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 "Covered" tone?
Author: JazzBrewer 
Date:   2018-01-10 18:01

Hello! First post, so I thought I'd seek some clarity. I studied saxophone in college, but took clarinet lessons for the sake of doubling in jazz ensemble. After graduating the clarinet stayed in its case. Now, several years later I'm picking up the clarinet again, exploring gear, learning the classical side of things, and trying to figure out some terminology.

So, how do you characterize a "covered" tone? It's not a term used for saxes, so I'm clueless. Whenever I search for "covered tone" or "covered sound" the results are mostly about how to cover a tone hole, or how clarinets work, not a description of sound. When I come across "covered tone" on this BB it's usually paired with "dark", e.g. "a dark, covered tone," but that still doesn't mean much. Can a tone be dark without being covered? Does covered mean muffled or dull?


------------ End of Question ---------------

For anyone interested, or if you have any information/feedback on my gear, my setup is:

All-wood Buescher 400 Special from around 1980-81 (I think), which is, to my understanding, a rebranded Selmer Signet.

I get my best tone with a vintage rubber Gigliotti "2", but also have a Brilhart "Nilo W Hovey" (stock piece?), a JodyJazz (my go-to for doubling, also love the JJ on my saxes), and a (discontinued) Rico Metalite M9, which is surprisingly pleasant; I never knew they made a clarinet piece, and I'd never seen a step baffle in a clarinet mouthpiece! I have a few other pieces coming to try out, so we'll see how those go.

I like Legere reeds on clarinet and for classical sax, though I've recently switched to Fibracells for jazz sax; might try Fibracells on the JJ and Metalite.

Saxophone is still my main priority, but I really want to get get my clarinet chops up and running.

Post Edited (2018-01-10 18:47)

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: Steven Ocone 2017
Date:   2018-01-10 18:15

For many clarinetists, the term "dark" usually means "a clarinet sound I like".

Steven Ocone
Ann & Steve's Music

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: JazzBrewer 
Date:   2018-01-10 18:56

The "dark" I get. My classical sax setups are VERY dark (Rascher), and my jazz setups are on the dark-ish side of a jazz tone (JodyJazz Classic, Lawton P chamber). "Covered," however, means nothing to me.

Is "dark" an admirable quality in a clarinet tone? Is there an appropriate time for a bright tone?

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: ClarinetRobt 
Date:   2018-01-10 20:26

The can of worms has been opened up...everyone has their own take on this. I'd think, for me, dark and covered, are usually synonymous in terms of clarinet tone. Dark implying a sound lacking upper overtones.

A dark clarinet sound sounds glorious up close. No edge, warm, you could melt butter. The Achilles heel is the sound will not project well in a large concert hall situation. They are usually hard to cut across a large ensemble too. Usually heard in more chamber situations vs jazz.

So the 'new' thing is to achieve a 'warm' sound (I realize these adjectives are subjective and might not mean the same thing to you as they do to me), but with some 'ping' to the sound. Ping implying adding some of the upper harmonics to the quality. The idea is you get better projection and more lively sound. Again for me, this is how I'd describe the American sound these days. A lot of clarinet players are slowly moving away from dark, dead tones and towards something with a little more oomph.

So this (glacial) shift from ubber dark is definitely a trend, but still shy away from full on French-brightness (which I'm sure even the French have warmer sounds now). I'd think in a jazz situation you'd want something with a little bit more zing/zip than a typical German,dark sound.

~Robert L Schwebel
Mthpc: Behn Vintage, Lig: Ishimori, Reed: Aria 4, Legere Euro Signature 3.75, Horns: Uebel Superior, Ridenour Lyrique

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: JazzBrewer 
Date:   2018-01-10 21:51

Okay, cool. Makes sense. I have a Selmer HS*, Claude Humber "Hand Faced," and a Vandoren BD5 all coming my way (thanks Ebay!), but I've also been looking at other more "boutique" pieces -- Hawkins "B" & "R," Gennusa, Grabner, Fobes, etc. Are any of the above generally considered too dark? I really liked the tone from the Hawkins "R" on the Hawkins website, which is described as a dark (or maybe "darker" anyway) piece. Would that be considered "covered" as well?

I gotta say, the one major difference I've noticed between saxophonists and clarinetists is that sax players post tons of samples on YouTube, SoundCloud, etc, while finding clarinet recordings where the gear is explicitly listed in the video, title, or description (other than sponsored videos for mass-produced pieces, e.g. Vandoren) is much more difficult.

I'm looking for a more classical leaning sound for now. The Jody and Metalite are more than enough for any jazz playing I might do, but the extent of my clarinet playing, at least for the time being, will be with another clarinetist for church music, or maybe with my church bell choir.

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: Michael E. Shultz 
Date:   2018-01-11 02:04

For a saxophone, a covered tone has been used to describe the saxophone sound of the early 20th century, when they used large chamber mouthpieces with low baffles and small tip openings, like your Rascher mouthpiece. People who don't like this sound describe it as muffled or choked.

