clarinet player of today
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During Göteborg Jazz
Festival in August 1994 Bill Salmond's Louisiana Ragtime Band were
a big success. The band played in the spirit of George Lewis and
Jim Robinson with just a clarinet and a trombone in the front
line, what a swing they had! The audience was as close to ecstasy
as you can get.
band, the set-up without trumpet, the interplay between clarinet and
trombone, and the swing, was a great inspiration to Hans Zakrisson
and I when we started the Red Wing Ragtime Band right after the
festival. When there were questions about how we could have a Scottish
band as our inspiration, we just answered: "Why not?!" But of course,
we also had listened a lot to the prototypes...
the clarinet player George Gilmour was the most interesting guy in the
band. He not only had the same forname as his famous namesake, he
also played like an incarnation of him - but in his own way. Now, many
years later, I've got the opportunity to ask him about his playing, his
thoughts about the music and much more.
lives in a small fishing town called Eyemouth, on the East
coast of Scotland, about 80 kms south of Edinburgh. Enjoy!
myth says when you learned to play you took some George Lewis records
and your clarinet and went to a desert island for a year?
- Well lets dispel the myth first. As a boy of 8 years old I was
given (ok, I wanted it) a piano accordion, by the age of 12 it was
clear my passion for Scottish music had faded and a liking for, what I
then thought was jazz. My inital interest was a
recording made by Monty Sunshine playing "The Old Rugged
Cross", that pricked my ear to the sound of the clarinet. My music
teacher told my parents that I had some little music in me, but
the accordion was not my instrument. I was given a new clarinet, a
Boehm system (and a new teacher).
The band in 1969, I would
have been playing a Boehm back then. None of these guys are still
playing to my knowledge, although on a recheck, that's a young Bill
Salmond skulking in the rear.
Bill Salmond's band at 18, only having heard George Lewis with Bunk on
a record called "Great Trumpet Soloists". I didn't much care for the
one track of Bunk playing "The Saints" in Aflat, I was more into Acker
Bilk and the British trad scene, remember this was 1965 and I was
young. I had heard Sidney Bechet and admired his playing the
most, I even had a soprano sax, Bill took one look at it and
said, "you'll not be needing THAT". Alan Quinn was his
trombone player then and almost left the band, to be honest he did
leave because I was so bad. I was given lots of George Lewis tapes
and records told to get on with it ...eventually, I played the
cracks and scratches too.
On stage 1970, we wore
"dress" when playing everything apart from "pub" gigs. Bill Salmond on
later when I was 30, I married and joined the Scottish Lighthouse
Service as a keeper, now you see where the myth is coming from, I was
away from the scene for years, when I came back I was like a new kid on
the block. There is more, but that's the bones of it.
Now divorced for 12 years I run my own business, this allows me to
play when a gig or festival comes along. I do enjoy playing
gigs, but I am just as happy sitting at home and playing
...Mozart (not very well), or along with some N.O.
recordings. Most times I just make up phrases, finger
exercises, listening to the instrument. I never feel I'm
practicing, just enjoying the instrument.
- Where are you playing nowadays?
- I am just starting back playing after over a year of not playing
at all, not even at home. I became very fed up with attitudes
and a reluctance in promoting the band ...so I just stopped. Alan
Quinn was ill at the time and it looked as if he may have been
obliged to hang up his trombone. I have always said I'd stop
if he did, he is such a wonderful guy to have at your side, and
there is no one locally to take his place. However, he's
now well again and playing brilliantly, he just
sounds so utterly comfortable with what he does. We both play in
the Criterion Parade Band, Alan still plays with Bill and the Louisiana
Ragtime Band, but I don't. It's not that I wouldn't, it's just how
things are at present. The Criterion is in Ascona and Davos this
year, and we're all looking forward to that.
- What kind of clarinet do you use?
- I started off playing a Boehm system, but changed many
years ago to the simple system, which was a wall hanger of Ian Boyter,
who plays tenor sax with the Criterion Parade Band as well as
regular "sit down" gigs. I persuaded him to let me have it to
practice on, someone once looked at it and said they wouldn't be
caught putting it on a fire at night, but I liked it and enjoyed
its sound, they do have something in their sound. I have a
boxwood like Sammy Rimingtons, this was the last one made
by Derek Joynson, it was to be Dereks own, but
he very kindly sold it to me. He numbers them, so mine is a DJ7.
It has a lovely tone but not a lot of projection.
- What kind of mouthpiece do you prefer?
