Tag Archives: Conn

LARRY BINYON! Also Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Adrian Rollini, Etc…

Many thanks to Loren Schoenberg for posting the following star-studded advertisement for Conn saxophones from the November 1936 issue of DownBeat magazine and further gratitude to my friend Michael Steinman for sharing it with me. 

This writer tries not to nerd out on nostalgia too often, but look at that shot of Larry Binyon!Compared with smiling Benny Carter, modest Adrian Rollini or downright beaming Eddie Miller, Binyon looks more like a man at work than a cat at a gig, and nothing like an artist probing the depths of their soul.

That look could be an autobiography: his career was a nonstop job, playing for the likes of Benny Goodman, Red Nichols, Ben Pollack and Fats Waller as well as many studio groups and pickup bands. He was a multi-instrumentalist, sideman with the stars and studio warhorse who kept some impressive company back in the day, enough to earn him a place alongside the legends-in-the-making shown here. Conn wasn’t just trying to pad their copy with endorsements;  Binyon was simply that well-respected (even if he never seems to have improvised a full chorus on record).

You can read more about Larry Binyon’s career here. While you’re at it, and on the subject of studio players, check out the above-pictured Hank Ross with one of the many recording bands lucky enough to have him on board:

Just another day at work for these guys…

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Clarinetist Lester Young

Responding to an earlier post about the loss of Joe Muranyi, a commenter recalled Muranyi trying out his own “metal Conn clarinet, a horn a more self-conscious player would recoil from.”  The open-minded Muranyi in turn “played the living heck out of it.”  Apparently for some musicians, the instrument is always a catalyst and never a compromise.  For Lester Young, a metal clarinet was a choice, maybe even a necessity.

Gunther Schuller notes that when Young put down his tenor, the influential jazz artist and part-time tragic hero “played a cheap metal clarinet that he picked up somewhere on his travels, but whose tone he loved dearly.”  Young kept the signature lightness of his sax on the smaller horn, and at fast tempos would use the same triplets and encircling, never inundating lines for the “little stories” he had to tell.  At slower tempos and in more reflective settings, he’d come up with a story like the one in “Blues with Helen,” from the 1939 Spirituals to Swing concert organized by impresario John Hammond [starting at 1:47 in the clip below]:

Hammond introduces Young as “switching over to clarinet,” but there is no sense of “switch” or adaptation here: Young is simply playing clarinet.  The tone could be called “thin,” but more like a leaf rather than paper, something likely to tear given the right force but able to support storms and sunlight on its own terms.  Sustained notes let the audience absorb that sound while always unfolding a narrative, never halting the action or merely displaying beauty for the sake of itself.  If anything is different, it’s that the clarinet’s brighter, at times childlike timbre brings out the fragility of the clarinetist.

Benny Goodman mentions purchasing a Selmer (wood) clarinet for Young while in Europe, an instrument fewer clarinetists might recoil from.  While it’s endearing to imagine Young gratefully accepting the gift and sticking to his cheap little instrument, the truth is that it doesn’t matter what kind of clarinet Lester Young played, only that he played clarinet.

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