18 November 1995
New England Conservatory of Music
Used with permission of both Debra Jean McKim and Kenneth Radnofsky
Copyright 2000, Debra Jean McKim
McKim: When did you first begin study with Joe Allard?
Radnofsky: In the fall of 1974. I came to Boston for my master's degree. My own teacher in Houston, Jeff Lerner, had studied with Joe.
DM: Do you consider Joe to have been your primary teacher throughout your career?
KR: No, I think all my teachers had a role, and still have a role, in shaping my career. This year, I'm playing with the New York Philharmonic, performing the Debussy Rhapsodic. I changed my bio to include my saxophone teacher when I was in elementary school and my college teacher and Joe. I did that because I value them all; I learned something from all of them. Your first teacher is the one who starts you off, your second teacher really does a lot of the hard work with you, and your third teacher's the one who finishes you.
DM: And Joe was your finisher?
KR: He was. He made me feel good about myself because of the y he taught. He gave me plenty of information, he taught me a whole lot about playing the saxophone and that's what we talked about in our lessons. The way he spoke made me believe in music and believe in myself and believe in teaching. I suppose that's why I choose to teach and why I like to teach. He gave me a lot.
He was my psychiatrist as much as he was my saxophone teacher, but not because we spent hours on therapy during lessons. I learned all about saxophone, but in the very first lesson, before I even played, he said, "Don't worry, everything's going to be all right." I trusted him from the very beginning and at the end of two years found out he was right; everything was all right! As an undergraduate in Houston, I really taught myself to play. My teacher was a good teacher, but I had to teach myself a lot. I wasn't around a lot of other saxophone players to have as role models, and my teacher was a clarinetist, so it was really Joe who helped complete me as a person and helped complete me as a saxophonist.
DM: Was there anything like a typical lesson with Joe?
KR: Lessons always lasted an hour; we would get what we were supposed to get. He was very good about giving us all our own private time. What usually happened was, I played a note at the beginning - a single note - then he'd say "O.K." and tell a story. About thirty minutes into the story, I'd think, "What's going on? What's he going to say?" At the end of forty-five minutes, he would come to this magical point where I'd hit myself on the head; "Oh, why didn't I think of that myself? Why didn't I think of that before?" But it took him that long to get to that point; he had to tell the whole story. He had so many experiences to fall back on and had so many students' experiences to fall back on, that he always had great examples that would relate to specific problems. The last fifteen minutes would consist of us trying to implement it. But there was never anything but patience as a teacher. So, he'd teach it to me, and he'd watch me practice it for a while, and then he'd say, "Now go work on it and don't worry about it, you'll get it; everything will be fine." Sometimes it took two weeks, sometimes it took two years I remember specifically discussions we had about embouchure. He had quite an embouchure; it was like his face was made out of rubber. I thought. "How is he doing that; this is not humanly possible." I used to see Harvey [Pittel] play this way also and think, "How do they do that?" And finally, the summer after I graduated, in July, I really woke up one night and said. "I know what he means!" It took that long for it to gestate before I thought, "I know how to do that." I've had to develop my own ways of teaching those same things, but much of what I learned, I learned from Joe. He was a great inspiration as a teacher, how to teach and what to teach.
DM: Obviously you developed your own individual style, but do you use of lot of the same language in your own teaching as Joe used?
KR: I would say it relates to Joe, but it can't help but change and that actually is how I believe I'm like Joe. Joe also was constantly changing. So, people that studied with him five years earlier might have a different version than what I ave. People that studied tenor saxophone with him, people that were jazz players, like Dave Liebman, might have a different version of embouchure than I do as a classical alto saxophone player. Joe taught us all differently.
DM: When you came in for your first lesson with Joe, was he able to immediately know what to do and how to relate to you as a student?
