Smith is more fortunate than most
of the artists I meet in his sizeable
catalogue of recordings. A bassoonist,
Smith aspires to be the musician who will
bring to his instrument the sort of popular
appeal that Rampal and Galway brought
to the flute and Stolzman to the clarinet.
Playing the bassoon is useful in finding
orchestral employment, launching a solo
career on the bassoon is another matter.
A major manager confided to me that he
was unwilling to sign a prominent oboist
because "the concert-going public isn't
ready to foot the bill." Yet the oboe
is well understood as a solo instrument
compared with the bassoon. Daniel Smith,
with talent, luck, and persistence, has
built an impressive discography, and hopes
to change all this.
child prodigy, Smith took up the bassoon
at the relatively late age of 24, after
beginning music studies in his late teens.
"I started everything late in life. I
was 16 years old and knew nothing whatsoever
about music. It was New Year's Eve, and
I was watching Benny Goodman and his trio
on television-I was fascinated. I then
went with my cousin, who was taking drum
lessons at a local music studio, and asked
if I could take lessons on the same instrument
I saw-this beautiful 'trumpet' that Benny
Goodman played. I went on and on about
trumpet lessons till the teacher asked
me to describe the instrument. The long,
black instrument with the beautiful sound
turned out, of course, to be the clarinet.
That is how I got started in music-I was
already a senior in High School. A year
or two later I entered college (Manhattan
School of Music) as a clarinet major,
having by then also studied the saxophone,
and then midway started to study the flute
and finally switched to and eventually
graduated with a degree on that instrument.
I then served time in the army and became
the solo piccolo player with the West
Point Band. Before finishing my three-year
hitch, I realized that I had better find
an instrument which I could make a living
from-I already had one child, and double
reeds were in demand. That was the reason
I learned the bassoon: purely for survival.
With bassoon, flute, piccolo, clarinet,
and all the saxophones, I could get studio
work, show band work, or whatever came
first civilian engagement was with the
Shakespeare Festival Orchestra at Stratford,
Connecticut. As he scrambled to make ends
meet, Smith kept studying, taught, performed,
and ultimately fell in love with his instrument.
Over a period of time, Smith studied the
bassoon with several major teachers including
Bernard Garfield, Sherman Walt, William
Polisi, Harold Golzer,and Steve Maxym,
and also Bert Bial and Richard Plaster
stints as a substitute bassoonist and
contrabassoonist with the N.Y. Philharmonic
and Metropolitan Opera Orchestras, seasons
with the New Jersey Symphony, and a growing
list of recital dates, Smith found his
direction for the future in recordings.
Smith's first recording-18th Century Bassoon
Concerti, Vol. 1-was made for Daniel Nimitz's
Spectrum label. After Volume Two was issued,
and a third disc appeared on the Crystal
label, Smith took a 'quantum' leap and
recorded with the English Chamber Orchestra
Smith tells it: "I had friends in London
who lived around the corner from violinist
Jose Luis Garcia, leader of the English
Chamber Orchestra. We were just sitting
around chatting when one of them asked
me if I would ever be interested in recording
with the ECO. I replied that it would
be like a dream come true. She said, 'why
don't you pick up the phone and call Jose
Luis, he's just around the corner?' Fortunately
he was home and his first question was
'do you have any recordings?' Even more
fortunately he liked them when he heard
them. So we then began a recording relationship
which now includes several volumes of
Vivaldi and a disc of Vivaldi, Graupner
and J.C. Bach concerti."
cordial relationship with the English
Chamber Orchestra didn't help him when
he was invited to audition for the principal
bassoon position of the London Symphony
Orchestra. "It came down to a matter of
playing styles. They liked my playing,
but the manager confided to me that their
bassoonists did not use any or much vibrato.
I have now modified my sound over the
years and use vibrato with more restraint,
but none? I've tried playing without it,
but then the sound lacks warmth and feeling.
I always strive for personal involvement
in my playing, and the tone I now produce-it's
character and timbre-go a long way to
carry my message."
has also sought to carry his message through
his many recordings. "Recordings are a
critical measure of an artist's success,
and the principal way to reach a wide
public. They are also essential in being
signed up by management."
I suggested that the English Chamber Orchestra
heard last season at Carnegie Hall, admittedly
at the end of a long tour, didn't have
the polish of the record ensemble, he
replied that the orchestra was "awesome"
to work with in a recording situation.
matter how well prepared you are, it's
unnerving to realize that they are sight-reading
the music for the first time and playing
it almost flawlessly."
also demands perfection for his recordings.
