the clarinets, an obsession of mine, which range from the Ab piccolo to the BBb contrary-bass clarinet - nearly the entire range of the piano save for an octave (or is that a 1/2 octave?). This, then is a work in progress reflecting my scanning abilities (it used to be just sight-reading) and hopefully some interesting anecdotes.

How to shlep 2 contrabass clarinets (Bb & Eb), baritone and tenor and soproano saxes, a set of clarinets + eb and bass clarinet and 4 flutes -piccolo thru bass, and all the stands from the parking structure at Paramount (across the steet) to the scoring stage over a block away? Get the Multicart by RockNRoller. And hope you actually get to play all those horns they told you to bring! Nine doubles!

BBb Contrabass Clarinet
Ab Piccolo Clarinet 

The contrary clarinet became famous among Hollywood studio musicians when a certain composer came here (Warner Bros in 1936), peered into the orchestra from the podium and noticed Percy Nichols playing on a prototype metal LeBlanc contra clarinet (see above pic). "I don't want any metal clarinets in my orchestra. Kindly get a wooden one!" So Percy went to Mac McGlaughlin's (the best horn smasher in LA visited by Charlie Parker, Lester Young, etc) directly after the date and found the usual hard-drinking crowd hanging out, mainly Glen Johnston , Little Mac (his son) and Charles Oglevie (who first successfully attached a low C extention to a bass clarinet and then manufactured the first bass flutes in Los Angeles). Percy relayed the scene to the boys and Mac quickly found a solution: "Paint it with the black stove paint out back!" So they all took the huge instrument apart, and after removing the keys, painted the beast. The next day Percy showed up at Warners with his "new wooden" contra, and the composer noticed, and replied after the contra solo: "Thank you - so much better now!" John Lowe had that horn for years, and now Gary Bovyer is the proud owner. Little Mac told me that story, and after adjusting mine (above) and hearing me play it, he advised: "It should sound like sheep turds falling on a metal shingle."


I first became acquainted with the Ab piccolo clarinet in Verona after seeing it among many other strange Italian clarinets in the storefront of a music shop. It was in the company of an Albert system plateau (covered keys like a sax) clarinet in A, Albert C clarinets and plateau Eb's. I have to find that picture! Anyway, this was like 1987 and I was broke and couldn't buy anything, but almost 10 years later I saw one at Mark Chudnow's shop in LA that was one piece - no barrel, and he couldn't sell it, mainly because the keys were so close together you practically needed liposuction to finger it, and even if you could, taking a finger off a tone hole hardly produced a half-step interval. This instrument had no name, but was handmade by a worker at the Loree factory in Paris. Apparently he made clarinets from A up to this Ab picc in his spare time for fun -how twisted! I had also played John Neufeld's LeBlanc Ab picc, but at that time I hadn't the bread or desire to buy that one either, although Glen Johnston had tuned it (this instrument is really too short to be tuned to a western scale) to his best ability and patience. But Mark made me an offer I couldn't refuse including tuning every note and bending keys, etc. so I could avoid the liposuction of the fat around my fingers and could actually play it, although my fingers did rub against one another. This horn is barely a foot long and sounds a flat 13th higher than the piano written or a fouth higher than the Eb sopranino clarinet. I figured it would be good for taking Bb clarinet parts up an octave with an easy transposition up a whole step. So I used it a few times like in "Batman Returns" for Danny Elfman when Steve Bartek orchestrated a ridiculous Eb clar part that went from high A down to low C#. It was easily playable on the Ab, just a high E, and a better key. Michael Convertino also used it in "A Christmas Story" but I only had two bars to switch between the BBb contra and the Ab picc. But the time I got in the most trouble with the Ab was when I was working for Michael Kamen on "Jack" and, after hearing the playback of the funny toy instruments Jon Clarke (the most talented oboist in LA) played, I opened my big mouth: "Wow, if only I had known you were blowing on toys I would have brought my Ab piccolo clarinet!" So later that week I get a call from Kamen and he wants to know all about this piccolo clarinet, so I warned him the scale was funky, so don't write too many octaves, etc., and then I get a call for "101 Dalmations" and the orchestrator calls me for the transposition, and I go to work, and Kamen has featured the damn thing! Solos everywhere, on Eb and Ab clarinets, and of course the main theme written for me to play over and over was an octave motif starting on clarion e to the high e above: pup-pup-pup-pup-pupIES! And every time I picked up the horn to warm it up by playing a few soft notes, Malcolm McNabb (trumpet virtuoso of "LA Confidential" fame) got so pissed off he instructed Emil Richards, the percussionist, to stand directly behind me and hit his anvil with a metal mallet as hard as he could. Which he obliged! Thankfully I haven't been featured on that horn since, but it occasionally bails me out of jam.


navbar contact home catalog