People who don't like the bright saxophone sound of a small chamber mouthpiece with a high baffle and large tip opening describe it as strident or harsh.

Clarinets have a rather narrow range of tone color variations compared to saxophones. This may help to explain the lack of setup information on YouTube.

With the advent of YouTube, I don't understand why these descriptions have not fallen by the wayside. There is just no substitute for actually hearing the setup.

When you listen to one player trying out multiple horns and mouthpieces, you will notice a similarity in their sound regardless of setup.

Here's my theory; you need a big head and a big chest to get a big sound. You will never be able to get that fat Oliver Hardy sound if you are built like Stan Laurel.

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
Groucho Marx

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Author: JazzBrewer 
Date:   2018-01-11 03:09

Thanks, Michael! That clears things up quite a bit!

Post Edited (2018-01-11 03:10)

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: RefacerMan 
Date:   2018-01-11 04:59

My take on a covered sound is a little bit different. You can have a dark tone that isn't all that covered. Covered adds a slightly different dimension. Usually a covered sound means there is a lot of cushion or blanket to the outside of the sound and that the core is much less apparent. Often covered sounds will sound dull and indirect compared to a centered, non-covered sound.

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: JazzBrewer 
Date:   2018-01-11 08:34

RefacerMan: I feel like your description could translate (into saxophonese) to either "tubby" or maybe "spread", perhaps the exact polar opposite of "crisp" and "focused."

This is interesting how different people interpret the terminology. Makes me rethink my impressions of saxophone tone.

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: TomS 
Date:   2018-01-11 21:08

For me a "covered tone" is clarity wearing a very light woolen pull-over sweater. Clear, warm and full ... no buzzy edge to the sound.


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Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2018-01-11 23:42

Many players would say that the German clarinetist Karl Leister has a fairly "covered" tone, at least on some of his recordings. This quality of damping some of the upper partials in the overtone profile is especially in evidence on Leister's famous CD of solo clarinet pieces. Listen to him perform this Caprice by Seutermeister:

Even more covered sounds (those with very little evidence of "reediness" or "edge") can be heard in recordings. One example would be Domenico Fiorinelli performing the same solo piece:

Fiorinelli's recorded sound (I have no idea how he actually sounds in person) is pretty close to as "covered" as the clarinet timbre can get.

Some mouthpieces certainly are known more than others for their "covered" quality; that is they dampen the overtones that make the clarinet sound edgy. Nick Kuckmeier's Play Easy and Soloist models, both made in Austria, would be two well-known examples. At the other end of the tonal rainbow would be mouthpieces like the 5RV Vandoren and the B45 Vandoren, which have much more edge and require some considerable effort in reed choice, voicing, etc, to produce a covered sound. Certainly the physiology and tonal concept of the player can overwhelm the tendencies of a mouthpiece, and I have no doubt that some players could take the clarinet/mouthpiece set-ups from the hands of Leister and Fiorinelli and get a harsh, edgy bright sound out of them, but that would be atypical.

Post Edited (2018-01-12 00:50)

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: JazzBrewer 
Date:   2018-01-12 07:59

Seabreeze - Thanks for those links. I actually really liked Leister's tone and would not be offended if someone told me I sounded like him. I liked Fiorinelli's sound less, a little hollow, but I think the recording overall sounded a rather echo-y, so maybe that's the culprit.

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: John Peacock 
Date:   2018-01-13 03:22

Interesting links. I'd say you can discount the Fiorinelli one - the recording is so distant and echoey that it's hard to tell what he really sounds like. The Leister performance has his characteristic uniformity and command, but is rather limited in terms of dynamic range - surprising given that I thought the echotone effect is something that originated in the German school. I wonder if that's related to the sound? Certainly on French instruments using a too-hard reed can give you a stodgy edgeless tone that might be described as covered, but then makes it difficult to get a good pp.

Anyway, there are so many versions of Sutermeister on youtube that maybe we should replace all mention of "bright", "dark", "ping" etc. by references to a particular version of that piece.

Incidentally, I was amazed at how slow and literal almost all of these performances were. To me, it's a mercurial piece that demands big variations not only of dynamic but also of speed. I liked this one:

That takes 5:30. But most of them seem to be 6-7 minutes. Leister just gets under 6 minutes, but for my taste he misses the exciting character of the piece.

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Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2018-01-13 08:06


I used to think that Liester used very hard reeds till I heard him more than once tell an audience that he played on a Wurlitzer Oehler clarinet and German mouthpiece with a facing that would accept French Vandoren reeds! He said he had been friends with Bernard Vandoren for years and used V12 and Rue Lepic reeds in soft strengths like #2.5 or 3!! Many decades before, when he first started out, he used to use hard reeds but he had some health issues that made him look for less stressful methods of tone production.

Leister never tried to achieve "excitement" in his performances. Nor was he interested in big dynamic contrasts any of the times I heard him in person. He was looking for purity, solidity, and stability, and I think that's what he usually got. He said he wanted to tell a story in his playing--the story he believed the particular piece represented. I think he would have found the version of the Sutermeister that you prefer a bit rushed and jerky in phrasing, and tonally rather hard-edged and brittle. He really didn't like a lot of "zing" in the sound and preferred more of a chocolate tone flavor. But those differences in conception are what makes music and clarinet playing interesting!

