The Albert System

I am often asked why I play the Albert system clarinet.
“I don’t know, but George Lewis played it”

It was the truth when I started playing New Orleans Jazz. There is more to it, though – difficult to explain, but Oscar Font has collected these nice quotes from the old masters. If You read them, You might never touch a Boehm system clarinet again…

Edmond Hall: ” …The tone of an Albert is different for a band. Playin’ with a combination (a six piece dixieland band), I don’t think a Boehm clarinet fits as there. The tone is beautiful and rich and everything, but it hasn’t got the Albert big tone, especially when you get in the low register. You get a bigger tone out of the Albert than you do a Boehm.” “…I got this six-ring Albert in Boston, have you ever heard of a six-ring Albert? A guy just came up to me and asked 50 dollars for it. I wasn’t interested. Later he said: Give me 25 dollars, I said: Now you’re talking. It’s agood instrument. I’ve used it ever since”

Omer Simeon: “…Almost everyone was using Albert system at that time, all through the early twenties. The tone holes are a little farther apart than the Boehm. It’s a little farther strech. The bore seems a little larger too. You can hold an Albert system at the end of the bell and look through it from the bell to barrel and notice the difference in the bore of the instrument. I guess that’s what makes the tone a little broader. The Boehm has keys that simplify the intrincate passages but speaking for myself, the Albert, well I can handle it better.”

” …I’m using, now, a Selmer. Improved Selmer. Jimmie Noone used that too. Noone, Barney Bigard and Albert Nicholas. I think, Albert, he changed to a Boehm but Barney still uses an Albert.”

Barney Bigard: ” …I always played an Albert system clarinet, and when the Boehm systems came out I just stayed with that Albert. Even today I prefer it. The Albert seems like it has a better tone to me.”

George Lewis: “…I like a wood clarinet best, but once I used a rubber one, hard rubber. And i got the same thing out of the rubber clarinet as I did the wood. Now, about metal clarinets, a lot of fellows say the tone is different from wooden ones, but I didn’t find any difference in tone. I did Burgundy Street Blues, the original Burgundy Street Blues we made for Bill Russell, with a metal clarinet. It is at the Jazz Museum on Bourbon Street now, it was a HARRY PEDLER make. The only way the tone is different is if the clarinet is a cheap one, wood or metal. Of course, a metal clarinet won’t crack like wood ones…”

“…When I started in New Orleans, all clarinetists played Albert systems. All of them. I never saw a Boehm. Sometimes I played a Boehm when I was younger, but I never did like it. I play an Albert system clarinet, a French SELMER. I didn’t like the tone of the Boehm system, it was too keen. If you listen to the radio and you hear a clarinet you can tell it’s a Boehm system because the tone is so light, you know. It doesn’t have the body. It’s not as deep as the Albert, but the Boehm system is faster. They’re much heavier in weight, of course, Boehms, they have more keys, more mechanical, and it helps you make so many things where with the Albert system you’ve got to do it with your tonge or with your fork finguering…”

– Read the entire interview here !!

Raymond Burke: ” …As for my clarinet, I don’t like the Boehm system. I think the Albert has a much better tone. I never did play the Boehm system. I don’t know why they make them. Why have all those keys on there, and halfe a dozen ways of making a note? I think the less keys and holes you have on a clarinet the better. The 13-hole clarinet is plenty. Sometimes I take the key off a clarinet and stop up the hole”

Albert Nicholas: ” …I changed over in Egypt. My Albert needed overhauling and I had to send it to France. A clarinet player in the Symphony lent me his Boehm and taught me the fingering. I practised on that Boehm, and when the Albert came back I’d forgotten the fingering for it…” “…Omer Simeon and Barney and Edmond Hall are still on their Alberts, but I prefer the sound of that Boehm. It’s a true clarinet. That experience helped me a lot when I got back to the States…”

Joe Darensbourg: ” …My dad paid ten dollars for an old Albert system clarinet that he bought from my teacher. That was my first clarinet: Then, after that, seeing that I was going to learn, he bought me a new one, a C.G.CONN, for 25 dollars. That was an Albert system too. In fact I didn’t change to Boehm until 1950, when I was playing with kid Ory, because I thought I wanted to teach. A guy had offered me a good deal to go with him in his music school. Hell I should have better. That’s why I had a spare BUFFET Albert system clarinet.”

Woody Allen: ” …It ocurred to me that all the guys I like played the Albert, and that maybe if I played it, two things would happen: one is that the sound would be slightly close to the sound I’d want to get, and two, that my clichés would fall more in the New Orleans idiom, because the fingering system must influence the phrases or something…”

Here are some interesting links about the Albert system clarinets:

ALBERT SYSTEM – The Jazz Clarinet by Oscar Font

George Lewis’ metal Clarinet by Eberhard Kraut

– What is the difference between Albert, Oehler and Boehm?

– check out the clarinets I use here