The clarinet is a beautiful, versatile instrument. Because of its versatility, you can use almost any clarinet to play jazz music, although there are some models that particularly lend themselves to the genre.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at some of the best clarinets for jazz to suit a range of budgets.
The clarinet was one of the most important instruments during jazz’s early development, but despite being firmly rooted in jazz its importance in the genre has been overshadowed by other frontline instruments like the saxophone and trumpet.
The clarinet played a vital role in traditional New Orleans and Dixieland jazz ensembles of the early 20th Centruy and it remained popular throughout the Swing Era of the 20s and 30s. In fact, some of the most respected big band leaders of the time like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman played the clarinet.
If you’re looking for the best clarinets for jazz, you’ll want to opt for an instrument that has a full lower and mid register. Traditionally, Bb clarinets have been used by jazz players as they can produce a warm tone that suits the genre well. Although far less popular, the bass clarinet is also used in jazz, most notably by the likes of Eric Dolphy, Marcus Miller and Bennie Maupin.
And don’t forget that the mouthpiece you choose can make a world of difference. As this is where the initial sound is produced, there are certain mouthpieces that function better for jazz playing.
In this guide, we’re going to look at some of the best quality and affordable clarinet and mouthpiece options that are excellent choices when it comes to playing jazz.
Important to note: whilst there are many different types of clarinets, unless specified we’re talking about the Bb clarinet which is the most common.
Best for Beginners: Yamaha YCL-255 Standard Bb Clarinet
Yamaha has cultivated a remarkable reputation for making high quality and reliable musical instruments.
In fact, they have one the most diverse ranges of instruments on the market right now. Although they seem to have a very broad focus on what instruments they produce, Yamaha has fostered a reputation for great design and excellent build quality.
This is no more evident than with the Yamaha YCL-255, which is perfect for beginner-intermediate jazz clarinet players.
The body, bell, and barrel are all made from ABS resin, a durable material that means this clarinet will last you for years to come. It also means that the pitch and sound are less affected by the elements, unlike wooden instruments.
You could be playing indoors or outdoors, or in humid or cold conditions and the clarinet will maintain its intonation.
Recently, Yamaha redesigned the bell, so now it’s lighter and includes a resonance chamber. These modifications have considerably improved the intonation of this clarinet model.
- Lighter bell produces a warmer, consistent tone (easier for the clarinet to handle).
- Comes with a built-in neck strap that reduces thumb and hand tension.
- Adjustable built-in thumb rest for comfort.
- Valentino keypads prevent air leaks than to their tight seal.
- ABS resin has a wood-like finish which also ages slowly.
- Quite expensive for beginners.
Best Value: Jean Paul Student CL-300 / Intermediate Clarinet CL-400
If you’re looking for a decent clarinet to learn to play jazz and you don’t want to fork out $1000 or more, then this Jean Paul clarinet is a perfect choice.
The ebonite body is combined with nickel keys which not only gives the clarinet a beautiful finish, but it also produces a brilliant sound for such a low priced clarinet. Jean Paul also boasts that this clarinet is reliable, thanks to the durability of the materials.
Although this is not made for professionals, it is the perfect student/band clarinet and one of the best clarinets for jazz if you’re on a budget.
- Perfect for beginners or students.
- Made from high-quality ebonite and nickel, which is not only durable but produces a lovely tone.
- Not suited for professionals.
Best Clarinet Mouthpieces for Jazz
As we mentioned in the introduction, just about any clarinet will work for jazz music. What can make the real difference is the type of mouthpiece that you use.
Best Quality: Pomarico Black Crystal Moon
If you’re looking for a mouthpiece that will work for long, improvised jazz sessions without wavering its quality and comfort, then this Black Crystal Moon mouthpiece from Pomarico is the perfect choice for you.
Considered one of the best contemporary mouthpieces for the clarinet, many people fall in love with it based on its appearance alone.
As well as its elegant and delicate design, the lightness of the mouthpieces offers a fast response and clarity of sound even at high volumes.
It’s also designed for maximum comfort, which makes it great for jazz musicians who (in our biased opinion!) practice, play, and perform for the longest periods of time.
One of the drawbacks is that this mouthpiece is on the expensive side.
But, if you’re looking for a durable, elegant and high quality mouthpiece, then the price tag is definitely justified – especially as each mouthpiece is handcrafted in Italy.
- Made from lightweight crystal glass which provides a fast response and clarity of sound.
- Lightweight and elegant design.
- Adjustable thumb rest.
Best Value: Selmer Goldentone Sonata Bb Clarinet Mouthpiece
The legendary woodwind brand Selmer produces a range of high-quality student mouthpieces, and this Sonata Bb mouthpiece is no exception.
Made from a durable plastic and tenon cork around the joint area, this mouthpiece is the perfect fit for all Bb clarinets.
Their designs focus on tone and pitch accuracy to help students achieve a full centered tone.
It’s also a pretty easy and comfortable mouthpiece to use and its low price tag makes it perfect for student clarinet players to invest in.
- Great beginner mouthpiece.
- Made from durable plastic and tenon cork.
- Low price.
- Not suited to more advanced players.
The History of the Clarinet in Jazz
The clarinet was a crucial sound in early jazz music and the big band era.
There were many New Orleans Jazz pioneers like Sidney Bechet, Jimmie Noone, and Johnny Dodds who produced some of the earliest jazz clarinet recordings.
Not only did these records help to increase Jazz’s popularity across the US, they also cemented the clarinets’ importance in the genre.
Sadly, as the Swing Era faded and Bebop took over, the clarinet was replaced by the saxophone in the standard lineup.
Nowadays the clarinet has resurfaced as a key instrument in jazz thanks to the likes of Anat Cohen and Don Byron.
Frequently Asked Question
Is A Wooden Body Clarinet Better For A Professional Sound?
There are a lot of different thoughts on this matter, but many people find that you can get just as good a sound from rubber or plastic clarinets as you can from a wooden clarinet.
However, there are also some purists who believe that nothing compares to a wooden clarinet and they are willing to pay a bigger bill for something that feels more natural.
Although there is no solid proof that a wooden clarinet sounds better, many people believe it sounds more like what the composer had in mind when they created the music.
Because of that, wooden clarinets are more popular amongst professional clarinet players.
Is There A Difference Between Silver And Nickel Key Plating?
In general, silver key plating is better. This is because nickel plating can wear off quickly, especially from the dirt and sweat that is found on your fingertips.
However, silver will still tarnish but it takes a far longer time to do so, as long as you maintain it properly. The key is to keep your instrument keys cleaned, polished and shiny.
Some people also argue that silver is better as nickel can feel a little slippery, which makes it far more difficult to play.
We hope this list has helped you in your search to find some of the best clarinets for jazz along with the mouthpieces that will help you achieve the sound you’re looking for.