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Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Richard I. Schwartz

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Well-known Soloists from All Walks of Life

William Paris Chambers

(b Newport, PA 1 Nov 1854; d Newville, PA 13 Nov 1913)

He first practiced the cornet when he was about thirteen years of age and improved so quickly that he was asked to be the leader of the Keystone Concert Band and played solo cornet with it. The band toured throughout Pennsylvania. In 1879, he became the conductor of the Capitol City Band in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. William was a fine teacher and just for fun he would demonstrate music by holding his cornet upside down in his right hand, playing the instrument with the knuckles of one of his hands. He was even able to purse his lips in such a fashion that he could turn the cornet almost backwards with the pitches coming out behind him. His range included the notes up to c4.

In 1887, he became conductor and cornet soloist with the Great Southern Band in Baltimore and stayed with the organization until 1893. A performance on Pike’s Peak in 1892 was a testament to his ability as cornetist and to his amazing breath control over the instrument. He was renowned for his patience with his players and would always have a kind word for them. In the 1990’s, he became store manager for C. G. CONN in New York City and would often demonstrate on his instrument to crowds of musicians, especially cornet players. In 1905, he toured Europe and Africa, and became the manger of the C. G. CONN store in New York in 1906. He firmly believed that anyone could learn to play the instrument as well as he did, just with the right kind of practice. One of his most famous students was Albert Sweet. The Chicago Tribune is still one of his most frequently played marches. Other marches include The Boys of the Old Brigade, Hostrauer’s March, March Religioso, Northwind, Commodore Polka, Nelly Gray with Variations, Carnival of Venice, Kryl’s Favorite, The King of Terror, and Single Tongue Variations on a Theme. His pieces were published by Harry Coleman, Carl Fischer, J. W. Pepper and Son, R. F. Seitz, Southern of San Antonio, Kalmus, and Wingert-Jones.

Information for the above entry appears in Pioneers in Brass (Bridges [1972], 19-20), March Music Notes (Smith 1991, 76-78), and The Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music (Rehrig 1991, 135-137).

Bowen R. Church

(b East Greenwich, RI 3 Sept 1860; d Jersey City, NJ 13 Mar 1923)

When Bowen was nine years of age, he approached D. W. Reeves on a train ride and played a short impressive melody on Reeves’ cornet. As a result, Reeves offered to teach Bowen free of charge in Providence, Rhode Island. At eleven, Bowen gave his first recital in Providence, and at thirteen, he was a junior member of the American Band of Providence directed by D. W. Reeves. By the time he was fifteen, Bowen could play most anything he would practice, even most of Hartmann’s solos, and at eighteen, he was a featured soloist with the American Band of Providence. He practiced so much that it was said, "he must have slept with his instrument" (Bridges [1972], 21). In 1881, Bowen Church played regularly with D. W. Reeves’ American Band. It went on tour to Toronto, Canada, where the young Herbert L. Clarke heard Bowen and made his monumental decision to play the cornet.

Bowen loved to play simple songs and arias, and took lessons from a vocal teacher to improve on his projection and breath control. He would travel long distances to hear singers’ recitals and would often ask a member of any band of which he was a member to play a solo to formulate his own opinions about his own possible renditions of the piece.

In 1892, Reeves’ Band was in Tacoma, Washington on tour. Reeves left the tour at that point to conduct Gilmore’s Band in St. Louis, and Bowen assumed leadership of the Providence Band during Reeves’ absence. Reeves returned to his duties with his own Band in the fall of 1893, leaving Bowen again free to perform solo cornet with the band. Reeves and Bowen would frequently play duets with the band. What a time this must have been! The band also played at the Columbian World’s Fair in 1893 in Chicago. Church was approached by Theodore Thomas to play solos with his orchestra, but declined.

