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. Richard Boulger spoke with Eddie about creating a sound on the horn, meditation, equipment and current projects.
RB: The first time I ever heard you was on one of Freddie Hubbard’s recordings years ago.
ED: The Hub of Hubbard, right?
RB: Exactly, exactly, yeah, yeah, yeah, man.
ED: Freddie was very nice to me. Who could ever feel like they could keep up with Freddie? Especially on a tune like that, you know, “Just One Of Those Things.” On a gig, we’re talking 35-40 years ago, it was spontaneous and it was not supposed to be a record. We were in the Black Forest in Germany and touring with Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Freddie and his trio. Joe Henderson didn’t want to do this recording because there wasn’t enough money. I was the second choice and I said “of course, I’ll do it!” I was the youngest guy in the band and of course I was glad to be the second choice after Joe, who’s so great. Playing on “Just One Of Those Things," I felt like I was scrambling, but every time I talked to Freddie, he said, “no, you were playing your buns off.”
RB: What is your approach or concept of creating a sound on the horn?
ED: You don’t create a sound on the horn. You kind of have to let the horn be the sound it is and funny you would ask that, because this morning was the first time I’ve played the clarinet in three weeks. I recently had dental work, so I’ve been playing the flute for the past three weeks and I just picked up the clarinet and somehow it was me. My wife came in and said, “sounds like you.” It’s so many things. Let’s say somebody wants to sound like me, or I want to sound like someone else. A lot of people who want to sound like me get the same kind of clarinet that I’m playing, the mouthpiece, the ‘Eddie Daniels Ligature from RS Berkeley’, which we will talk about later and they put all the pieces together. They play and realize, “this doesn’t sound like Eddie Daniels, what is this?” Everybody thinks, “what are you using so I can sound like you?” It has been a long evolution of how much effort I want to put into the sound. What makes a sound, what makes who you are at that moment. I’m a lot of pieces of things. Part of the sound is your temperament. So when I play the tenor, I’m sometimes more like a roaring lion, or a sweet kinda Stan Getz thing, which is part of my temperament.
I put in hundreds of thousands of hours with the intent of a sound that is connected with my heart. I also studied with Joe Allard and all these people to learn how to do things efficiently, and yet all the people (who studied with Joe Allard, who’s one of the greatest teachers) don’t sound like me. So how does that work out? Michael Brecker studied with Joe, you know? A lot of people studied with Joe and they don’t sound like me. Some of them, but that was the efficiency of a great teacher letting you sound like yourself.
RB: You totally nailed it, man. Ultimately it’s coming from within your own being and coming out through the horn. So you can buy the exact same equipment that you have and have everything, but they’re not necessarily going to get your sound. They’d have to have lived your experiences, perceptions of reality and then that will come out through the bell of the horn.
ED: And the struggles and the struggles, it’s not just the emotion. If I could bring this being that I am now back to 40 years ago when I was 30-something and struggling with the clarinet, it wouldn’t make any difference because there were all those steps in between about “how do I get that sound?,” and “what do I do with my chops?” You know, all those little things. It’s the emotion, it’s your being, it’s your heart, it’s all of those things and it’s a lot of other stuff too.
RB: Before we go into the next question, I have a little side question that came out while you were speaking. I’m just curious. I myself am a trumpet player, but I’m just wondering, do you do anything away from the horn, do you work out, any type of breathing exercises, anything that when you come back to the horn, makes it that much more positive for you?
ED: Well, I play tennis. I run around on the tennis court. I meditate. I try to sit still every day for a couple of hours. I think the horn for everybody, aside from learning to meditate to play better on your horn, I think playing a horn (an instrument of any kind) is a meditation. I find that if the person who’s playing any instrument, no matter what level, asks themselves, “who’s playing this instrument at this time?” You’ll come to a place where you’ll go, “whoa, there’s something going on here.” Just say while you’re playing the trumpet, you ask yourself, “who’s watching this… who’s here now?” It was like an “A-Ha!” moment that I had a couple weeks ago, even though all through the years you know there’s not a lot of thinking when you play an instrument, no. You notice a mistake and you try to correct it, but as you’re blowing, you’re basically watching it and listening to it, until something happens that you want to change. Meditating is great, doing other things is great, but being aware while you’re playing is great. Like asking yourself, “who’s here watching this?” I think that’s one of the deepest things I learned in the last month.
RB: You mention about consciousness, in terms of just the spirit and the presence of being ‘the observer’… Do you find there’s a difference between how you practice and approach when you’re sitting in a room, where your focal point is as opposed to when you walk onto the bandstand, and you’re more interacting with other players and you’re just kind of being in the moment, reacting.
ED: I think every single situation is different and yet, the presence of who’s watching is the same all the time. I think you want to bring that presence when you’re practicing on the stage with you, the awareness. You’re not going to stop and re-do a note that you didn’t like, which you might do in your practice room all day long. I think it’s the same. It’s an evolution. You get on the stage. I used to be more nervous. I used to be in sessions with Hubert Laws sitting next to me or David Baker. I’m playing flute and I was playing flute a lot back then, which now I’m gonna do again because I love it. I used to be nervous until I wasn’t nervous any more. I always wondered, “How did that happen?” Now being in a studio is one of the most comfortable things to me. Oddly enough. You know, being on jingles back in the old days and I was the kid, I felt like the kid even though Hubert wasn’t that much older than me and some of the other great players, Sanborn and Brecker, I was the older guy at that point, but early on I was nervous. Then you know, you do it, you do it — it’s like you keep doing it until it’s easier.
RB: How do you approach practicing improvisation?
