Born: December 16, 1980 Primary Instrument: Clarinet
...A brilliant virtuoso whose complete control over the clarinet and originality as both an improviser and a composer are very impressive...—-Scott Yanow, world-famous jazz writer
Dr. Joseph D. Howell has gone from being a mostly self- taught musician from a poor small-town family to earning a Doctor of Musical Arts from a prestigious conservatory. Today he professionally performs, composes, and teaches music of many styles and instruments while maintaining an artistic focus on jazz clarinet and sax.
Joseph Howell grew up in the rural town of Porterville, California. Though he played the clarinet in the school band programs from fourth grade on, it was not until he began college that he received formal private instruction on his instruments. Music was largely forced upon Joseph until he first heard a jazz group in New Orleans Square in Disneyland in the summer before his eighth grade year. Jazz was something he had not heard much before and the sounds instantly attracted him. It was not long until he began to consider learning to play this new kind of music. During this time, he added the tenor saxophone to his arsenal of instruments in order to become a member of the school big bands. The intense enjoyment of jazz gave Joseph the dedication to music that soon made him thrive in the school bands and jazz bands. His obsessive practicing got him into County and State Honor Bands and Wind Ensembles, as well as Honor Jazz Bands. At every performance during high school, Joseph was featured as a soloist in both the classical and jazz genres. At home, he listened to a large variety of jazz music in particular, including John Coltrane, Sidney Bechet, Eric Dolphy, Buddy DeFranco, Eddie Daniels, Gene Ammons, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, Ellington’s small groups, Johnny Griffin, Don Byron, Tony Scott, and others. Outside of school, Joseph gained performance experience gigging locally and sitting in with the youth-friendly Dixieland clubs in the Tulare and Fresno counties. He received occasional advice from local band directors and accessible “early jazz” practitioners such as: George Probert, Abe Most, Evan Christopher, Frank “Buck” Shaffer, and Dale Anderson.
Largely due to many scholarships awarded to him, Joseph was able to begin his formal musical training at CSU Northridge. At CSUN, his unusual combinations of strengths and weaknesses from being mostly self-taught were ironed out as he began his first private lessons and classes in classical and jazz music. In particular, Julia Heinen, Matt Harris, Gary Pratt, and Rob Lockart were a huge help to Joseph’s progress. After graduating from CSUN with his BM degree, Joseph met Rick Helzer at a jazz camp in Fresno. Helzer’s non-conservative approach to music really appealed to Joseph and this resulted in his attending San Diego State University toward his MM degree. During this time, Joseph officially added the flute to his instruments and continued to study classical music alongside jazz.
During the latter part of Joseph’s MM studies, he auditioned for the DMA program at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was one of a handful of applicants, out of hundreds, to pass the six-hour entrance exams, in classical music history and theory, and the performance audition. After recording with Rick Helzer in Summer 2005, Joseph moved to Boston to pursue the DMA. At NEC, Joseph continued studying jazz alongside classical music. He took seminars on everything from Beethoven, to Schoenberg and Ives, to Jazz Vocal Traditions, audited classes on intervallic improvisation and microtonal music, and studied privately with jazz teachers, a classical clarinet professor, and a jazz drumset teacher. He wrote papers, studied spectragraphs, and transcribed music from many different recordings. Joseph’s main musical/pedagogical influences from these years would be his many talented classmates at NEC and teachers Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, Allan Chase, Matthias Truniger, and John Heiss.
After NEC, Joseph recorded his debut CD, “JAZZ CLARINET NOW!” with some NEC classmates and temporarily moved back to San Diego. During these years, he worked full-time as a band director at eight private schools, refocused his musical goals on those organic to his non-student self, and began appreciating things outside of music. His contemporary classical composition for viola and clarinet was premiered at Karen Hopkins’ MM recital at SDSU. A special highlight of this San Diego period was his performance, with friend and fellow improvising clarinetist Brian Walsh, at ClarinetFest 2011, hosted by the International Clarinet Association. In addition to the many incredible classical clarinetists Howell heard at the festival (Kari Kriikku and Robert Spring in particular), seeing AKC Natarajan perform live encouraged Howell’s curiosities about world music clarinet traditions.
