A man contacted me the other day to sell me a bass clarinet. It might seem strange that someone would contact you out of the blue to sell you something. Well, that’s not actually true: my spam folder is filled with junk about pills that help people achieve something they want to achieve very passionately. But a bass clarinet is not a common item for a sales pitch.
But this sales pitch was different. The bass clarinet in question belonged to my uncle, Ted Nash, who passed away three months ago, and the man selling it was Les Rose, a musician who used to do recording work in the Los Angeles. Les bought this bass clarinet, a vintage Selmer low E-flat (a rather coveted instrument these days) from another studio musician who played the Merv Griffin show with my uncle.
Now, I wasn’t particularly in the market for a bass clarinet, not even the coveted vintage Selmer, Low E-flat. In fact, my other bass clarinet is an even MORE vintage Selmer, Low E-flat, with a converted double-octave key mechanism, that had belonged to the late Wilbur Schwartz, saxophonist/clarinetist with the Glenn Miller orchestra during the late 30s and early 40s. He also was the alto saxophonist on the famous “My Three Sons” TV series theme (no, it wasn’t Fred Macmurray).
Anyway, in the market or not, how can you say not to your Uncle Ted’s coveted Selmer, low E-flat bass clarinet?
Now, this sale came at a remarkably perfect time, as Bill Schimmel (who plays in my group Odeon) asked me to play a piece he wrote for accordion and bass clarinet, which we performed last night at his annual seminar and concert series, called Walton the Imperial: Crowned. Dr. Schimmel is the undisputed King of the accordion. In fact, Tom Waits made the statement: “Bill Schimmel doesn’t play the accordion, he is the accordion.” This was my first live performance with my new instrument, and I have to say my new ax is fantastic. I actually enjoyed playing the bass clarinet for the first time.
Bill’s piece is titled “The Tango accordion to Brahms.” Wild stuff. To give you an idea, when we were rehearsing it the other day, reading through Bill’s hand-copied score for the first time, we started improvising wildly - percussive squawks, outbursts of runs, intervalic jumps. When that came to an end I turned the page and saw:
I asked Bill, “What is this?” and he said, “That’s what we just played.”
In addition to our duet, the concert featured at least a dozen fantastic accordionists, with squeezeboxes of varying types - some with keyboards, some with just buttons. Gary Larson, in the Far Side, said “Welcome to Hell. Here’s your accordion.” He should have come out to this concert last night. He would have been in accordion Heaven!