ED: I don’t practice improvisation.
RB: So if someone came to you for a lesson on how to improvise. How would you approach teaching them?
ED: Practicing improvisation is a contradiction. You figure out all your licks and then you go do it. Part of it is improvised because you have to grab it from your memory, but it’s very interesting because we were just visiting our grandchild, and Sam asked, “What is spontaneity?” - just that question and having to answer what that is. You can’t be totally spontaneous because you have to draw on stuff you know. If you didn’t draw on your vocabulary, nothing would come out other than sounds and you could be avante garde and make a bunch of sounds.
You don’t need a horn to do that, but if you can put a horn in your mouth you might as well learn how to make a sound. Or you don’t have to, you can be spontaneously putting an instrument in your mouth that you never played before, and have “Giant Steps” go by, and “Go Ahead.” You never played the sax or the trumpet or any instrument — be spontaneous. That has gradations up to okay, well I have to practice the trumpet at least 20 years in order to be able to play that tune and how do I then become spontaneous on “Giant Steps?" I better know all my chords and I better know the changes and get a little bit loose with it and maybe even practice some licks, but when it really comes along, it’s so fast that you can’t be spontaneous. You have to kind of let it go.
RB: Would you suggest to students that they work with a metronome?
ED: Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. I used to work with a metronome. I have to get back to it, because my hearing is not as good. As you get older, you lose your hearing. You lose some of the highs and so your time has to be strong enough to cut through even if you can’t hear what’s right. To a young person, that may not make much sense, but you know you’re on a bandstand with the drums crashing and the band roaring and somehow you miss a beat because you didn’t hear it right, so you have to really stay focused and keep your time and a metronome is really important. I have to get back to it myself.
RB: Eddie, how would you say your equipment has had or does currently have on your playing?
ED: Well, I’m constantly looking for the right equipment. Still, this morning, trying a few different mouthpieces, wanting the resistance and the sound to be right. I mean, that’s the eternal quest. Here I am, in my 70s, and a pretty good player and I’m still looking for the sound and the ease, and trying to find what works right, trying to find a little bit more something — whatever it is. The equipment can make a difference. It depends on the stage of where you are in your playing. For a person on my level, most people would say, “you sound the same on everything,” and I kind of do on every good piece of equipment.
The equipment is important depending on how well you play — if you’re just in the middle of your playing and you’re pretty good, you find some equipment that makes it easier and your teacher says you’ll get the high notes for this and you won’t have to work as hard and blah-blah-blah, and there begins the quest for the rest of your life as you step to the sound that is your sound of your heart. By the time you’re 77, you’re still looking. Like I just had these two flute head joints and another flute that just came in the door, why?
RB: This is a nice segue, now, in terms of equipment. Can you tell us about your new Eddie Daniels ligature?
ED: It’s funny, the ligature is the last thing in the chain of your blowing. You have your horn, the bell, the two middle joints, barrel, then the mouthpiece, that’s five pieces, then the reed, that’s six. But you can’t play unless you have something holding it on the mouthpiece. Which you think — okay, it could be anything — but you’ll find that the differences in material, and this is also for the gearheads who play pretty darned good and for those who don’t play that well, it will make it easier to make it facilitate easier, so the ligature is the last thing in the chain. I think it’s one of the most important things. The ligature is holding the reed on there, but it’s more than that, it’s the reed, the vibrating object, which can cut out vibrations or add vibrations, and it’s interesting after the clarinet being an instrument that’s a hundred years old, there has always been ligatures.
I love this final iteration of what we came up with for the ligatures, the carbon fiber and the gold. They both facilitate the sound and hold the sound. For me, the most important thing is holding the sound, so that you don’t have to. Holding the sound means keeping the pitch even so you don’t have to bite to do that.
RB: Eddie, would you say that the ligature would be beneficial for all levels of players and age groups?
ED: Yeah, it’s inexpensive enough, but we’re also working on a student model. But you know, if you’re not playing that well and you’re a beginner, you could have anything for a ligature. You’re better off having a better mouthpiece, a better reed, or a better clarinet. But if you have that, and you’re starting to play pretty well, why not have a good ligature? I think it’s good for everyone, even a beginner, I think it’s good for anyone, but it’s especially good for the better players who would notice the difference. I love the ligature, I love what we have. I think it’s the best thing ever.
RB: Can you tell us a bit about what projects are you working on right now?
ED: Well, I’m starting a new album in two weeks. The music of Brazilian composer, Ivan Lins, one of the great composers… one of the super greats. He was on one of Dave Grusen’s first albums, “Harlequin,” and he did a tune and we’re gonna do it on the new album. Actually Dave Grusen and Bob James will join me on this new album, the music of Ivan Lins. So Dave is one of my heroes and so is Bob James. I’ve appeared on a lot of their albums. They’re being very generous to come to L.A. and play with me on this new album, which will have the Harlem Quartet again, as well as on “Heart of Brazil”. That’s the music of Edberto Chesmonte with the Harlem String Quartet and a phenomenal rhythm section. That album was nominated for a Grammy this past February.
RB: Do you have any advice for young, aspiring players who are coming along and just starting out, and trying to get it together?
ED: Well, you’re going to be what you are, no matter what. Enjoy the passion of it. If you don’t have any passion for it, forget it. Go do something else. You may like all this music and you may love the music but when you play, you find like you’re not that into it, you can’t find your passion, and by passion I mean, here I am in my 70s, and I still play a couple hours a day, and that’s from age 13 to now. I still love practicing. So that’s passion. If you don’t have it, find a way to get it… If you have that passion, you’re gonna find your way. No matter what. You will find it.
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