In 1900, Reeves died leaving Edward Fay in charge of his Providence band. Bowen was a brilliant soloist, but would have occasional spells of drinking and was often replaced by Milo Burke during those periods. Bowen did not play with the Providence Band between January 1902 and March 1904, when Herbert L. Clarke was its conductor. Solos went to Herbert L. Clarke and others, such as Fred Clement. Between 1904 and 1912, Edward Fay was again conductor of the band, and Bowen returned as solo cornet and assistant conductor. In 1912, Bowen assumed the responsibility of conductor for a short time. He moved to Jersey City later to direct the orchestra of the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. No commercial recordings are extant by Bowen Church. Clarke considered Bowen as one of the top six cornetists in the nineteenth century. A monument and fountain is erected to Bowen Church and D. W. Reeves in front of the old bandstand in Roger Williams Park in Providence, Rhode Island. Information for this entry appears in Pioneers in Brass (Bridges [1972], 21-22)

Herbert Lincoln Clarke

(b Woburn, MA 12 Sept 1867; d Los Angeles 30 Jan 1945)

There has been so much written about Herbert L. Clarke that this document can only provide a cursory discussion. Perhaps the most profound comment ever made about Herbert L. Clarke appears in the dissertation entitled "The Life, Career and Influence of Herbert L. Clarke." " Serious brass players owe a great debt to Mr. Clarke for many reasons: his recordings leave a legacy of artistry in musicianship and technic; his prolific composition of band and solo literature, along with the study methods, unselfishly share the fruits of Clarke’s many years of labor and experimentation… [He was] "a fine gentleman, unwilling to lower himself to petty gossip about colleagues and superiors" (Carlson 1980, 23-24).

As Clarke himself said, "any instrumentalist has an equal chance to become successful if he perseveres properly, discovering his own mistakes and weaknesses, correcting them immediately, and setting the highest point of excellence as his goal" (Clarke 1973, 59). This comment not only implies great modesty about his own playing, but also a great desire for perfection. He was a consummate musician, conductor, composer, and cornet soloist without par. His recordings attest to his incredible technique and range, clear tone and musical taste. He was arguably the most famous cornet player who ever lived.

Surprisingly enough, Herbert L. Clarke’s beginnings as a world class solo cornetist were not so illustrious. Clarke was primarily a self-taught musician. Even though his father, William Horatio Clarke, was a church organist and musically educated himself, he chose neither to teach Herbert the cornet, nor to support his interest in the instrument. His first instrument was the snare drum, which he practiced in the back yard frequently entertaining the neighbors. His next one was the violin which Herbert’s father encouraged him to play and practice. The first brass instrument upon which Herbert played was actually an ophicleide found in his father’s attic. It was "not played for more than two generations," and his first audition on this instrument in his brother Ed’s orchestra was, to say the least, a disaster. It is hard to believe that he was soundly turned down with the description of "rotten" (Clarke 1973, 7). His next instrument was an "old attic-resurrected" cornopean. The instrument was held together with the pressure of his left hand and bees wax and it often would fall apart. He never played the instrument in public, gave it up, and placed it back in his father’s dusty attic. His early successes were made on the violin in the Philharmonic Society Orchestra under the direction of Dr. F. H. Torrington. This time period was significant for Herbert since he learned much about ensemble playing, blending, balancing, and intonation.

In 1881, Herbert traveled to Toronto Canada to hear Bowen Church, the solo cornetist with Reeves’ American Band (based in Providence, Rhode Island) conducted by David Wallace Reeves (a fine cornetist himself). After the concert, young Herbert was convinced that the cornet was his destiny. His next instrument was his brother Ed’s new cornet, which he was allowed to use in Ed’s orchestra. His early role models for performance were his brother Ed (later a cornetist and flügelhornist with Sousa) and Earnest (later first trombonist with Patrick Gilmore, Victor Herbert, and Walter Damrosch). Clarke had met Walter Rogers at the age of seventeen, which also molded Clarke’s approach to the instrument.