Musicians and writers unanimously use the words “virtuosic” and/or “virtuoso” when describing Howell’s clarinet and saxophone performances. As a performer, composer, and concert programmer, he aims to create concerts that are unforgettable in intensity, depth, and range. Finding the maximum amount of colors and varieties within limitations would be the consistent strategic goal found in his approach to the clarinet, to the larger jazz genre, to improvisation, to composition, and to programming. His early beginning as a self-taught musician, mixed with his various school-years influences (from both teachers and peers alike), has resulted in an interesting mix of influences and colors…even if they are mostly within the confines of the jazz idiom or of the clarinet’s various traditions. He has performed with Don Byron, Uri Caine, Rick Helzer, Marilyn Crispell, Alex Brown, Cory Pesaturo, Abe Most, Jason Palmer, Chuck Hedges, Vivek Patel, George Probert’s Monrovia Old Style Jazz Band, Brian Walsh, Vinny Golia, the Beantown Swing Orchestra, Donvonte McCoy, Alex Norris, Craig Alston, Grant Langford, Tedd Baker, Marty Nau, Todd Marcus, Glenn Moomau’s Juke Drivers, and many others. He has performed in many venues in California, Canada, Maryland, Massachussets, Mexico, Washington DC, and Montana. As a classical clarinet soloist, he has performed his own original works, in addition to works by Piazzolla, Ben Hackbarth, Pozzi Escot, Jake Svendsen, Matthew McConnell, Albert Oppenheimer, Anthony Converse, Brahms, Cavallinni, Donald Martino, William O. Smith, Stravinsky, Weber, and many others.
Joseph Howell has taught private music lessons for over fifteen years! He has taught clarinet, flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, snare drum, piano, recorder (flute), jazz improvisation, musical composition, jazz trumpet, jazz violin/viola, jazz accordion, jazz clarinet, jazz saxophone, jazz piano, jazz vocals, and jazz drumset to students of various ages and levels. He has taught classes of various sizes, ages, levels, and demographics: from elementary school band to college level music theory, jazz improvisation, and ensembles. As a teacher, Howell tries to cater lesson plans to the goals and learning styles of his students and believes that it is very important to practice and learn with the students, showing them how to practice on their own.
Since relocating to the MD/DC areas, Joseph has already found success as a performing artist and teacher. Many of the area’s top musicians have hired him or invited him onstage in jazz and blues situations. His recent performance showcase at the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, featuring four hours of almost exclusively Howell’s own compositions, was well attended and received. Joseph plans to book more performances of this nature in the Baltimore, Washington DC, and New York areas. He also has plans to publish improvisation and clarinet literature and to continue building his career as a music educator.
Awards:• 3 years of merit-based jazz scholarships toward partial tuition at the New England Conservatory of Music (Fall 2005- Spring 2008). • Full tuition scholarship from San Diego State University Music Department, towards my studies for a Master’s of Music degree in jazz performance (Fall 2003-Spring 2005) • 4 years of jazz scholarships and awards from California State University Northridge Music Department (Fall 1999- Spring 2003), including the Ted Gould Memorial Scholarship (2000-2001). • Full tuition scholarship to attend CSU Summer Arts at California State University Fresno. Summer 2003. • Received certificates from International Association of Jazz Educators, for clarinet/tenor sax solos at IAJE conferences in Long Beach (Jan 9-12, 2002), University of Northern Colorado (April 25-27, 2002), and Tulare (1996). Received “Top Soloist of the Day” award in Tulare (March 1999). • Chosen for a scholarship from the Fresno Big Band Dance Society in Summer 2003. • Won 2nd place in the national Lincoln C. Selleck “Bix Lives” Jazz Award. Subsequently featured in Down Beat magazine (June 1999 issue) and received Monache High School’s “Outstanding Acheivement in State Level Competition” Award. • Received 2nd place “Berklee in L.A.” Award for outstanding musicianship, in 1999. • Received Stanford Jazz Workshop “Award for Outstanding Soloist, and Outstanding Achievement.” 1998. • Received the following scholarships to attend various jazz camps during high school years…Fresno Dixieland Society (1996, 1997), Helena Traditional Jazz Society (1996, 1997), See’s Candies (1998), Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society (1998), Fresno Big Band Dance Society (1998). • Received 1999 E. R. Berryhill Award from Monache High School. • Received Sierra Traditional Jazz Society’s $500 College Scholarship. 1999. • Offered a partial tuition scholarship to attend Berklee School of Music. 1998. • Received Melissa Rauber Memorial Scholarship. 1999. • Received Porterville Elks Lodge Scholarship. 1999. • Received Cal and Eleanor Nelson Jazz Scholarship. 1999.
