Clarinet Mouthpieces

“Thanks for providing such a good forum on the Web with your sax and clarinet forums. I check in on them from time to time.

I was wondering if I could be so forward as to ask you for your opinion. I am an intermediate level tenor saxophone player and clarinet player. I have a good equipment set up on my primary instrument (the saxophone, an old Mark VI that I have owned since 1978), but alas, I am still playing on an old student model Bundy. I am one of these players who played in high school and college, but then quit for some years. However, now for the past six months or so, I have been getting back into playing. When I played clarinet in college it was really just for doubling on parts in the jazz band.

Some day soon, when I have some additional money, I would like to buy a
Buffet or Selmer clarinet. My question for you in the interim though, is that I now need to buy a new clarinet mouthpiece, and I noticed your
recommendation for the Vandoren B45, which my local music store here in
Phoenix carries. However, I was just curious. I know that you like your
Ronald Caravan mouthpiece very much, and I saw that you have an
address/phone link for his mouthpieces. Are these pieces generally
custom-made-type pieces that are higher-end and expensive? I was just
curious, and thought I would ask you. Also, do you feel that the Caravan pieces are far superior to the Vandoren product?

I’d understand if you don’t know much about the Caravan current prices, but I just wanted to see if you REALLY liked it a lot better than the B45? My understanding is that the B45 is a very good student-type mouthpiece.
Mouthpieces are such a personal thing. I believe I bought the clarinet mouthpiece from Caravan on a whim. It was because I was going to get one of his saxophone mouthpieces, and saw that he had a clarinet mouthpiece, and I had money and……what the hell. It’s actually the only caravan mouthpiece I use, the other two are in a box somewhere in my studio.

The B45 is a good general purpose mouthpiece. I think I was looking for something a little darker and fuller. I just happened that the Caravan fit the bill and I’ve really never wanted to try anything else. Though, I did play a Selmer clarinet with the Caravan and it sounded Bad.

I’d recommend trying a bunch of mouthpieces, and have someone else listen or record yourself playing them. Some others that I hear are good are Clark Fobes and Borbeck mouthpieces.

How I Learned To Play Clarinet

I tell this story to all my students when they start taking lessons. It is a story about me and how I got introduced to the clarinet. It is all true, and it might be slightly embellished but…..hey, it’s a good story.I started my musical career in the 4th grade when the band teacher, Mr. Alfono (spelling?), came to my class and gave use the 20 minute “lets go band” talk. I wanted to try it. What instrument though….? As I remember it, I wanted to do either saxophone or clarinet. He said something like “well, if you start on Clarinet then don’t like it, you can switch to saxophone”. Cool. I got a clarinet then. Don’t remember anything about band after that. It was something to get out of class for. When I went to junior high school (7-8 grade), I switched to bass clarinet. Not sure why. Perhaps I didn’t like all the competition? I played bass clarinet until my freshmen year of highschool, then the junior high wanted the bass clarinet back. I switched to Tenor saxophone then, and my clarinet days seemed to be behind me….

That was, until I reached college. Funny thing is that playing in big bands, all of a sudden parts start saying “Tenor Saxophone/Clarinet” or “Alto Saxophone/Clarinet/Flute”. Well, when started dabbling in clarinet at DVC, but was bad at it. When I started at CSUH , I somehow got placed as lead alto in the second big band. Thats cool, but we had to do this arrangement of “American” (something, can’t remember the name) by Toshiko Akiyoshi. It was a trombone feature, and the lead alto part had a nasty clarinet line. Spent a lot of time working on that. We played it for the winter concert, and I thought that the clarinet would end up in the back of my school locker again…..never to be taken out.

Enter Tim Smith. He was the wind ensemble director at that time. I had done an audition for him in the fall, but I got the impression that he didn’t need or want me in the band. Well, he did now for some reason. He wanted me to play in his band. I said, well, ok, next quarter. During finals he stalked me and finally dragged me into his office.

“So, you are playing in my next quarter”. Not a question, a statement of fact. I was doomed.

“Um, yeah. But it seems you have a lot of saxophones already in the band.” Please please find me a way out of this!

“Yeah, what else do you play?”

“Well, I play a little flute.”

“Good good, what else?”

“And a little clarinet..”

“Ah! Clarinet! Excellent, you can play clarinet in my band.”

Great. Not. He proceeded to give me music, and later I think it was all planned. Tim Smith plans things out WAY in advance, and that especially goes for his assigning of parts in band. So, now I was trapped. I was able to convince him that I needed a better clarinet, the Noblet (No play) wasn’t doing it for me. I was able to get a Buffet clarinet out of the instrument checkout guy, and proceeded to go on winter break, not even considering practicing my music.

First day of classes. Wind Ensemble. At that time, there was only ONE Wind Ensemble (or symphonic band, or whatever you want to call it). I was clarinettist number 6. Tim Smith has a policy of rotating the parts, so, everyone plays different parts (IE: 1st, 2nd, 3rd) on different songs. He also likes to sightread for the first 10-15 minutes in the period. That first day of band was sheer terror. I knew how to play the notes on the page……on saxophone. My brain proceeded to freeze at all the little black dots on the page. I was doomed. My ego! My fragile ego! With like less than 5 minutes to in the class, this other clarinetist, real cocky and real good, turns to me and says “Sounds good man! But play louder, I can’t hear ya!” Da! I wasn’t playing.

I endured the class for about 2 weeks like this. I was in panic mode, trying to figure out fingerings, playing in tune. I was hopelessly in over my head.

I decided after like the 2nd week to talk to Tim.

“I don’t think this is working out” I said. I wanted out of clarinet. Badly.