- The dreaded mouthpiece saga continues ...well for me it certainly
does. I haven't played on a standard lay mouthpiece in
35 years, I've spent a small fortune on that most elusive of
things, the perfect clarinet mouthpiece. You wouldn't believe me
if I told you just how many Barri Buddy de Franco no. 3 relays I've
had, as for 5JBs, I've lost count. I'm playing on an old Vandoren
66, the pre 5JB model, it has been relayed very wide and is a hard
blow on my rested lip, but I'll persevere with it as it does sound
nice. I'm shaving down 2 1/2 strength reeds just to get a sound.
Ragtime Band at Göteborg Jazz Festival, August 1994. Bill Bryden, bass,
drums, George Gilmour, clarinet, Bill Salmond, banjo, Alan Quinn,
trombone, Graham Scott, piano.
clarinet did you used back in 1994?
- I'm not altogether sure what instrument I was playing back then,
it certainly wasn't the E.J. Albert I play now, which I like very
much. You must fall in love with a clarinet, as you know. I've
had many an affair, even one night stands with some, but this
instrument I do adore. The boxwood is beautiful to play, fine
for church or background music, even trio work, but
acoustically and especially with Alan, you need the power that is
lacking in this material. They can also be very tempremental
when it comes to atmospherics.
Joynson used the most basic simple system key work, mine
was from an old Boosey copy of an earlier Albert clarinet, somewhere
around 1932 vintage. I think the original instrument was beyond
repair, so the key work was salvaged. I often wonder what
happened to Chris Blount's metal
Peddler, an instrument he had dreamed of owning,
unfortunately he was given only a short time in which to become
acquainted with it.
- It seems you are always searching for the perfect
- My thoughts behind all this stems from the fact that New Orleans
reed players, George Lewis is just one of the many who did most of
their earlier playing outdoors on parades against a lot of brass,
and the egos that seem to go with brass playing. He would require,
even on an Eflat instrument, a tremendously good lip, also,
they played almost non stop indoors ,"aint paying niggers to sit
there listenin'" was a common club owners view. These
sessions could last a long time, 6-8 hour gigs were not
uncommon. Remember the early Bunk recordings were nearly all
ensemble playing, because thats how they had to play. If you want
a particular sound from your instrument, then work at it, accept the
pain, it goes away eventually. That's my theory anyway.
I've been trying a new mouthpiece from Prof. Anton Weinberg,
he makes them to order and is very reasonably priced for a
hand finished mouthpiece. He works in conjunction with Dawkes
Music in England. His side of the business is called
Windcraft, and they have the web site www.windcraft.co.uk if you're interested.
I have ordered yet another mouthpiece, this time from Bob
Ackerman in the States. He is a legendary figure when it comes to
custom mouthpiece work. When we spoke, he immediately
recognised the need for a larger bore and tone chamber to suit my
Albert. Hopefully this one may just be what I'm looking for
...yes I know, don't say it out loud.
I've also just had confirmation that the Meyer 10# mouthpiece I
ordered back in January is now available. The 10# has a 71thou tip
opening compared to the 5JB of 58thou so that should prove interesting.
I would always wonder if I didn't buy it, so I await its delivery with
my usual trepidation and anticipation. If it's so awfully wide
I may have to play on old newspaper cut to size in place
of the reed, and save a fortune to boot. Ha ha ha.
- Do you know what kind of mouthpiece George Lewis
- A story I got from Jake McMahon concerns a mouthpiece that
Sammy got from no other than George Lewis himself. Both of them tried
it, but neither the two of them could get a note from it as it was so
wide. This doesn't mean George could either of course, or why would he
be giving it away?
Burgundy Street blues at Glossop Jazz Festival 1996.
I held Georges clarinet when
he came over here with the Barry Martin Band in the mid
60's. It was the clarinet that had been made for Jimmy Noone,
I think. It had an adjustable tuning barrel and a wooden
mouthpiece, but I didn't look to see how open it was. He was
using reeds with the trade name Vibrator, and they had a fluted
rib in the shank area. I'd never heard of them, and all inquiries
at the time came to 0. I seem to recall reading George
would go between strengths 2 and 4 depending on the state of
his lip and how much playing he was doing, that makes sense I
suppose. No matter, the same instrument in our hands wouldn't make
us sound like George, and it's nonsense thinking otherwise, yet
some people do just that with a variety of instruments ...not the
banjo of course!!
