Dennis Smylie
Telephone interview by Debra Jean McKim
3 February 1999
New York City, New York

From: McKim, Debra Jean. Joseph Allard: His Contributions to Saxophone Pedagogy and Performance.
Published Doctor of Arts Dissertation, University of Colorado, 2000.

Used with permission of both Debra Jean McKim and Dennis Smylie
Copyright 2000, Debra Jean McKim

McKim: Tell me about your background with Joe - when and where you studied.

Smylie: In the fall of 1970 I began going to Julliard. I studied with Joe through the spring of '76. while I worked with Joe I was enrolled at the school and received a chalero's degree and master's degree in music. My emphasis was on the bass clarinet. At that time, they actually had a major available on it. I was one of those peculiar people majoring on the bass clarinet. They don't have that anymore, along with the saxophone major. By the way, usually four people at a time would study saxophone with Joe. The particular year I started there, he had only three. They wished to have a quartet, and since I had a backgorund playing baritone, Joe asked if I would play in the quartet. I used the school's instrument. So I spent one year of my six years there working with Joe as a coach as well as a private teacher.

There's so much to say about Joe. Not conventional; if convention is a yardstick, it wouldn't apply to him. Extremely generous, both with his time and in other ways. Here's an example of another way: I had no A clarinet when I got to Juilliard. He was at that point unofficially retired from professional activity, though he did play in lessons. He gave me one of his A clarinets and said "use this for a while and see what you think of it." I used it for a year. I asked in the spring about it and he said, "What's it worth to you?" Typical kind of Joe inquiry, turning the tables on you. I didn't have much to spare financially and I explained that, though we well knew that. He said, "Give me a hundred dollars for it, pay me when you can." He gave me what was, and still is, a very fine instrument of an early vintage. I still use that A. Of the Bb and that A that I have, I prefer the A.

There are so many interesting things. In lessons, it wasn't like you got an assignment to do. He taught concepts. He was a big champion of awareness and implementation of the overtone series. He applied that very much in my work with him. He convinced me that it worked, and I use it today, both as a player and as a teacher.

DM: How did he approach overtones on the clarinet?

DS: He approached them more with me on the bass clarinet rather than the clarinet. As a major on the bass clarinet, a lot of my time with Joe was spent on that instrument, and yet he was a big advocate of becoming a clarinetist in parity with the bass clarinet. He didn't talk as much in the clarinet work we did about the overtone series, but he did explain it to me. I retrospect, it seems they more obviously apply to the bass clarinet. It doesn't apply in the same way due to acoustics - the wider bore and the longer tube.

On bass clarinet, Joe felt it was very important to be able to paly the so-called "open D" without a register key, and to somewhay play the regular clarion register without the register key. I heard Joe play a lot in my lessons even though he wasn't playing much professionally at that point. I was quite impressed with what he could do.

He gave a lot in his lessons. For one or two of my six years there, I had a lesson at 8:00am. He was as alert as anyone might be at that time. I don't mean that sarcastically - he was quite there and present. He taught all day, one day a week a Juilliard, Wednesdays, I believe. If there were a concert or recital that happened to be on a Wednesday night, he'd stay later to hear it. He always brough stuff in to me - mouthpieces to try and so forth.

Sorry, I got off the subject; back to overtones. On bass clarinet, take the so-called 'open D' altissimo note - first partial of throat G, no register key. Play that and allow it, as he would say, to fall down to the G, legato. And then similarly on the notes near it - the twelfth higher of G#, A, Bb, and open fingering for B, to get F# altissimo. Also, take the first partials of the open throat tones and play between that and the covered fingering in the altissimo. The covered fingering is usually the one that is half-hole on bass clarinet. Go between the fingering and the covered fingering.

He was an advocate of getting us used to playing in the second register without the register key, at least in exercises. It was to get a voicing concept. I have to admit I didn't always grasp a lot of stuff he said. I wrote some of it down, I have a little notebook to this day. Later, retroactively, I grasped it.

He was a master of a diagnostic approach to playing. An interesting aside would be the woodwind juries, which ocurred once a year in front of the woodwind faculty. There were some people on those juries who were, shall we say, very competitive with each other as teachers. They were competitive by way of their students and would grade low on other teacher's students. To the the point where it was absurd - four A's, to B's, and a D for instance. And then the dean would have to reviewthis and straighten it out. But Joe, the diplomat that he was, got along with these people when they didn't get along with eacher other.

I'll jump in time to just a few years ago. I was hired to play with Paul Winter in a recording called "Prayer for the Wild thing." He wanted to use the contra-bass clarinet and I went up to Connecticut to work with him. We had a great talk. He studied with Joe. Paul shared with me that before he got his big breaks and worldwide reputation, he was a "bebop alto player." Those were his words. He wanted to get some things together, so he went to Joe for help. I shared about the times I'd spent with Joe; we didn't get real specific in the conversation, but we obviously both shared a reverence and a fondness for joe.

DM: How much of what Joe taught you do you use in your own teaching and playing?

DS:Some of what Joe taught me has been reinforced by other people. And there ware things that other people have exposed me to that are in addition to the benefits I received from working with Joe. But I use a lot; there will be a studnet here later for a lesson on the bass clarinet. We'll talk about voicing, tongue position, the throat, heaing a pitch before you play it - that's how I will approach this student. It will be implementing what I learned from Joe.

Let me look through this little book that dates from when I studied with Joe and see if anything else stands out. Some of this is not in fuly grammatical English. "On work with Joe." Question "Should clarinet playing take first priority?" The answer is "yes". This was something that Joe harped upon because he knew the realities professionally. Clarinet playing was very important even if you had a specialty on the bass clarinet. A lot of people could get by on the bass clarinet if their main thrust was the clarinet.

This is production related, written in longhand by Joe: "T'isn't/H'isn't/rrrr," which infers a rolled "R," then "isntrn." I'm not sure I understand that. [Smylie pronounces].

Here's another lesson entry: "keep head, neck should relationship. Don't pich the glottis (like coughing)." Coughing would be pinching.

"Lower abdominals sending air out is a result of a hydraulic pull of the abdominals. Air flows in the lungs because of the enlargement of the thoracic (chest) cavity. Partly due to the raising of the ribs and the lowering of the disapgrahm. (1) Ribs raised. (2) Abdominal wall above naveld raised (3) Abdominal wall bellow navel raised. (1) and (2) remain in that raised state. Pull (3) in - hydraulic pull." Those are the notes that would have any significance to what you're doing.

DM: Did you study mich literature with Joe

DS: I would bring things in that I wanted to work on or that I thought I needed to work on. His approach to help me was simply an implementation of the concepts we were studying. He would toss out concepts that you could take and apply. He would say things like "take this and have some fun with it." That kind of thing. I worked a little bit on the Mozart clarinet Concerto; somewhat reluctantly because the clarinet was a struggle for me then. I brought in things on bass clarinet that I was interested in because I gave recitals on the instrument when I was there. These were all original choices, and Joe got into it. He gave me thoughts on things that were new to him.

I didn't have a conventional approach; I don't think anyone that studied with him did. He'd toss out ideas; "Work on this and see what you think." Euphemisms that were less than fully specfiic, but you knew it meant to try and embrace the concept. I don't think Joe went formally to any institution of higher learning, but what an amazingly educated guy - self-educated. He had an interest in such a diversity of subjects. I learned a lot from Joe.