For a while in the 1980s, Leister was quite the rage among American clarinetists and clarinet teachers. David Pino, I recall, singled him out as the one player you must listen to if you want to get things right. Michele Zufkovsky changed to Oehler system (permanently for he entire career as it turned out) after studying with him, and players began looking for ways to add more "cover" and "darkness" to the sound. Some of Dan Johnston's mouthpieces catered to this desire, and I'm pretty sure that Leister's playing had something to do with young Sabine Meyer's characteristic "soft-edged" new German sound.

Post Edited (2018-01-14 05:51)

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: dorjepismo 2017
Date:   2018-01-13 22:53

Like Leister's sound a lot. Recently been trying some Leuthner Viennese Cut 2 1/2s I got from Behn - I'm definitely on the soft strengths side - and the sound reminds me of Leister. Behn's descriptions of reeds are very useful, and seem to come from his own experience rather than manufacturers' PR. They support the idea of a "covered" sound as cutting down on the upper partials, but the other side of that is stability in the throat tones. These reeds have one of the solidest open Gs I've ever heard in a soft reed with an open facing. Remains to be seen how they do for cutting through in a large ensemble. Think it would be a false dichotomy, though, to contrast "dark" and "covered" with "exciting," or even "zing." If the music's exciting, you should be able to do exciting. "Dark" or "covered" should just mean that exciting won't loosen anybody's fillings.

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Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2018-01-14 01:56

I agree completely. I find many of Leopold Wlach's old performances delightful and in some ways exciting. Leister's Cappriccio is warm and engaging and delightful to me as well. But some excitement seekers want a real theatrical performance--"a whole lot 'a shaking going on"--with circular breathing, multiple tonguing, wild cadenzas, and prancing bodies, a sound and light extravaganza with smoke coming out at both ends. Leister just plants himself there like a potted palm that's been around for ages and plays. I'll listen to that kind of performance from a master like him any time!! But I won''t turn down a concert by Martin Frost either! I like all kinds of clarinet styles and am using "dark" and "covered" and "exciting" and "zingy" only as pragmatic, situational contrasts--not irreconcilable opposites. In fact, any given performance might combine all of these. Consider Michelle Zukovfsky's Weber Concertino. I'd say she brings out the mystery of the piece with that dark and covered sound but also has plenty of zing and focus where she needs to.

Post Edited (2018-01-14 02:18)

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: dorjepismo 2017
Date:   2018-01-14 05:23

Fantastic! And not an arbitrary note in the performance. People who make a living as soloists probably feel some pressure to differentiate themselves with the things you mention, but there's a very fundamental distinction between intrinsic drama and self-indulgence. Weber is nonstop opera, but great opera singers don't get that way by singing faster than everyone else or moving around a lot. Probably should mention that it's a great picture of Neuschwanstein, but that was Wagner's time, not Weber's. The Bavarian king who commissioned the concerti was a lot more solidly put together than Nutty Ludwig II.

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 Re: "Covered" tone?
Author: John Peacock 
Date:   2018-01-14 21:05

In case there should be any doubt, I generally admire Leister as an artist, and the smooth dense sound he makes on his Sutermeister recording is something that it would be wonderful to be able to achieve whenever desired. Possibly one might choose not to play like that all the time, but the question is whether you are capable of doing so. For me, the clarinet has a natural desire to sound thin, brittle and very un-Leister-like unless you watch it like a hawk. On a good day, with the right mouthpiece and a reed that has been through a rigorous selection process, I might feel that I'm getting the upper hand in this fight - but it's sufficiently hard that a clear victor like Leister deserves to be celebrated.

Nevertheless, I do think his playing of the Sutermeister isn't beyond criticism. And this isn't a question of what style of playing one prefers, with me being an "excitement seeker" - it's just about fidelity to the text. If you look at what's written, you will see dynamics ranging from pppp to fff, together with extreme accents such as sffz. So the player is instructed to explore the extremes of what the instrument can deliver: from almost inaudibly quiet to as lound as you can play (surely accepting that the tone must become at least a little strident in the latter case). But if you were given a blank part and invited to write down the dynamics based on Leister's performance, you'd barely cover mp to f. It's this restricted range that makes the performance lack excitement.

So the interesting question is whether Leister plays in this way because he has some subtle musical justification for ignoring the composer's clear instructions, or because the setup that delivers his creamy sound makes it hard to achieve big dynamic contrasts. On the latter issue, I lack the necessary experience with German instruments, but I would indeed say that some French setups have this problem. e.g. I own a B40 mouthpiece and like the smooth sound it delivers - but I never settled on it because of dynamic range problems. I emphasise that this is a distinct issue from projection, which is about audibility of different tone colours in the context of other players - this is just about being able to play really loud or quiet with ease, and whether this ability is correlated with the basic tone quality.

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