Jazz Bassoon — Graham Lyons

My main area of research in the past few years has been the use of the bas­soon in jazz; in fact, I wrote my dis­ser­ta­tion on the sub­ject. But I’ve thus far neglect­ed writ­ing about it here, most­ly because there’s too much infor­ma­tion to con­dense into a sin­gle blog post! I’ll get around to writ­ing a his­tor­i­cal overview at some point, but for now, suf­fice it to say that there have been hun­dreds of jazz record­ings (close to a thou­sand, actu­al­ly) that include bas­soon­ists in var­i­ous roles, dat­ing back to at least the ear­ly 1920s.

Jazz Bassoon Cover

Today, as a start­ing point, I’m going to write about a recent addi­tion to my own record col­lec­tion: a 45rpm sin­gle enti­tled Jazz Bas­soon. The record was pressed in 1967, and fea­tures Gra­ham Lyons on bas­soon (also, as the cov­er points out, on clar­inet, sax, piano, and as arranger). I often hunt for par­tic­u­lar records; this was­n’t one of those. In fact, even though I’ve assem­bled an exten­sive discog­ra­phy of jazz record­ing ses­sions involv­ing bas­soon, I had exact­ly zero knowl­edge of this disc before it popped up on eBay.

I knew a bit about Gra­ham Lyons him­self, though. Among oth­er things, he record­ed a few tunes on bas­soon, clar­inet, and bari sax with the British trad jazz band The Tem­per­ance Sev­en in the ear­ly 60s. Lyons has led a var­ied career as a per­former, com­pos­er, and teacher of mul­ti­ple wood­wind instru­ments. One of his recent endeav­ors is the Clar­inéo, a sim­pli­fied plas­tic clar­inet for young play­ers. But this record­ing of his, released on a tiny label (that may in fact have been owned by Lyons him­self), had flown com­plete­ly under my radar.

Jazz Bassoon Record

The A side of this disc is a Lyons orig­i­nal enti­tled “Bas­soono­va.” This tune has been either re-released or re-record­ed on a CD col­lec­tion of Lyon­s’s works, so I won’t post it here. It is, as you’d expect, a bossa nova. Lyons takes a rel­a­tive­ly lengthy solo on bas­soon in addi­tion to play­ing all the parts in sec­tions of four-part bas­soon har­mo­ny and dual clar­inets. All of this is sup­port­ed by a rhythm sec­tion of Lyons again on piano, Rob Rubin on bass, and Bill Eyden on drums.

The B side, Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris,” has a mul­ti-part intro that starts off with two bas­soons over a piano/bass drone. Once the band hits the tune itself, Lyons plays just a bit of the melody on bas­soon before tak­ing a cho­rus and a half worth of solo. He fol­lows this with brief solos on bari sax, clar­inet, and piano. But here, lis­ten for your­self:

Listen to Graham Lyons - I Love Paris

The back side of the sleeve has actu­al notes — rare on 7″ sin­gles, at least in my expe­ri­ence. These con­firm what we might guess from the title, that Lyons is with this record try­ing to make the point that the bas­soon can be a viable jazz instru­ment. “I want­ed to show the bas­soon in all its reg­is­ters,” Lyons writes, “the dif­fer­ent ways it could be used, and how it would fit in a jazz set­ting.” He also touch­es on what he sees as the main rea­son the bas­soon has­n’t been used more in jazz: “A tricky phrase which might take fif­teen min­utes to prac­tice and get right on a clar­inet or sax­o­phone is sure to take an hour on the bas­soon.” This is a great addi­tion to my quotes file, and echoes pub­lished com­ments by oth­er jazz bas­soon play­ers like Illi­nois Jacquet and Paul Han­son (more on them anoth­er time).

  • Michael Rabinowitz

    January 12th, 2013



    Thanks for telling about the record­ing.
    He has a nice sound and pret­ty flu­id in his
    improv. I like that his keep­ing the acoustic
    sound of the horn. A bit rem­i­nis­cent of Errol
    Bud­dle in the Aus­tralian Jazz Quin­tet.

    • David A. Wells

      January 15th, 2013


      Sure thing! Yes, the whole arrange­ment sounds very AJQ-ish. The sleeve notes men­tion Bud­dle, so I’m bet­ting that his play­ing was a direct influ­ence here.

  • Graham Lyons

    January 31st, 2013


    Yes, my label.
    25 years ago, I threw away all but a few of them.

    I had­n’t heard Errol Bud­dle by then. I was­n’t influ­enced by any one musi­cian. I lis­tened to so much impro­vised jazz at the time—Clifford Brown, Getz, Stitt, Mob­ley, Tub­by Hayes, Peter­son, de Fran­co, Can­non­ball.

    • David A. Wells

      February 3rd, 2013


      Aha, thanks Mr. Lyons! I’m very inter­est­ed in know­ing about influ­ences on peo­ple who’ve played jazz bas­soon — par­tic­u­lar­ly whether they’ve lis­tened to oth­er jazz bas­soon­ists or not. So, every bit of infor­ma­tion one way or the oth­er is help­ful.

      And if you dis­posed of most of these records, I feel very lucky indeed to have come across one. I thor­ough­ly enjoy it!

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