On Thursday morning in Shaver Theater, clarinetist Evan Christopher presented a workshop on New Orleans clarinet style. An informal poll at the start of the class confirmed that most at the workshop had heard him play the night before, so they were already familiar with his music and clarinet playing.
Evan stated that he does not really see himself as a clarinetist… rather, he sees himself as a musician who just happens to play the clarinet. During the course of the workshop, he used audience participation (both in terms of verbal answers to questions and with their clarinet playing) to explain how he makes various sounds on the clarinet. He also spoke about the heritage of New Orleans music-making and clarinet playing, and how that influences what he does everyday.
One concept he covered was the idea that jazz music evolved from how New Orleans musicians were making music. When he moved to New Orleans over 20 years ago, many of the clarinetists directly involved in this heritage had already passed on, so he researched their lives and music in archives at libraries in the city. He said it was almost like taking lessons from “ghosts.” Of course, this study combined with his practical application of these ideas and his own personal take on the music and concepts he encountered lead him to what he is today.
He frequently referred to great New Orleans clarinetists of the past, such as Sidney Bechet, Omer Simeon, Barney Bigard, and Johnny Dodds, when discussing various sounds New Orleans clarinetists make. Evan discussed the fact that he plays an Albert system clarinet for aesthetic reasons, yet many New Orleans clarinetists of the past probably played one because it was what was available from musical instrument dealers in the area, many of whom were from German families. He also noted that he plays a mouthpiece that is more open and has a longer facing that what most classical musicians use.
Although Christopher is a great verbal communicator, perhaps the most fun for the audience during this workshop was when they were encouraged to experiment with various clarinet sounds associated with New Orleans clarinet playing. He asked them to experiment with bending pitches on their mouthpiece/reed alone. Then he asked them to try this on the fully assembled clarinet. They later experimented with growls, pitch shading, and the glissando.
The workshop ended with questions from the audience and at the conclusion of the class, many participants stayed to talk with Evan about his approach to music-making. This was an excellent class covering a style of clarinet playing that many classical clarinetists appreciate, but do not completely understand. Thanks Evan!
–Notes by Timothy Phillips
Timothy Phillips serves as Associate Professor of Clarinet at the John M. Long School of Music at Troy University in Troy, Alabama, and manages Clarinet Corner, weekly program on Troy University Public Radio.