Marty's Ab Piccolo ClarinetThe Story...
I first became acquainted with the Ab piccolo clarinet in Verona after
seeing it among many other strange Italian clarinets in the storefront
of a music shop. It was in the company of an Albert system plateau
(covered keys like a sax) clarinet in A, Albert C clarinets and plateau
Eb's. I have to find that picture! Anyway, this was like 1987 and I was
broke and couldn't buy anything, but almost 10 years later I saw one at
Mark Chudnow's shop in LA that was one piece - no barrel, and he
couldn't sell it, mainly because the keys were so close together you
practically needed liposuction to finger it, and even if you could,
taking a finger off a tone hole hardly produced a half-step interval.
This instrument had no name, but was handmade by a worker at the Loree
factory in Paris. Apparently he made clarinets from A up to this Ab
picc in his spare time for fun -how twisted! I had also played John
Neufeld's LeBlanc Ab picc, but at that time I hadn't the bread or
desire to buy that one either, although Glen Johnston had tuned it
(this instrument is really too short to be tuned to a western scale) to
his best ability and patience. But Mark made me an offer I couldn't
refuse including tuning every note and bending keys, etc. so I could
avoid the liposuction of the fat around my fingers and could actually
play it, although my fingers did rub against one another. This horn is
barely a foot long and sounds a flat 13th higher than the piano written
or a fouth higher than the Eb sopranino clarinet. I figured it would be
good for taking Bb clarinet parts up an octave with an easy
transposition up a whole step. So I used it a few times like in for Danny Elfman when Steve Bartek orchestrated a ridiculous
Eb clar part that went from high A down to low C#. It was easily
playable on the Ab, just a high E, and a better key. Michael Convertino
also used it in "Batman
Returns" and "A Christmas Story" but I only had two bars to switch
between the BBb contra and the Ab picc. But the time I got in the most
trouble with the Ab was when I was working for Michael Kamen on "Jack"
and, after hearing the playback of the funny toy instruments Jon Clarke
(the most talented oboist in LA) played, I opened my big mouth: "Wow,
if only I had known you were blowing on toys I would have brought my Ab
piccolo clarinet!" So later that week I get a call from Kamen and he
wants to know all about this piccolo clarinet, so I warned him the
scale was funky, so don't write too many octaves, etc., and then I get
a call for "101 Dalmations" and the orchestrator calls me for the
transposition, and I go to work, and Kamen has featured the damn thing!
Solos everywhere, on Eb and Ab clarinets, and of course the main theme
written for me to play over and over was an octave motif starting on
clarion e to the high e above: pup-pup-pup-pup-pupIES! And every time I
picked up the horn to warm it up by playing a few soft notes, Malcolm
McNabb (trumpet virtuoso of "LA Confidential" fame) got so pissed off
he instructed Emil Richards, the percussionist, to stand directly
behind me and hit his anvil with a metal mallet as hard as he could.
Which he obliged! Thankfully I haven't been featured on that horn
since, but it occasionally bails me out of a jam.