KR: Yes, he was an empath; he felt what we felt. I'm sure you do this in your teaching too. You can tell when someone's playing on a soft reed, you can tell when someone's biting and you find your own body changing. When a student is playing on a reed that's soft it actually makes xou choke. Joe felt that with us, not only physically, but also emotionally. If we were choking as people. he could feel what we felt. He was amazing; really the only person I've ever met who was like that - a very unusual person.
DM: Did you study specific materials in lessons?
KR: I was very hungry to learn repertoire. I listened to lots of records, I listened to lots of soloists. I find that some of my students do a lot of that, and some of my students wait for me to give it to them I was one of the ones who did my homework, because I knew what I wanted to be when I went to school. So, I'd bring in the Dahl Concerto. And I knew Joe didn't play the Dahl Concerto but I'd bring it in. And I'd bring in the Artie Shaw Concerto because I play clarinet also, and he could play through both of them He actually could play the Dahl Concerto. He hadn't practiced the fast technique in fifteen years so you didn't expect him to have flawless technique, but he could play the akissimo notes. He could whisper them out, he could play them fortissimo, and he could play pianissimo low Bb at will. He did have the technique to play the Artie Shaw Concerto- he grabbed the clarinet out of my hand that day; that was the longest I ever heard him play. He basically played through my whole lesson, and that showed me a lot.
He knew the style; he had great feeling for music and for the way a piece is supposed to sound as opposed to the way the piece looks on paper. Joe was able to realize music in sound because of his instincts. The same instincts that made him a good teacher, the same instincts that made him an empath, were the same instincts that made him a great player. He did that; he could really play. A beautiful sound, a sweet sound. It might be considered a little bit dated at this time, but certainly no more dated than Marcel Mule. There's a lot of very good saxophone players around, but Joe was one of the great teachers, and he could do anything, especially over a three to five minute demonstration. At the time I studied with him, he was teaching more hours than his age and I think few of us can claim that, especially when you're sixty years old. When I studied with Joe he was sixty and he was teaching seventy-two hours a week. He taught twentyfour hours in two and a half days here in Boston.
DM: You mentioned the Artie Shaw Concerto - did Joe consider himself more of saxophonist or a clarinetist? Did he ever put one above the other?
KR: No. If anything, you could consider him a bass clarinetist. He played a lot of bass clarinet. So the answer to your question is no, he didn't make one more important than the other. He had more saxophone students here [New England Conservatory] than he did anywhere else I believe. I think at Judliard they only allowed him to accept four, one every year and maybe two graduate students, so maybe he had six; there wasn't a big class at Juilliard. He taught a lot of jazz players here, a lot of classical players and a few clarinet students, all of whom loved him.
DM: I assume you studied primarily classical saxophone with him.
KR: Well no, as a matter of fact I brought in my clarinet and my bass clarinet because my degree was in both as an undergraduate. I brought in Luigi Nono's Polifonica -monodia-ritmica, which has a saxophone part and a bass clarinet part. Gunther [Schuller] in those years liked to mix things up so he had a clarinet player play the saxophone part and he had me playing the bass clarinet part because I played bass clarinet in orchestra. He didn't have the best players on the right instruments but he had the musicians he wanted. Gunther was really the person who brought in Joe, and Gunther was always sure about the way things ought to be; having Joe in was a great decision. But, I needed to play high G#'s and A's on the bass clarinet pianissimo and Joe showed me how. He could do it; he'd say, "Give me that thing."
He taught me the syllables. He didn't say it in so many words, but Joe is the person that really made it clear to me that music, or the way we play music as instrumentalists, is scat singing; figuring out the right words to say, the right vowels to say for every note; voicing the notes. This is how I describe it; Joe described it in different ways. He would say these different pitches, or he would say some different syllables or he'd say, "It goes like this: [Radnofsky scat sings a jazz phrase]. Now you say it." Joe really made it clear that voicing was important. I don't think he called it voicing, but he made it clear that every note has its own special feeling.
DM: What were some other concepts that Joe taught?
