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Eddie Daniels on Eddie Daniels

editorial.notes: Back in January, I had a conversation with Eddie Daniels about doubling, the power of passion and practice, and music as voice. Here’s the transcript of what he told me, edited for length and clarity. – Ed.

I’m not a doubler, obviously.

The word “doubler” used to be a negative. It’s like “jack of all trades, master of none.”

I play a few instruments. I play the saxophone, I play the flute on occasion, but the clarinet has been my focus.

Each one of those instruments had their period with me. I started with the saxophone and got pretty good on it into high school. Then when I started the clarinet, that became my major study . . . Boom. I studied with Daniel Bonade, Jimmy Abato, many, many of the fine teachers. That became my focus.

When I played the saxophone, it was my only instrument. Then I moved to the clarinet but was still doing gigs on saxophone. I kept that up, but I never really practiced the saxophone once the clarinet became my major instrument. I stopped practicing the saxophone because within the focus of studying the clarinet are so many things: your dexterity, your sound. A lot of it kept my saxophone in a good place by the mere fact that I was playing a lot of clarinet.

In High School of Performing Arts, the clarinet was my major instrument. I worked very hard and thought of it as, “That’s my voice.” Then when I got into college and I wanted to be able to work in the world and do Broadway shows – do whatever kind of gigs I could get – I was told by my teachers at the time that I would need the flute also. To have the flute in my bag with the clarinet and the saxophone would make me more flexible so that I could be a viable person called for many different things. You still might say “master of none,” “plays on everything, but doesn’t master anything,” but I was still thinking of mastering the clarinet.

By the time the flute came along, I had studied the clarinet for about five, six years very strongly, through high school and then into college. I needed to start adding the flute as my double because to get a Broadway show, you had to be a good flute player to do recording sessions. About that time that I got into Juilliard, I was majoring in clarinet, I was dabbling with the flute so that I could get a gig in the Broadway scene. I started to take the flute more seriously and thought, “Maybe the clarinet – I got it. I got it. I really worked it.” In other words, each one of these instruments, I really worked in a way that it was my voice, my major, at the time.

I started studying the flute as though that were my voice, and I made that my all-day practicing thing. I got really into the flute, passionate with the flute, and started studying with all the best teachers of the flute. Then, after ten years of doing that, I had the flute in my bag alongside the clarinet and the saxophone.

In other words, I studied each one separately. The saxophone was a category, that was my opening instrument, my first instrument. I always brought that along; it was always part of my life. Then the clarinet was the one until the flute became the one.

I would say that the sound of the flute, and loving the flute, and getting into the flute, infected my idea of what I wanted the clarinet to sound like. Once I’d studied the flute for ten years avidly, passionately, I still had the clarinet. I still practiced it a little bit, I still had it. I had already done my ten years on the clarinet passionately. I’d moved to the flute, but I still had the clarinet, I still had the saxophone. The flute started becoming my voice and then, as I would start playing clarinet again, I wanted to have the clarinet sound more flute-y.

The most important thing is to have a focus that is so important to you that you surrender almost every part of you, your every waking hour and minute.

All of this goes back to a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell [and the 10,000 hours of practice he says you need to master a skill].

Ten years on one instrument, for me, when you’re playing four, five hours a day, let’s say that’s thirty-five hours a week times fifty-two.

Ten years, you’ve got [more than] ten thousand hours. I did my ten years on the clarinet, I did my ten thousand hours. I did my ten years on the flute, I did my ten thousand hours so that I was an outlier. Plus, having some talent – and talent I put mostly in the passion category because if you have passion, you will have talent; you will be good at it. I don’t like labelling somebody as untalented or talented; it’s more their motivation and how passionate and, I’d like to say, crazy they are for that instrument.

I’m in the hundreds of thousands of hours now, hundreds of thousands of hours on the clarinet, which is still my main instrument. I did the many, many hours, more than ten thousand, on the flute, so I kind of have it, but I think that my main instrument is music. And I have the saxophone in my bag because I dragged it along. It had its ten thousand hours, maybe not as passionate and crazy as the clarinet because it’s more user-friendly than the clarinet is, and I really love a challenge.

Also, it’s the voice. That becomes your identity. When you’re really doing it four or five hours a day for many years, years, years, years, you identify with the instrument. You’re a walking reed player. Boomie Richman used to say that when he’d buy a box of reeds at Charlie Ponte’s music store, they would be squeaking in his pocket on the way home. It shows that even the reeds in your pocket are part of your body, they’re squeaking, they’re talking to you. You’re paying attention to them.

The most important thing is to have a focus that is so important to you that you do surrender almost every part of you, your every waking hour and minute. You’re thinking about the instrument you play. You’re thinking about it, you’re working it, it’s a beautiful thing.

I’m amazed because here I am in my seventies and it’s in me. Where is it? I can’t find it. I can’t really locate where all those notes went in those hundreds of thousands of hours, but somehow it’s in me. I’m lucky. That’s the gift from God, or the universe, that somehow human beings are able to be these amazing recording devices that record what you learn and it becomes part of you, becomes part of your tissue, that the tissue remembers how to do it.

You have to feed your body the ten thousand hours, and you have to be paying attention during that feeding process, because the body won’t learn it unless you’re guiding it in the practice session. You have to feed it those ten thousand hours so that eventually when you go out on stage to play, you can lean back into those ten thousand hours, or a hundred thousand in my case.

You can’t go out in the hall while you’re playing a concerto. You have to be there; you have to be present. You have to really, really be present so you’re allowing your body to do what you taught it to do all those years.

Then you get into that emotional place where you can express your feelings through the music because your body’s working, everything’s kind of working the way you want it to. I say “kind of” because it’s never perfect. It’s the best your body can do. If you’ve trained your body to play in tune, to play evenly with the fingers, and you keep it up and you keep it going, you still have to keep training it, because you can’t stop for ten years and then come back and expect it all to be there – but some of it will be there. That’s my attitude about it. Letting the training kick in so that when you go to play, you can be free of the instrument to just express yourself.

I’m an outlier on all three of my instruments – on the saxophone, on the clarinet, and I can pick up the flute and sound like a classical flute player in a short time because it’s so in me, that ten thousand hours is so in my flesh, in my body, that I can’t forget it. I can’t forget the more than ten thousand hours on the clarinet and the first grouping of ten thousand hours, if it was that much, on the saxophone.

That’s why I’m not a doubler. I’m an outlier on each one. I married each one of these instruments.


Eddie Daniels is that rarest of rare musicians who is not only equally at home in both jazz and classical music, but excels at both with breathtaking virtuosity. His overriding ambition is to reach as many people as possible with his music, enlarging the audience for both jazz and classical music, while tearing down the walls that separate them. Eddie Daniels is a Backun Artist and performs on MoBa clarinets and his line of Backun/Eddie Daniels Classical and Jazz Mouthpieces.

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