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The Gig: Reed Switch

Nate Chinen on clarinetists who make the switch to tenor saxophone

Ken Peplowski
Don Byron

The Internet, as we all know, will dispense advice on any topic, so it should come as no surprise that there’s a WikiHow page titled “How to Switch From Clarinet to Tenor-Saxophone.” Created a few years ago by an editor with the handle RockyRaccoon, whose other articles include “How to Apply Magnetic Nail Polish” and “How to Enjoy a Visit to Lambert’s Café,” it lays out a seven-step plan, complete with photos. I can’t vouch for the strategy on the whole, but Step One seems pretty unassailable: “Be sure that you really want to switch to tenor sax,” it reads, in boldface type.

What brought me to RockyRaccoon’s entry was a curiosity about the challenges faced by a certain breed of musician: those known primarily as jazz clarinetists who eke out a separate, fully developed voice on the tenor saxophone. I’m not talking about doublers, those smartly employable orchestral and studio aces who play an array of woodwinds, with more of a premium on versatility than individuality. More power to ’em, but what interests me here is the expressive and technical adjustment from one distinct instrument to the other, which can be fraught with a subtle peril.

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