KR: Embouchure was a big concept. We spent more than one lesson on it. I've attributed the fact that he repeated lessons to the fact that, as we know, his memory was going to tragically betray him ten years later, but in fact he had a very good memory at the time I studied with him; if it was still a problem from one week to the next, he'd just teach it again. He had a lot of patience; he'd just teach it a slightly different way until you got it. So, embouchure was one of the things.
Articulation, as a means of expression, was another thing that he taught. The idea that your tongue actually has nothing to do with creating sound - it's air that creates sound and our tongue is merely used for articulation, the same as it is in speech. We don't use our tongue to create sound, we use our tongue to give different articulations. He taught us how to use air and he had a couple of different exercises for learning how to touch the reed lightly. One was a long tone exercise. We would begin the tone with no tongue, get very loud and while the note was still going on, he'd have us barely articulate. We would touch the reed as lightly as possible, so that the tongue would interrupt the vibration of the reed without stopping it, teaching us to barely tongue and keep the sound going. He'd have us practice it loud so that we'd learn to use a light articulation even though we were playing loud. A lot of students tongue hard when they play loud; Joe's exercise separated that.
He also taught us to play short with another version of the exercise. I can't remember if he called it the "barking" exercise or not, I've been teaching it for so long now. But I call it the barking exercise. It's an exercise where you begin the tone with no tongue, you get loud; at no point does the air stop. So you would go: e-e-e-e-e-e-e-DA. But the air keeps going. So that if you have to tongue a bunch of notes in a row it would be e-e-e-e-DA-DA-DA-DA-DA-DA. We control every note we play. Why should a short tone be played any less artistically or any less carefully or any less thoughtfully than a long tone? Joe said to me that a short tone is a long tone with the middle taken out. Instead of being DAAAAH, it's DAH. It's the same. It's the same at the beginning; it's the same at the end. Your jaw doesn't move just because you're articulating. A lot of students who play a short note will go DAH, and their jaw will go down. He kept us from having our jaw move down. I can tell you honestly, Joe didn't say the specific part about not dropping your jaw, it's what we learned how to do to make it effective. Through the years as I've taught, I've added clarification, but when Joe taught it, it was clear. It was clear what he wanted.
Joe also taught us to play on the mouthpiece for flexibility. I've expanded it with my students to calling it the "magic mouthpiece exercise" and "the mouthpiece exercise that will change your life," because it teaches us not to bite. If you're always playing a "B" or a "C" on the alto mouthpiece, you're biting. You've got to figure out how to play some lower notes and "A" is not the magic note; it's being able to get out a whole bunch of notes and actually having a lower center of pitch than "A" on the mouthpiece. But again, we're looking back twenty years, and I'm trying to remember what Joe taught rather than what I teach.
Another thing that Joe taught was the overtones. There was a specific overtone exercise that Joe taught. This I can tell you did not change; this is the way Joe taught it to me and I saw Joe teach it to other people exactly the same way. This was an exercise that Joe taught us between pianissimo and mezzopiano, just to voice notes. The exercise would be thus: [Radnofsky demonstrates on the saxophone as he explains the exercise] Finger Bb an octave above low Bb; finger it, play it; it lasts for almost no time. You sing it - good for ear training. Then finger the low Bb, but get the higher note out. So, he's teaching us voicing. But then he'd say, "Do it all the way up; go up a fifth, don't leave any out." So we'd get to F, and he'd say, "Now do it on the next set of overtones." So we'd do F off of low Bb and so forth and so on until you get to Bb. A's a tough one as you know. He'd say, "If you don't get the A it's O.K., go to the Bb." Or, "Try fingering it just to get it. Remember the feeling of the note and then try to get it out." So we'd do that and then he'd get us up to Bb. not leaving out any notes.
He'd also say "it has to be in tune." That taught us not to bite but to find the note. He taught us how to play the saxophone in tune by voicing the notes. So by the time you could do the third set of overtones then you could do any fingering for going up a fifth. If you could do the third set of overtones another fifth up to high F; by the time you got there he was teaching you to voice high notes without it hurting. Then he could show you a fingering for a high note; you know, any fingering works once you get high enough He was fond of just picking a high note - I think he'd probably just put his teeth on the reed or something - and saying, "Now I can just play that note with any fingering." Then he'd finger practically all the notes.