Review of JAZZ CLARINET NOW (CD) “…This CD includes 10 tracks of amazingly varied styled tunes, all composed by the clarinetist. He is assisted by very talented sidemen: Alex Brown, piano; Tal Gamlieli, bass; and Matt Rousseau, drums. …He possesses an impressively smooth and big technique, and produces somewhat multi-colored timbres which enhance the palettes of the varying styles represented in his compositions. His tenor sax and flute sounds, as heard on a single track each, are warm and effective. Improvisational skills are impressively free flowing and interesting. …The mix and juxtaposition of compositional styles on this disc is an appealing aspect of programming not often found in jazz recordings. Notable examples of style-swings go from serial jazz, ‘Siwwy Babbitt,’ to the appealing Ellington- like ballad ‘The Phone Call,’ to ‘The Pot Melts,’ which Howell describes as ‘…like an avant-garde classical piece meets hip hop meets the jazz clarinet.’ Another unique and interesting tune is ‘Without Reason,’ which employs some wild pointillism, multiphonics, free rhythm, and some inexplicable sounds emitted from Howell’s instrument. In a more traditional vein is the particularly attractive Tony Scott-inspired ‘Blues for a Sicilian Friend,’ the flute ballad ‘Looking Back,’ and the liquid playing of the straight ahead modern jazz of ‘A Line of Mine.’ …For strict jazz purists some of the music contained here is not jazz, but then again perhaps it is Jazz Clarinet Now. Quoting program-note writer Scott Yanow: ‘Every selection on Jazz Clarinet Now is quite a bit different than the previous one, and humor is rarely lacking. This is the most impressive debut by a jazz clarinetist in decades. One waits with anticipation to see what Joseph Howell comes up with next.’ ”—William Nichols, “Audio Notes,” The Clarinet, Volume 39, Number 2, March 2012, pg 13
Kudos - in The Clarinet (vol 39, no 1) Special kudos go to clarinetists Joseph Howell and Brian Walsh for their refreshing and esthetically exciting performance that combined the heavily avant-garde with jazz. - Timothy and Katrina Phillips (ClarinetFest 2011: A Review, in The Clarinet, Vol 39, no 1, pg 38) The Clarinet (December 2011)
Review of a Live Performance (with local San Diego musicians) ...Howell's got loads of credentials, including three degrees in music from CSU Northridge, San Diego State and the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music...Most of the music Howell selected would have fit comfortably on a Blue Note release from the mid-sixties, sort of straddling the divide between the absolute mainstream and more adventurous stuff...Howell chose a program of all original material, and while it would have been nice to throw in a few standards or modern classics from the books of Parker, 'Trane or Mingus, the originals served the clarinetist well as improvisational vehicles for his astonishing technical abilities...Whatever style he is playing, Howell has a seemingly endless fountain of ideas flowing out of his horn. The highlight moments, for me, were when he chose to incorporate extended-techniques like multiphonics into his soloing...Violist Karen Hopkins sat in on several pieces, and the blend of her dark strings with the clarinet was sublime...If you think that the clarinet is somehow square, (it's not the most popular jazz instrument), check out Joseph Howell—he's got the goods. - Robert Bush (Blogs – Jam Session, San Diego Reader)
CD Review …Howell's playing would be at home in almost any contemporary straight-ahead setting, and perhaps some more adventurous gigs as well. His grasp of the jazz vernacular is up-to-date and forward-thinking…Howell has a warm, full sound, and can often be found in the clarinet's fatter lower register, emphasizing the instrument's woody textures. He also picks up the tenor sax and flute on a couple of tracks. His co-conspirators are first rate, with standout piano work from Alex Brown…The album reaches an outré apex with ‘The Pot Melts.’ Opening with plodding discord, the piercing chaos gives way to a reinterpreted hip-hop beat, played acoustically. The clarinet —overdubbed to fill out the sound a little—drops an abstruse melody with some subtle electronic effects added. The piano provides a heavy sonic floor that anchors the piece with both bass weight and rhythm. It's a real attention- getter and, at a mere two minutes long, brings to mind another cliché: Always leave them wanting more. …‘Siwwy Babbitt’ is an example of everything Howell does right. A slightly funky melody over some soft block chords opens, before Howell drifts off into expanded, imaginative improvisation. Howell has studied under the great tenor Jerry Bergonzi, and he's taken those lessons to heart. That he delivers his improvisations on an instrument that almost qualifies as rare in contemporary jazz just makes it that much more satisfying… Howell's effort to show the clarinet in a contemporary jazz setting is credible, and ultimately successful. The record could just as easily have been called Jazz Now, and it would still have been spot on.” –Greg Simmons, All About Jazz
Writer's Description ...clarinet player Howell is a master of both classical and jazz sounds, inspired by the likes of Artie Shaw and Sidney Bechet. Though Howell’s music is by no means retro, it will strike a chord with anyone who has a few Blue Note albums in their collection... - Bart Mendoza (Live Music, Beach and Bay Press)
Quotations from Writers, Musicians, and Educators ...A brilliant virtuoso whose complete control over the clarinet and originality as both an improviser and a composer are very impressive...This is the most impressive debut by a jazz clarinettist in decades. One waits with anticipation to see what Joseph comes up with next!—-From the JAZZ CLARINET NOW (CD) Liner Notes, by Scott Yanow (Author of ten jazz books including The Jazz Singers, Bebop, Jazz On Record 1917-76 and Jazz On Film).
You are a fine musician and handle your instruments as good or better than anyone I've heard—-Buddy DeFranco (jazz clarinet legend).
“Joseph Howell is an astounding jazz clarinetist — a virtuoso with complete command of the instrument, a historian who knows the work of his predecessors inside and out, and a creative, original improviser who sounds like no one else. I expect that he will be one of the most important players of his generation in extending the role of the clarinet in modern jazz.”—-Allan Chase (Chair, Ear Training Department: Berklee School of Music).
“There’s no one out there playing the clarinet like you”—- George Garzone (Jazz saxophone legend).
“Hey Joe, what's up!!!...I'm in New Orleans enjoying a lot your CD ‘Jazz Clarinet Now’ (specially ‘The Pot Melts’!)” – Paquito D’Rivera (jazz clarinet legend)
“…And you sound great. Now, when you’re playing a lot of those interval things…the way that you play them, and what you’re playing, reminds me a little of what Alvin Batiste has been playing. Ya know, ‘cause he played a lot of fourthy/fifthy kinds of things and, ya know, he was one of the only clarinet players that was putting together whole solos of, of that kind of material…Pretty, pretty interesting…Sounded great. Sounded great. That was fun to listen to.” – Don Byron (jazz clarinet legend)
“You will succeed!” – Jerry Bergonzi (jazz saxophonist and jazz pedagogy god)
...I was impressed with his original approach which was really refreshing. He didn't sound like a copy of any particular jazz icon, from Benny Goodman to Eddie Daniels and/or others in between. Joseph has a really centered sound and great control. He can go into and out of the extreme altissimo, following his melodic thought process with no problems, and his long flowing lines are fascinating to follow!... - Gary Gray (Clarinet Professor, The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music)
“Joseph was especially good at presenting the intricacies of harmony in a concise, direct way. He taught me about harmony from the ground up, rather than jumping from one idea to another. Joseph has a full understanding of the variables improvisers face, so he can easily step into a student's shoes and prescribe specific exercises to address specific musical issues, much like a (medical) doctor. Dr. Howell was also the only teacher I had who would actually play through an exercise, step by step, with me. Something about playing so many of those chord tone and shape exercises in unison made them sink in more. Not only that, I experienced them more like real music, rather than boring exercises. Joseph is free with his knowledge, methodical, and patient.”—-Vivek Patel (former private jazz lessons student and fellow graduate of the NE Conservatory of Music; Vivek has recorded as a trumpeter on Paquito D’Rivera’s CD label).