"I recently played a series of recitals
on a major cruise ship - some of my best
playing technically and interpretively
- yet those performances could never serve
as recordings. There were minor imperfections,
though not necessarily mistakes: for example,
a blur as I move from one note to another
because the airstream had a slight gap
in it. In a recording situation, all such
imperfections must be edited out and sometimes
a number of takes are required to fix
mentioned a recent recording of an oboe
concerto that stymied some audiophile
friends who didn't realize that the clicking
noises they couldn't identify were the
instrument's key-clicks. For me, they
were part of the reality and illusion
of recorded performance (like the occasional
dropped note), and in no way detracted
from my enjoyment. Smith has his instrument
serviced prior to each recording session
so that "when you run up and down the
keys, it's as quiet as a flute". Smith
also prefers engineers who know where
to place microphones to capture the essence
of the bassoon sound". After recording
sessions, he spends weeks listening to
the unedited and then semi-edited takes,
usually finding small flaws and then dashing
off a letter or phone call to producers
in London to fix such matters before issuing
the recording. "The producer's role during
the session is essential. You are so focused
on what you are doing that you may not
be aware of an imperfection on your part
or in the orchestra. The producer must
be the ideal listener who hears everything
going on. Once the sessions are finished,
then it is my responsibility to go over
the unedited takes many times and catching
anything he might have missed."
goal is to transfer the perfection of
the recordings to his live performances.
"I've come very close to the point where
I can now play concerts with virtually
no problems. I also need to take musical
risks in order to explore the music fully.
From my experiences as a recording and
performing artist, I feel that I can take
such risks and my technique will see me
through. At some point several years ago,
I decided that I had plenty of instruction
from top teachers and had already begun
a respectable career. Now I play the bassoon
and don't think about any so-called 'schools'
or 'styles' of bassoon playing. I try
to make the music come alive and say what
it means to me."
belief in his instrument has led him to
record a wide repertory-from the project
of recording all 37 Vivaldi bassoon concerti
(many are first recordings) to even less
frequently heard works by Danzi and Reicha,
and a stunning Suite for Bassoon and String
Quartet by Gordon Jacob, plus a 'crossover'
recording with the Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra for Kemdisc- "Bassoon Bon-Bons".
Is there a limit to quality repertoire
for the bassoon? Smith says that there
are "shelves full of music to record",
and he is tireless in sharing his vision
for his instrument and it's music. There's
a built-in bias in the music business
that if something hasn't been done, then
it won't work. It's like the four minute
mile and the first man on the moon. My
favorite example is that when manager
Michael Emmerson wanted to launch James
Galway's solo career, people in the industry
told him it couldn't be done, there was
already Jean-Pierre Rampal and no chance
for another major soloist on the flute!"
bassoon too can come into it's own. After
all, it is the last woodwind, and perhaps
the last of all the instruments, to have
it's champion and promoter. Plenty of
modern composers have written enjoyable
and challenging works for bassoon. I also
did a fiendishly difficult contrabassoon
concerto by Gunther Schuller a few seasons
ago and Berhard Crusell, the Finnish composer,
has done a wonderful Concertino for Bassoon
the audience with his instrument leads
Smith to program recitals with music ranging
from sonatas to crossover and humorous
pieces, ragtime, and bravura encores.
"I always speak to the audience, they
enjoy this contact with the performer
as much as the recital itself. There are
many great musicians sitting in orchestras
who lack the personality to be solo performers
in this fashion. A soloist puts all of
his training aside and tries to present
to the audience convincing interpretations
of all the music, from the 'classical'
pieces as well as the lighter selections.
You have to put yourself on the line when
public, for Smith, is the true test of
whether what you are doing is successful.
"I have an old friend, a school teacher
in Brooklyn, who has always wanted to
be a writer. He told me that if he wrote
a book and only one person in the world
read it and liked it, he would be satisfied.
I disagree. You have to put yourself to
the test. You have to let other people
experience your artistry to truly know
if it is first rate. If not, you are deluding
yourself. And if you are really good at
what you do, will everyone appreciate
it? Emphatically no! But if you experience
all of this and keep the passion alive,
you ultimately become a true artist and
performer." Smith has set himself a daunting