Jazz clarinet has a history reaching back to the very beginnings of jazz. Clarinet players have been involved in almost every movement in the history of jazz, and some of the best clarinetists today, including some of the greats of art (‘classical’) music also choose to play jazz on a regular basis.
Many of the first clarinetists who played jazz were Creoles in the New Orleans jazz scene. These players had inherited a rich classical French tradition, and brought their virtuosic technical playing to the Dixieland Bands of the early jazz era. Clarinet continued to play a supporting role in many jazz bands, until the advent of the Big Bands and Swing, when clarinet jazz masters such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Jimmy Dorsey brought the clarinet to prominence, leading their own bands and orchestras as well as featuring as well as playing and recording clarinet solos.
The most commonly used clarinet in the world of jazz is the soprano B flat variety, though there are some bass clarinetists who play jazz as well. Harry Carney was a bass clarinetist in Duke Ellington’s band, and Eric Dolphy was a famous soloist on the bass instrument in the 1960s. Modern day jazz clarinetist of some note include Eddie Daniels who plays both traditional Goodman era style music as well as modern jazz pieces for the clarinet; and Ken Peplowski who play an eclectic spectrum of jazz and jazz inspired music. Well known classical clarinetist Richard Stoltzman also plays jazz, and has recorded and performed jazz throughout his career.
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