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                       John Tegmeyer

 

It’s almost impossible to put into words what three days with Eddie Daniels is like. I had, of course, known about him through teachers, other clarinet players, and the recordings I had of him. But now to actually be able to study with him, was almost beyond me. I remember being somewhat nervous, but I think some of it was taken away by the fact that he had played with our band in April and everyone had such a great time working with him.

The first day we worked mostly out of my Rose Etude book. I first played through a quick ¾ etude by Schubert. When I finished, he asked me about a marking that my clarinet professor had written at the top , which simply said, “smooth”. He told me that it was okay, but that he would like it even smoother. From that point in the lesson he demonstrated how slow fingers were the key to clean playing. “How can you expect to play fast if you can’t even play it at a slow speed?", he said. He called it “legato fingers”. He even showed me his copy of the same etudes, with Bonade’s markings in them demonstrating the different fingering styles, from sharp, almost robotic movements, to slow fluid-like movements.

So we spent time showing the fingers exactly where to go. He compared moving from note to note, like pouring water from one glass to another. Even playing a G major arpeggio suddenly presented new problems that I had never really considered before. That led to the topic of being “present” for every note. He demonstrated this by playing a fast scale from the bottom of the horn to the top. “This time I’m really going to think about every note I’m playing.” Not that the first scale sounded bad, but the second scale was even better. More clean and beautiful. So, with all that in mind, I tried the etude again. This time I was much more critical of the sound between each note as well as the notes themselves. It still wasn’t great, but it already sounded better that the first time. Then we played another etude which was in a quick 6/8 and had many grace notes.

Even as I was playing, I felt my grace notes were clumsy, misplaced, and out of style. Well, as it turns out, they were. I was looking at the grace notes as something different that what they proceeded. As soon as he told me to treat it all as one idea, then it become much easier. Putting the grace notes on the beat rather than right before, it made it much easier as well. After that, we played through some jazz. I had prepared John Coltrane’s solo to “Giant Steps”. But he thought it would be better to start with something standard (which in hindsight, was a much better idea), so we played “Four”.

After we got through the head, and I had played a chorus, we stopped and he showed me some great diatonic exercises for getting around the horn. It was a very basic pattern (1,3,5,6,4,2,3,5,7,1,6,4,etc….), and after practicing those patterns in all the keys of the piece, my solos started making much better harmonic sense, and I felt a more ease about my ideas and the horn. So, with all this new stuff in mind, I went back to my hotel room, and started practicing. I couldn’t put my horn down. I felt this real sense of progress, and I didn’t want it to stop. Then, when I went to bed, I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about all of these new concepts. I couldn’t wait to go back the next day.

The next day started out very similar to the first. We started with the same etude, and though it wasn’t perfect, it felt easier to play. Then we began discussing ways of approaching music. We looked at different etudes and different ways of approaching them. He talked about finding points of arrival and departure and being able to distinguish them. After that, we worked more on jazz, this time on “All Blues”. This time I took what I had learned the day before and applied it to this piece, and again, my solo sounded better than any time I had played it before, but when we got to the D7#9 and the Eb7#9, he stopped me and asked," So, what do you do there?” I just sort of stood there and thought about some of the things I usually do there.

Then he said, “You could’ve shown me that you’re a better player than you are if you had done this”, which he then proceeded to play a really hip lick utilizing the sharp 9 and the flat 9. So I would play through that lick every time we got to that section. Now the next time I play through the piece, I won’t just be guessing. Then he showed me another finger exercise in getting around the horn. It started on G above the staff and proceeded, G,A,B,D,C,Bb,A,G,F,G,A,C,Bb,Ab,G,F,Eb,etc, until you reach the bottom of the horn. I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and go over these new ideas. I also had a lot of practice playing softly, so I didn’t make any of the other people staying at the hotel, mad. But no one seemed to mind.

Our final day together was the best, I thought. I asked if we could spend most of the time on jazz. We did start out with the same etude I had been working on though. As I was playing through it, he stopped me and questioned my hand position. It was cramped and not very natural. He told me to hold the clarinet as though I were holding a glass of water, except without a glass readily available, a bug spray can did just nicely. The feeling made playing easier, and my fingers more accurate, as it’s easier to cover the holes with the pads of the fingers rather than the tips. So again, I tried the etude and it already felt better. And, this is where things really started to cook, well, mainly just my brain. I played through the first two measures and he stopped me. He then proceeded to play that lick through all 12 keys. “Do you know what I’m doing, John?’ he asked. I told him that he was playing the lick through the circle of fourths. He asked me if I could do it/ So, I went through the same process, playing the lick through the circle of fourths.

He then went to the piano and laid down the same chords while I played through the exercise again. Then we did it again going down chromatically. After that, he came up with a simple bebop lick (1,3,5,7,9,1,7,6,5,3,2,1,) and we went through the same progression with the new lick. Then we alternated between the etude lick and the bebop lick. So every key was something different. Then we added a third lick (1,3,5,7,9,1,2,3,5,2,1,) and again repeated the process, this time with three different licks. Then he told me to come up with the fourth lick. I stood there a moment wondering exactly why my brain was having so much difficulty coming up with a lick. He explained to me that it was sort of an equation. I could start on any note (preferably a chord tone), but I had to end on the root, and it also had to fit into a ¾ measure. So finally, with some help, we came up with the last lick (7,1,7,6,5,3,4,5,3,2,1), So, he asked me if I was ready to try to play through the circle of fourths using all four of the licks we had. 

At this point I was pretty excited and ready to give anything a try, I wasn’t easy, that’s for sure, but I finally got through it (with a fair amount of going back to correct myself). Then he told me to just improvise over the changes while he played them. About halfway through I fouled up and lost my place. Then he gave me another lick to play to help with not falling on my face every time I played through Gb or something similar. This time it was a triplet lick (712,321,7760. Then, to better help me understand the concept, we switched so that he was playing the clarinet and I was playing the piano. His ideas were so clear and beautiful and made so much sense. I was having such a great time that before I knew it, the lesson was almost over. I felt frantic about trying to ask more questions, from who to listen to, to different fingerings for notes, even to why he chose to live in Santa Fe (as a New Mexican myself, I was curious). While I packed away my stuff, he put on a recent recording of him and the Gordon Goodwin Big Band playing an awesome rendition of Mozart’s G Minor Symphony. I never heard Mozart swing so much. But, finally, it was time to go.
It was truly three of the best days of my life. I shall never forget then or what I learned during the time. Thanks you so much, Mr. Daniels, and I hope we can do it again sometime.---John Tegmeyer

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