Benny Goodman, who commissioned a Clarinet Concerto concerto from Copland in 1947, once called the clarinettist Eddie Daniels “my successor”.
On a rare visit to the UK – the first for about fifteen years - Daniels will be performing the concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra, on Thursday February 9th at the Barbican, So let' be clear: we're talking about a performance of authority, legitimacy at an off-the-scale level. And - yes, still, at the age of seventy - serious chops.
The clarinettist has lived with the piece, thought about it, and performed it, for decades now. In a conversation which I had with the him by telephone at his home in New Mexico earlier this week, he launched straight in with how he will approach the work:
“We'll be opening the doors, we're letting Benny in”.
One part of the concerto where this will be abundantly clear is the cadenza. The concerto comes complete with a long, fully written-out solo cadenza section which links the movements. It has its problems. Classical players who follow it verbatim. struggle to find the right kind of freedom. For Daniels the constraints of it are different: he suggested to me that Goodman had already moved on stylistically from the primitive swing feel of that cadenza by the time the work was written. Daniels will be playing most of the original cadenza, but will be "peppering it with entrances or doorways for Benny to come in, in several places. "He [Benny]will go wild!" promises Daniels.
Eddie Daniels will also bring to the work the unique experience of having had several part-improvised concertos written for him, and collaborated actively and productively with their composers, something which didn't happen – for various reasons - with Copland and Goodman.
Daniels also brings a level of technique which will enable him to breeze through the screechily high parts of the Copland Concerto which Goodman disliked, and chose to take down the octave.
Carying forward that idea of legitimacy, Daniels also has it when it comes to the performance of the Leonard Bernstein work, Prelude Fugue and Riffs. Daniels also quoted to me something which Bernstein wrote – to a New York periodontist, about Daniels' album Breakthrough:
Dear Ron, Your friend Eddie Daniels combines elegance and elegance and virtuosity in a way that makes me remember Arthur Rubinstein. He is a thoroughly well-bred demon. Lenny
This "well-bred demon" has had an extraordinary career, and there is a substantial and valuable back-catalogue. An early record which is still getting played – two friends told me unprompted it is something they go back to a lot is a duo session on which Daniels plays flute, clarinet and bass clarinet with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli from 1973 entitled A Flower For All Seasons on the Choice label, later reissued on CD as Blue Bossa.
As the years have gone on, Daniels in the conversational duo context has moved far beyond that. Bucky Pizzarelli was a fine swing/rhythm guitarist, but in pianist Roger Kellaway , with whom Eddie Daniels has recorded two albums – the latest recorded in the Library of Congress in February 2011, and attracting rave reviews , there is that sense of being able to travel anywhere. “Roger has the whole universe”, Daniels told me.
Daniels' recent work with the WDR Big Band with Mike Abene (the two have known each other since they were teenagers in the Newport Youth Band is vintage stuff. This live performace of Daniels' tune/arrangement "This Is All I Have" recorded live (!) deserves a play:
Daniels' visits to the UK have been lamentably rare in recent years. I remember him playing the Weber Quintet at the old Stables in Wavendon in the 1980's. Brian Priestley told me he has fond memories of interviewing him for radio when he visited the Bass Clef in London, again in the mid 80's . Daniels also recorded the album “Breakthrough” with which Larry Rosen and Dave Grusin of GRP with the Philharmonia, which launched the most visible phase of his career. Eddie Daniels reckons it's at least fifteen years since he last played here.
If Daniels was once capable of nailing everything as the perfect sideman - listen to him on Freddie Hubbard's Hub of Hubbard, or in the key albums of Thad Jones-Mel Lewis or Don Sebesky, or indeed on Billy Joel's album Nylon Curtain or Sister Sledge's hit I've got to love somebody ) these days he has earned the right to take absolute authority as soloist.
As clarinettist Paquito D'Rivera has said: “I would dare to say that his enormous contribution to the almost extinct art of Jazz-clarineting is so significant, that now we can even talk about the instrument as BE and AE (Before Eddie and After Eddie)."
So the end of the Barbican concert will be the moment when we can really celebrate the presence of a unique figure in jazz at the Barbican. Daniels says that condutor Kristjan Järvi has instructed him what he wants him to do in Duke Ellington's “Harlem” –
“I want you to come out, and just blow over it.”
When Daniels walks out on the stage at the end of the evening, his hand-built Morrie Backun clarinet in hand, this is the kind of invitation Eddie Daniels will, as ever, fulfil completely.
Barbican Hall , Thursday February 9th
London Symphony Orchestra
JOHN ADAMS The Chairman Dances
BERNSTEIN Three Dance Episodes from 'On the Town'
COPLAND Clarinet Concerto
MILHAUD La création du monde
BERNSTEIN (orch. FOSS) Prelude, Fugue and Riffs
ELLINGTON (orch. HENDERSON) Harlem
Eddie Daniels will also perform with the David Rees- Williams Trio at St Edmunds School Canterbury on Sat Feb 11th