I suppose because he wasn't a performer at that point. he also gave us all the strength to be different. All of us play different and certainly you know that Dave Liebman, Harvey Pittel, Dave Tofani, Ken Radnofsky and Paul Winter all play different. I think that's partly what made him a great teacher. If you look at some of the guys who studied with Marcel Mule, they sound as different as night and day: Daniel Deffayet, Iwan Roth, Jean-Marie Londeix, Eugene Rousseau. Fred Hemke, and Paul Brodie. I think that's what great teachers do - they don't stamp out copies, they cause us to grow into the best we can become. He stimulated our imaginations, he kept us all being idea people. I really think that was part of his legacy; he kept us all thinking, rather than doing it the way he wanted it.
DM: He never stressed "do it this way," but "try this; see how this works for you?"
KR: Well, you know, there were things that were the same - the overtone exercise and this long-tone exercise; I think most of his students would have learned that. But it still allows us to choose the tone we want. I can also remember him, with embouchure, taking a reed and covering the reed; he could cover it anywhere from a quarter of an inch to three quarters of an inch just by what he did with his lip and saying, "Those are the different colors you can get on the instrument based on how you cover and uncover the reed inside your mouth. You have control over color." He wouldn't tell us how to do it.
I've expanded that into "there are 81 ways to play a note," by the different things we do with our embouchure, lip thickness, jaw pressure, volume of air, articulation. It's not what Joe taught me, but it is what Joe taught me. It's the idea that we can sound however we want to sound as long as we use good musical judgment.
DM: Did he use the terms "cover" and "uncover"? Those are terms that I'm familiar with from my teachers.
KR: Yes, as I remember. I know Harvey certainly uses "cover" and "uncover," but I believe that Joe did also. He also taught us not to unhinge our jaw. I have a fair number of students that do the "Marian Brando" when they play the saxophone, and I say to them [imitating the voice of Brando], "You know when you do this it bothers me very much." Joe taught us how to chew. He'd say, "That's how you play - if you can chew food you can play the saxophone." So he taught us to do that; how to keep our lip over the teeth and still use the chewing muscles. He'd say to us, "Every note requires a minimal amount of jaw pressure," but we had to figure out how much. You didn't want to use more than was necessary. Joe didn't want it to hurt when you played.
Joe also taught us breathing - that was a big thing. It was a yoga-type breath that he taught us. He taught us how to expand our ribcage and really breathe normally, but in a super-normal way. The difference was that we took more air in faster, and we Let it out slower. Back in the days when I took lessons from Joe there was no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but when Joe expanded his chest. he looked like Charles Atlas - that would be our version of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Joe was a skinny little guy, but could expand his chest at least twice its size, it appeared. So he was allowing room for the lungs to expand and he would say "air flows in partly due to the expansion of the ribcage and the lowering of the diaphragm" and then he'd say in parentheses "abdominal wall raises." Then he'd draw us a little picture of the lungs and the ribcage, and then he'd draw the gallbladder and all this stuff to show us the reason why when the diaphragm lowers that the abdominal wall needs to raise so that all those organs don't get crushed.
He learned from everyone; he had students that were physicists, he had students that were doctors; they'd give him little bits of information. I had students at Brown University who were studying to be doctors and I remember checking Joe's description of breathing with one of them and they said, "Yes, that's right." As I said, what I learned from Joe was to keep learning and that we could learn from our students as well as give. He learned from everybody. He absorbed life; he took it all in, ran it around inside him and it came out real special.
DM: Was there a difference in his approach with his jazz and classical students?