After years of developing a reputation as a cornet soloist and a repertoire of over 300 solos, Clarke performed a personal audition for Gilmore himself in 1892 and was accepted into the organization replacing Bent. Clarke had always been impressed by the quality of Gilmore’s Band even before he joined the organization (Hazen and Hazen 1987, 36). Unfortunately, Gilmore died on 24 September 1892, soon after Clarke joined the band. Clarke left the organization to be soloist with Ellis Brooks’ Band, and then in 1893, to serve as solo cornet with Sousa’s Band. After Sousa’s concerts at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, Clarke played solos with a variety of bands. He then returned to Sousa, and remained with him until 1917, except for a short period between 1898 and 1899 (Rehrig 1991, 146). Clarke also served in the Navy as an officer. He performed the trumpet part (on cornet) with the N.Y. Philharmonic in December of 1898 and first trumpet (on trumpet) in the Metropolitan Orchestra in 1899. Between 1913 and 1915, Clarke was a tester for the Conn company. He developed the concept of a medium length Holton-Clarke Cornet for the Holton Company, with whom he was formally associated from 1917 to 1918. The Holton-Clarke cornet was patented in 1911, but was not produced, however, until 1917.

Clarke had retired from active playing in 1917, later to become a bandmaster of the Anglo-Canadian Concert Band of Huntsville, Ontario from 1918 to 1923, earning $15,000 a year plus expenses. His last position was the bandmaster of the Long Beach Municipal Band in Long Beach, California. He stayed in that position until his formal retirement in 1943.

In his career, Clarke visited fourteen different countries, had thirty-four tours of the United States and Canada, four European Tours, and one tour around the world. He made more phonograph recordings than any other cornetist, performed more than 6,000 cornet solos in public, including 473 concerts in one season, and had over 8,000 miles of travel with many musical organizations. He appeared as soloist at all the great "World’s Fairs," and was one of the charter members of the American Bandmasters Association when it was founded in 1929. In addition to his many solos with the Sousa Band for the Victor Recording Company, Clarke also recorded solos for Victor, Columbia, Brunswick, Edison, British Phonograph Industries, Ltd., and the Canadian Berliner Recording Co.

One of his many compliments occurred during his tenure with the Sousa Band. At the conclusion of one of Clarke’s solos at the Pan-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, composer Saint-Saëns rose out of his seat. He came to the stage and announced to the audience that he never heard such an outstanding solo on either the cornet or trumpet in his eighty years of life (Bierley 1973, 76). What a career! It is lucky that we have not only so much documentation, but also so many recordings by this most famous of all cornetists. A list of works by Clarke appears in Chapter 4 below.

An interesting article discussing Clarke’s playing appears in "The Herbert L. Clarke Method of Cornet Playing" (Madeja 1990, 4-18). In it, Madeja discusses, in some detail, Clarke’s largely self-taught and very practical approach to his virtuoso playing. Among many of Clarke’s ideas are good posture; never playing with dry lips; slightly puckering the lips toward the center of the mouthpiece which allows the lips to vibrate more freely; centering the mouthpiece on the lips; when greater mouthpiece pressure is used (and this does happen in the upper register or when playing loudly) let it happen to the lower lip which can absorb more pressure than the sensitive upper lip; practice slowly and accurately to achieve speed; develop breath control over the middle and low registers before even going into the upper register; mouth muscles are more important in developing flexibility than the soft and pliable lips are; mouthpiece buzzing is not recommended; regular practice of long tones is not recommended; anchor tonguing is used in single tonguing; and vibrato is accomplished with a small movement of the right wrist. The most important principle of his playing was developing one’s own sense of interpretation and expression. He recommended listening to good singers and violinists, but not copying them to achieve a good sense of style. Another extensive piece of research dealing with Clarke’s playing is James Madeja, "The Life and Work of Herbert L. Clarke (1867-1945)" (Ed. D. dissertation. University of Illinois, 1988).

