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Bassic Clarinet

Five great bass clarinet tracks

Bennie Maupin


“God Bless the Child”
Here and There (Prestige, 1961)

If you wanted to liberate the bass clarinet from its limited, pre-’60s role as background coloring, what better way than to record an unaccompanied solo version of Billie Holiday’s most famous ballad live at the Five Spot in New York? Using percolating arpeggios to suggest both the melody and the chord changes, Dolphy created an arrangement so thrilling he re-recorded it twice.


“Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”

Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970)

More like “Bennie Runs the Voodoo Down”: Davis creates the song’s slow-blues, voodoo theme on trumpet, but Maupin’s bass clarinet makes it a classic, nipping at the trumpet’s heels like a shadow, dark and ominous. Maupin’s ungainly instrument turns Davis’ bright, brassy American theme into something noirish, woody and African.


“Honeysuckle Rose”

The Clarinet Summit: In Concert at the Public Theater (India Navigation, 1984)

The Clarinet Summit was an unaccompanied clarinet quartet that debuted with this 1984 live recording. The 29-year-old Murray, a member of the similar World Saxophone Quartet, joins Jimmy Hamilton, John Carter and Alvin Batiste on this Fats Waller standard, and proves that his bass clarinet can be as nimble, tuneful and witty as the B-flat clarinets of his three mentors.


“Faded Beauty”

Andrew Hill: A Beautiful Day (Palmetto, 2002)

Three different reed players-J.D. Parran, Greg Tardy and Ehrlich-play bass clarinet at different times on this terrific record by Hill’s big band. On this wistful, romantic ballad about something lovely remembered and mourned, Ehrlich takes a very long solo on the bass clarinet, patiently stretching and twisting Hill’s melody to squeeze out all its melancholy. The low woodwind notes are perfect for the task.


“Bro. Dolphy”
Present Tense (Emarcy, 2008)

On this three-part tribute to his role model, Carter plays all three of Dolphy’s instruments (flute, sax and bass clarinet) and saves the latter for the climax, a dash to the finish line that disproves all the assumptions about the bass clarinet’s tempo limitations. When Carter performed this composition live, he often played all three parts on the lower-register instrument, just to prove its versatility.

Originally Published