KR: No, he had great ears. If he didn't know the tunes they wanted to work on, whether classical or jazz, he'd say, "Bring in the tune." He could scat sing. Jazz players are used to doing that anyway. But he'd help them get the sound that they wanted. He'd help them transcribe the tunes if that's what they were trying to do, because he had such good ears. He knew music; he just understood it.
DM: Joe studied here at the New England Conservatory, right?
KR: I'm not even sure he completed a semester here. I know he studied with Chet Hazlett and Gaston Hamelin who was the fine clarinet player in the Boston Symphony. Chet Hazlett was a neighbor of his in New York who used to play in the Whiteman band. I can't remember if Joe went to college after that one semester at New England Conservatory. He certainly didn't graduate from here. His career was really spent in New York. I know when he was still in his twenties he set up a studio in New York. I think it might have been a Carnegie Hall studio. It was a special location, where the best teachers taught. He kept the studio for a long time, forty or fifty years. You know, he was teaching sixty hours a week for forty years.
DM: What would you consider to be Joe's greatest contribution to the world of saxophone playing and/or teaching? How is all this important?
KR: I think I've already answered it. His greatest contribution is that instead of leaving a legacy of disciples, he left a legacy of teachers that were eager to teach. and still wanted to continue to learn. And he left a legacy of great players who were inspired to teach, players who probably never planned on teaching, who have, concurrent with their careers as performers become teachers. I think that's a great legacy for a teacher - send out all these individuals that don't necessarily teach "the method," but teach. "The method," if there is a method, is one of continual growth, so it never ends. That's what a method is if it really works.
This doesn't fall under his greatest legacy, but right before I started teaching, the one helpful hint that he gave me was "don't try to teach them everything you know in the first lesson." And he might have said, "Don't try to teach everything you know - period." I think we can be involved with our students, but also sit back and give them time. When my students haven't seen me for two or three weeks, they always sound better. We joke about that. "Why do you always sound better?" I think it's because you give them time to let them learn stuff. They can't just reproduce it in their lesson; you give it time to gestate and it turns into something. Joe really taught me that with his patience.
DM: Do you feel like you are passing on to your students what Joe taught you?
KR: I'm doing my best. I think the older you get the more patient you become. I don't think I was patient at the beginning. Joe probably wasn't patient when he was twenty-five years old. We're always looking for the right combination of patience, acceptance, drive and intensity. The most important thing is that the students know that you accept them. If they don't like you, or they don't think you accept them, they're not going to listen. Joe was good at that, and I think about that all the time; how to communicate better. I think the information that I send out now is better than seven or ten years ago. I told one of my students that studied with me ten years ago that they should get a rebate, because I'm better now.
That's also something Joe gave to us; the idea that we want to peak when we're about seventy-five; we want to keep getting better. I'm really glad that I studied with him when he was sixty - I feel like I had the benefit of forty years of his knowledge. The people that studied with him the last few years when he had Alzheimer's disease were not studying with Joe Allard, and I think that part needs to be clear. If you studied with him between 1983, 1984, 1985 - that was not Joe Allard; at least it wasn't the Joe Allard I knew.
I studied with him two years, and then I took a few lessons with him the next few years and then I interviewed him to try to start on a book around 1982. I taught next to him for ten years. He was teaching in this studio and I was teaching next door. We also had lunch together every week; lunch was a lesson. Since he spoke for forty-five minutes in your lesson anyway, if you sit with him for lunch it's like having two lessons! More stories, but the stories always had a purpose. The stories were about playing the saxophone, but he didn't tell us they were about playing the saxophone until the end. He always had a humble way of telling us these stories. The stories would involve great people in music history, like playing for Toscanini, but he'd tell us about a time when he messed up, so that we could identify with him We already knew how Joe was different, because Joe could do things that we couldn't do. It made us feel lice we were the same when he told us about his mistakes. We all learned from his mistakes, we all learned from our own mistakes and we weren't afraid to make mistakes. You just need experience. He gave us a perspective that no twenty-year-old has. He gave us a lot - perspective and acceptance - you can't ask for much more.