“Why don’t you talk to Bill, he might give you some pointers on clarinet.” Bill Wolhmacher, clarinet teacher and department head. Ok, what the hell, I’d go talk with Bill.

That was actually the turning point there. Bill was very helpful in showing me clarinet, and I later learned he played saxophone in the US Marine band (the President’s Band) because there were no open clarinet seats, just a saxophone one. So, my talking with Bill began concurrent saxophone/clarinet lessons for the next few years. It was actually a good thing since the saxophone teacher there at the time, Bill Trimble, was rarely attended his scheduled lessons and generally didn’t give a shit about CSUH, but thats another story. I went to saxophone lessons. I LEARNED at my clarinet lessons.

Now, as I look back nearly 10 years later, I’m glad I stuck with clarinet. I really enjoy playing it!

Around The Horn Backgrounds

I just got done making some backgrounds for use with the etudes in Walt Weiskopf’s book Around the Horn.

The backgrounds were generated with Band in a Box 10 and tweaked with Digital Performer 3, and recorded using my Alesis NanoPiano and Roland Sound Canvas.Bb Backgrounds

The number after the name is the metronome marking the song was recorded at.

Update: I removed the original links from 2001 a long time ago. I have now just put up the Band in a Box files for people interested in them. Enjoy!

  Around The Horn Band in a Box Files (13.6 KiB, 55 hits)
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New Biography of Buddy DeFranco

Malcolm Harris, Parkside Publications writes “Dear Jazz Clarinet Fans:

Parkside Publications of Seattle is pleased to announce that a new Biography of jazz clarinetist Buddy DeFranco is now in final editing and will be published in early 2002. The book (the title is yet to be chosen) is written by French clarinetist and author Fabrice Zammarchi and his wife Sylvie, who have been interviewing Buddy at length for more than six years. The book will be approximately 280 pages, with more than 200 photos from Buddy’s extensive career.”
“A special announcement will be mailed to Buddy’s fans when the book is released, offering the book by mail at a discounted price. If you would like to receive a copy of the announcement (with no obligation), please send your name and address to: or mail to:

Parkside Publications
Suite 3210
999 Third Ave.
Seattle, WA 98104

Best Wishes,

Malcolm Harris

Parkside Publications”


“Most people will not have knowingly seen blackwood but almost everyone will have heard it, for it is the premier wood of choice for fine concert-quality woodwind instruments such as clarinets, oboes and flutes, as well as being used in the manufacture of bagpipes. Blackwood is also the finest material available today for producing ornamental turning. In its African homeland, it is used to make intricate and highly detailed carvings, and plays a vital role in the ecology of the East African savannah.”

The Blackwood Conservation website has lots of information about where your favorite came from.

New Klezmer Book

I got this off the Klarinet List

My new book, The Clarinetists Guide to Learning Klezmer. Is now available from:

International Musical Suppliers Phone: 1-800-762-1116 E-mail: or Tom Puwalski

The Clarinetists Guide to Learning Klezmer is a how to book for Clarinetists want to learn how to perform “traditional” Klezmer. It includes 16 transcriptions of the recordings of Dave Tarras and Naftule Brandwein, and a plethora of all sorts of clarinet information. Feel free to email any questions and Comments I’ve included the Table of Contents…Preface


What is Traditional Klezmer?

Types of Klezmer Music

Let’s Dance 3

And Now For Something Different

Klezmer Ornamentation

I. Just Pulled the Clarinet Out of the Closet After 25 Years and Want to Play
Equipment 12

Technique – How Should I. Practice?

Practice Session A – Get the “Chops” You Need

Practice Session B – Listen to Klezmer Music

How Can I Learn To Play Klezmer Music?

Using This Book and Musical Examples

Thoughts on Putting Together a Band



Books, Other Study Aids and Tools

Sources for Klezmer Music and CDs

The Place I Buy Any Clarinet Related Items

My Equipment Choices



Thanks Tom Puwalski, Clarinetist with Lox & Vodka and former principal
Clarinetist with the United States Army Field Band

Best Wishes To Mark Stanley

Fellow local guitarist and singer Mark Stanley was struck ill on May 2 with meningococcemia (bacterial Meningitis). There is a good weblog detailing his struggle with this. It nearly killed him.I found out today that he is going to lose the tips of his fingers. What that means for his playing…..who knows. I wish him a fast and full recovery.

Jazz Conception by Jim Snidero

I have to rave about Jim Snidero‘s great series of books, Jazz Conception. He has them out for Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Flute, Clarinet, Guitar, Trumpet and probably more. The book comes with a CD of the music being performed by a great artist on whatever instrument. On the Alto version it’s Jim Snidero himself (and he sounds GREAT), on the Tenor CD it’s Walt Weiskopf, on the Flute CD it’s Frank Weis, on the Clarinet CD it’s Ken Peplowski.

The books feature the same 21 etudes. They’ve been transposed for instruments other than Alto Saxophone. The Etudes are based on well known chord changes, like #12 IND Line is based on A-Train changes, and #13 Father Song is based on the changes to Song for my Father. The etudes introduce all the standard articulations and stylistic things one would need to know to play jazz. The first etude, Groove Blues, has scoopes and falls. The next etude introduces ghosting of notes.

My only gripe, and it’s a small one, is that there is not a separate CD for backgrounds. True, you can turn the pan over to right and you’d get just the rhythm section, by why not just include a separate CD with the backgrounds by themselves? Since I insist on students interested in jazz to get this book, I made a separate CD that has just the backgrounds so the kids can play without the soloist. You’d be surprised how many boomboxes have no left/right panning.

In all, Jim Snidero’s Jazz Conception series is great. I have 4th and 5th graders able to play Groove Blues, and A-Doll. Some can play some of the others as well. I hope Jim Snidero will add to this series of books.