There does seem to persist amongst some white N.O.
style players that old broken instruments give some
mystical and magical authenticity to the way they play. This
of course is absolute rubbish, the tool must be fit for
the work, or the work is sub standard.
- What are your views on reeds?
- I once was advised by some old pro to always start off with a
reed that feels on the hard side, or at least offers
some resistance. I have by and large followed that good advice,
and have never regretted doing so. Reeds nowadays are bye and
large much more consistant than 20 years ago, and the selection is
staggering. You can put another reed in the opening between
the lay and the reed, bent the fitted reed out a little
just to get a bit more projektion. I occassionally used to do this, but
only on a very good reed that has lost its edge.
did it at the start of a tune and broke the reed, it actually split
across the cane. The piano was playing the intro and I had no idea what
if anything would come out the horn. I was in a mild panick until the
first note was played, it worked after a fashion, thank goodness, but I
can't see how. At the first opportunity I changed the reed, and I have
never used that particular trick since.
long have they been playing together?
How come you and Alan have such a nice interplay?
- The understanding between players is a rare and very
natural phenomenon which isn't rehearsed or contrived. It may
only come along once in your musical life, or never, not even
close. I must be very fortunate indeed, having experenced it twice
in my playing career. First was Jack Weddell and the Edinburgh Climax
Jazz Band. Jack has retired now, at least from playing in public.
Secondly with, of course, Alan Quinn. Although Alan and I played
together when I first started playing in a band, it took the
non-trumpet line up many years later to allow this to develop. For some
it would seem unnecessary in the first place, and that brings us back
to (most) trumpet players. Having experienced the magic and
beauty of it, you will understand how nothing else can ever
replace it. When it seemed Alan would possibly be obliged to stop due
to his health, I couldn't even think of playing this music
with the musicians that were available ...I just stopped.
That's how important it is to me.
- How do you look on New Orleans jazz as an art
- We play a unique music that gives an opportunity in
expression that few other musical styles allow. This is
so often exploited by opportunist, musical (not all of them)
vagrants who play for claps from an audience that on the
whole know no better. I'm sorry, but that's how I perceive what
we've done to this rarest of music, it is not sacred, but it is
rarely played as we heard it from those who inspired us. NEVER
play for claps, for that is all you'll receive, my father told me
this, and he was right. The joy is in you, you know when you've
achieved what you set out to do, even if the audience ignores you.
Maybe that is terribly naive, of course we are there to entertain, but
you should know the difference, don't expect them to tell
you, acknowledge with gratitude the praise, if any, but
assess the performance only by your own ear.
- How do you approach a tune?
- I try to find the words for the melodies
that we play, remembering that a lot of the tunes were never
intended for our beat, instrumentation and style of interpretation.
(Most of the classic jazz tunes as you know, were
purposely written, much like modern pop groups today, who
"write their own stuff". Some of these I suspect because
they can't play anyone else's.) I feel a benifit knowing this, and
it gives some understanding of the composers motivation to write
the thing in the first place. A perfect example is
"Bright Eyes Goodbye", written by a father watching his son go off
to war, knowing in his heart he'd never see him again. The tears
well in my eyes at the very thought of this, how can this
knowledge not influence the way we play and feel the tunes
message. All we need is the heart, the soul, and a
I'm sorry if I sound a bit vague in answering this
question, I try and add to the melody either by playing it or
augmenting it. I can no better than repeat a quote made by George
Lewis, "It's everyones responsibility to add to the swing". I think
each member of a band is a cog in a machine, we rely on each
other for the whole swing, the complete sound. There is no
magic, or maybe that's exactly what it is, that rare mixture
of personalities and tastes that culminate as one, at least some
of the time.
all honesty, I know nothing at all about chords, that
doesn't mean I wouldn't benefit from the knowledge,
but I am totally and utterly ignorant of their
structure ...but I get bye.
- I've noticed you often play some parts of the
melody one octave higher than when you started, why?
- I've no idea what the correct musical term is when
you play part of the melody up an octave. If it has one,
and if I ever knew it, then I've forgotten it a long time ago.
It gives light and shade between the two front line instruments
and allows the clarinet to assert its dominance for the
melody, it is after all the soprano voice. I don't consciously
think about doing it until I feel it in the music
- What feeling do you want in your playing?
