Regrettably, the clarinet isn't nearly as prominent in jazz as it once was. Some excellent clarinetists have focused on bop, post-bop, and avant-garde jazz; one hates to think of bop without Buddy DeFranco, post-bop without Eddie Daniels, or the avant-garde without Don Byron or John Carter. But those players are the exception instead of the rule; since the late '40s, the clarinet has been marginalized in post-swing forms of jazz. Assembled by veteran jazz critic Scott Yanow, this rewarding compilation celebrates a time when clarinetists weren't a minority in jazz and played a prominent role in Dixieland, classic jazz, and swing. The Illustrious Clarinetists of Jazz: 1927-1949 gets into early bebop with selections by DeFranco, Stan Hasselgård, and Tony Scott, but Yanow's primary focus is jazz's pre-bebop era -- and he ventures back to the dawn of recorded jazz with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's 1917 recording of "Original Dixieland One Step" (featuring clarinetist Larry Shields). Well, 1917 provided the oldest recorded jazz that listeners have physical evidence of; pioneering Dixieland cornetist Buddy Bolden (who regularly featured clarinetists) allegedly recorded a cylinder in 1898, but that cylinder has never been found. After "Original Dixieland One Step," this 61-minute CD takes listeners through the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression, and World War II with many of jazz's noteworthy pre-bop clarinetists -- an impressive list that ranges from Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Barney Bigard, and Sidney Bechet during the swing era to Johnny Dodds, Leon Roppolo (of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings), Jimmie Noone, and Frank Teschemacher in the '20s. The material is generally excellent, and when heavyweights like Goodman, Dodds, and Bechet are improvising, one cannot help but wish that the clarinet's popularity as a jazz instrument hadn't decreased after WWII. This CD is happily recommended to anyone who has even a casual interest in pre-bop clarinet.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson