Reading Between the Lines – Rehearsal Perspectives for Jazz Ensemble by Harry Skoler

by Harry Skoler





If I had a nickel for every rehearsal that I’ve experienced in over four decades, I’d have enough collectible clarinets to fill Carnegie Hall.

We all have. But, aside from making sure the notes and rhythms and basic priorities that are paramount to a successful performance are covered, there are some other perspectives that I’ve discovered throughout the years and thought I would share them through this article. Although this article does focus somewhat on the clarinet, it is relevant for any instruments.

“I Play The Clarinet”

Throughout the years, many times when I’ve been in situations where I’m meeting the group for the first time and there are only one or two rehearsals before the performance, I find that what is obvious to us may not be obvious to the other musicians. With some jazz groups that I’ve played with over the years, they may never have played with a clarinetist, and in fact don’t know about the Chalumeau register.

If it’s not discussed in rehearsal, it is not uncommon for the clarinetist to be in the middle of the performance and to try to play something in the beautiful low register only to find out that even with a microphone, nothing can be heard. The rhythm section, not hearing anything emanating from the instrument, may think that some “space” is being taken. Therefore, sometimes the clarinetist is trapped playing in the Clarion and Altissimo registers only.

I usually start rehearsals by asking if the group can “help me” and demonstrate a few lines showing examples of my playing in the Chalumeau register. I ask if they can help me when I play down there with dynamics, textures etc. If respect and sincerity is expressed, the musicians are more than happy to be part of the creative process when I move into the Chalumeau register. These concepts/suggestions are relevant for any instrument!


Conversations In The Language Of Jazz

I must respect the personalities and get to know the intimate artistry of the musicians that I’m playing with and vice versa. If I ask what the other players’ concepts or opinions and feelings about blend, interplay, cues, and personal expression are, a short conversation of a few minutes can be a doorway to revelations.

I will talk about what drew me into the music over forty years ago, and will demonstrate how playing the melody is expressing something deeper than I can put into words, and instead of playing something like strangers, the individuality of the different players opens as do their hearts, and the music becomes much more conversational, and has the opportunity to become profound and blossom on-stage.

Room” to be Me??

Who hasn’t experienced having the music in the rehearsal room sound absolutely perfect, and then when moving onto the stage, everything is less than? Even with a sound check, once the audience comes into the venue and the acoustics change, sometimes the musical intimacy is severely compromised. Although the drummer, bassist, and pianist may not be able to move, as a clarinetist, I am able to do exactly that.

In a small room, a microphone may not be needed, or if playing in a large venue, a microphone that is clipped onto the clarinet maybe used wirelessly or with a long cable to allow the clarinetist to move towards the different players so that there is the possibility of changing the sound in the clarinetist’s ear along with the musicians. This also leads to spontaneous musical exchanges, such as trading phrases or different blends or cues that normally wouldn’t happen when the musicians are all facing forward.

As much as we value the spontaneity of the music, I always find it a joy to have the spontaneity of the acoustics as I move to different places on the stage and to different players, sometimes with direct eye contact inviting an exchange of stories.


Blend your time wisely

Forget about your sound. WHAT?!? Well, yes, I’m being facetious, but what we might really forget about is what OUR SOUND might be! In just a few minutes, we can explore the concept of B L E N D. Whether a quartet or a 16 piece ensemble, some experimentation with two instruments, three, four or more at a time can create some blends that astound our conception of sound possibilities!

We’ve all heard countless anecdotes of great bands that have chemistry and sound. But how that happens doesn’t necessarily count on years of playing together. The legendary Jimmy Giuffre, who was my teacher and mentor in the 1980’s, brought the Chalumeau register to the ears of jazz aficionados worldwide, and then his combinations of instruments in jazz group settings not heard before (thinking of his great small groups, such as his trio with Jim Hall on guitar and Bob Brookmeyer on trombone).

All of us can – aside from experimentation with instrumentation – use the concept of blending and discover group sounds that have thousands of shadings! Use registers, tonal shadings, intonation, special fingerings, dynamics and more on the clarinet, combined with the same variables on the other instruments to discover the myriad of blends! Once started in rehearsal, there is likelihood that this will happen spontaneously in performance!


This is part one in a series of articles that will delve into reading between the lines… Music from and to the heart translates into music that will reach the hearts of the audience. These concepts work with any size band, instrumentation or age group! For me, many musical concepts that can be overlooked in rehearsal can be the difference between something “good” or something “beyond definition.” 

More to follow…

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