- I have just watched a DVD made by Sarah
Spencer's parents of the LRB and I'm playing the
boxwood on that. The DVD was made at the Glossop Jazz Festival in
96', two years after we were in Sweden. The band line up
remained unchanged more or less until 2005, the drummer being the only
one to leave around 1998 due to poor health. Kenny Milne fills
that chair now, when he's available. He still does a lot of
work with several bands, such is the demand for a drummer of his
quality. The recording sound is not good, but the band does seem
much more relaxes than the 94' when you heard us in Gothenburg. We all
seemed so frantic, the atmosphere having taken over sense and good
taste ...well thats my opinion. I'm much more into the relaxed
playing than on the edge of the seat stuff that so many bands
seem to create, indeed, favour. Dancers help develop this state,
but concerts have the opposite effect on most bands, the LRB back
then, was no exception it would seem.
I remember reading an interview featuring Dizzy
Gillespie, when asked how often he and the band "really took
off", he astonished the interviewer by answering "Oh!!, maybe
once every two years at best". I don't know if George Lewis
on being asked the same question, would have answered much
differently. It's all about what we are used to hearing
around us when we play, the inter action between the usual
members of the band, that known level can easily be
upset by a substitute. Whether the change is for the
better, or the worse, you have to handle the
difference, and that may not be comfortable for you, the
band, or the new member in the group.
I have felt for many years that the make up of any band
is a very delicate combination of personalities and
musicianship, especially in a N.O. band. We Scots (this is
purely my own theory) have a link of sorts with the Black
Americans, both cultures suffered appalling hardships,
and slavery. From this was produced a musicical form, "The
Blues" and "Piobaireachd"(pronounced like Peebrock), which is
Gaelic for pipe music, mostly laments very similar to the Blues in
many ways. Whether this gene is still working, or is almost
diluted I don't know, but it might explain why so many
notable jazz players came from such a small country as ours.
- What do you think of recording the band?
- Bill Russell produced such wonderful music back in the 40's with only
one mike suspended from the kitchen light fitting. Now we with 4 inputs
or more, all strategically placed, but can't produce anything like the
sound he did. This a constant mystery to me. I'm sure its all the
mixing afterwards that screws it up, gives it a sterility that
live recordings generally avoid. Maybe the professionals who record
bands read the instruction books for the gear they
have, this surely must help.
The best recording are generally live, maybe because, like
mentioned earlier, the people doing the recording actually know
how. There is something in us who go out and perform that can
be given an edge when in front of a live audience.
in Keswick 2004.
listening with some nostalgia to some early recordings of the LRB
and came across a track, another recording by
Peter King at the Keswick Jazz Festival. It was, I
think, the opening concert and the place was packed, probably
because we were the only band on that night. It was a
very relaxed evening, and the band realized the importance
of the honour we had been given in getting the coveted
opening show. It made no difference of course, we went out and
played our stuff and they seemed to enjoyed it, and we sold a
bunch of CDs. What more can a band want?
are your next main gigs?
- Had an e-mail from Dan Venhettes, leader and trumpet man of the
Vintage Jazz Band. He ask if I would like to take the clarinet chair
for a gig at the Perigueux Festival in France this August (2007). It
seems Tommy Sancton is returning to N.O. on a visit to his elderly
parents. I of course accepted, the promise of good music and food is
always tempting, you must admit. The Criterion Parade Band are at the
Ascona and Davos Festivals in June and July. These are always good
venues and give a chance to meet up with other musicians and swap
stories, listen to some excellent music, drink some wine, just nice.
It's such a beautiful place Switzerland, and the people so welcoming.
Parade Band in Ascona 2007.
Is it true as Scots you always drink a bottle of whisky when
- Unlike you Swedish soaks, I personally don't drink much
whilst playing, and certainly never to the extent of not being
able to play. I already have a natural ability in that field,
thank you. Bad music needs little help from a bottle, although it
- At last, what do you think of bagpipes?
- I'd like to tell you that the noise from the pipes kept the English
at bay, but that is unfortunately not the truth. It seems they can only
play in the key of Bflat, but unfortunately I know little more about
them than yourself. The mainstay of the pipes is their ability to be
heard throughout the great glens in the Scottish mountains ...that's
why I stay by the sea.
- What other interests do you have besides playing
- Another passion of mine is photography. I'm not active now, but
at one time, whilst in the Lighthouse Service, I was a very keen
amateur. Mostly seascapes, sea birds and the like. I had a few articles
published in various photographic and yachting magazines in the
80's, even won a 3litre bottle of Cutty Sark Scotch Whisky ...but
that's another story.
As told to Lasse Collin in 2007.
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