One more issue must be discussed about Clarke., i.e., the famous letter from him to Mr. Elden E. Benge dated 13 January 1921 on the stationary of the Anglo Canadian Leather Co. Band, Huntsville, Ontario, Canada. A couple of short quotes from this letter is certainly enough to convince the reader of Clarke’s unqualified love of the cornet and also of his apparent distaste for the trumpet. The trumpet is "only a foreign fad for the time present" and "is only used in large orchestras of 60 or more, for dynamic effects, and was never intended as a solo instrument." The trumpet has "sprung up in the last few years like ‘jaz’ [sic] music, which is the nearest Hell, or the Devil, in music. It polutes[sic] the art of Music." Lastly, he encourages Benge to continue with his studies on the cornet, as he had as good of a chance as any other person to succeed on the instrument (Lewis 1991, 17).

Sources of information appear throughout this entry. The most complete library of Clarke documents occurs at The Herbert L. Clarke Museum at the University of Illinois. For further information consult the series of articles on Herbert L. Clarke by David R. Hickman in the Brass Bulletin 18 (1977); 19 (1977); 21 (1978); and 22 (1978).

Frank Clermont

(b New Orleans 16 August 1869; d New York 21 March 1913)

Etta Minor Clermont

Frank was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and studied at Straight University. His first instrument was the bass drum, then the tuba, and finally the cornet. In 1889, he was a member of many bands in Houma, Louisiana. In 1890, he organized the Alliance Brass Band in New Orleans and directed many groups including the Boutee Brass Band (Boutee, La.), the Fulling Brass Band (Fulling, La.), the Ory Brass Band (St. Charles, La.), the God Chaux Brass Band, (Raceland, La.), the Cary Brass Band (Ariel, La.), and the Gibson Brass Band (Gibson, La.). In 1892, he was hired by many minstrel shows, including Crawford Brothers, Big Double Minstrels, Great Wallace Shows, Melroy Chandler Minstrels, Georgia Up-To-Date, and John F. Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin Company.

He was the Bandmaster of both bands with "A Rabbit’s Foot Company," the band with Melroy-Chandler Minstrels, and the No. 2 Band of the Rusco & Holland Nashville Students in 1900. He and a musician by the name of Tucker started a music firm called Clermont & Tucker. The company wrote and arranged many songs for comedians and bandmasters on the Minstrel circuit. Clermont was the senior partner in the firm.

In 1901, Clermont was cornetist with Rusco & Holland Nashville Students and Gideon’s Minstrels under the baton of Saint Elmore Dodd, also an Eb cornet soloist for many years in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see Saint Elmore Dodd in this chapter). In 1901 he was employed by King Bush’s Minstrels, as well. Clermont wrote frequent letters in the newspaper, The Freeman of Indianapolis, on a regular basis and sent his regards to P. G. Lowery (see Perry G. Lowery in this chapter) and George Bailey (trombonist and owner of his own contracting agency) in the newspaper on many occasions. From 1902 to 1904, he toured as conductor and cornetist with Richards and Pringle’s Famous Georgia Minstrels.

In 1905, both he and his wife, Etta Minor Clermonto (stage name), toured the country as the "Clermonts" cornet duo. He continued to submit compositions for publication in 1905 as well. On "New Years Night", [31 December 1906 or 1 January 1907] the crew of the 14 Black Hussars, a show started by Henderson Smith in 1901, was invited by Etta to a special "egg-nog supper" on her birthday. Among the speakers at the supper were Henderson Smith, (speaking on the first news from America when the troupe was on tour to Europe, the origin of the 14 Black Hussars, and his past experiences with musicians) and Frank himself (speaking on the Bandmaster…). After touring the country in 1912, Frank became ill and retired to be the secretary of the Colored Vaudeville Benevolent Association. His funeral was at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in New York and he was interred at Cavalry Cemetery. Etta may have retired from active playing after Frank’s funeral, as the author of this document could find no more information on her in The Freeman through 1914. Information for this entry appears in many issues of The Freeman from 1900-1913. See Henderson Smith in this chapter for related information.

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