“During the past six years, I have had the pleasure of knowing, working with and providing instruction for Joseph Howell. From the very beginning, I have felt that he was one of the greatest talents I have had the pleasure of working with in my fifty years of teaching school. He possesses a very high ability in the field of creative jazz. He also plays fine legitimate clarinet.” —- the late Frank “Buck” Shaffer, 1921-2006 (esteemed band director in Virginia and California from the 1940s through the 1990s). Review of a High School Performance
Mentioned by Henry Winkler in The Porterville Recorder. May 31, 1999. pp 1A and 5A. “Monache Stage Band Does it With Style.” Highlights: “…Joseph Howell, who at various times soloed on tenor sax, clarinet and bass clarinet…explored the wide range of subtle and not-so-subtle dissonances that make music interesting. One of Howell’s more imaginative and dexterous clarinet solos found Kusserow shaking his head repeatedly in awe. ‘He’s a monster,’ Kusserow said, leaning excitedly across the table. ‘Kids don’t play that way. Those notes he played – you can’t teach that. There’s a gift there you just have to admire.’ Shaffer agreed. ‘Kid’s fantastic,’ he said. ‘He’s ready for the big time now.’” The Porterville Recorder, May 31, 1999, pp 1A and 5A
Online Review of JAZZ CLARINET NOW (CD) The Real Deal... I must agree with Scott Yanow; this is a most impressive debut .....and it's four-fur, because all of these guys can really play. There isn't one raggity, out of synch solo to be found. Each soloist demonstrates their ability to melodically, sponstaneously and creatively weave themselves perfectly into the fabric of each piece. It reminds me of when I first heard Charles Lloyd with Jack DeJohnette, Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Ron McClure. They can all do it well. However, it's Howell who really shines...when on the clarinet. He's the latest standard bearer for a very long but, over the last 50+ years, thin line of jazz clarinetists. He's got IT! The new Dalai Lama of the clarinet. We've been awaiting your wonderful tone, exemplary technique, cleverness and your hipness(?). He also has great influences. Russell, Giuffre, Daniels, etcetera. They're very apparent. He also plays one track on tenor sax and one on flute. Don't we all just need another saxophone player.....or flautist. I can turn on any jazz radio station in the world and hear sax. Big deal. A trained monkey with enough wind could likely get a good tone out of a saxophone and maybe a little ditty to boot. I just hope Howell dosen't cave and become just another clarinetist, saxophonist, flautist, pianist, bassist, percussionist, aren't I special, DJ jazzy multi-instrumentalist. I hate those guys:-) Don't get me wrong. Howell also plays the tenor and flute very well, but that's not where my interest lies. Howell has the ability to become part of a very special fraternity of great jazz clarinetists. I wish him well. Survey: Despite the fact that he's a few shades lighter and has thinner lips, Howell, on the happy camper cover photo, seems to somewhat resemble a young Cannonball. What do you think?—-jksp (Calgary, Canada) review on www.cduniverse.com
Online Review of JAZZ CLARINET NOW (CD) Great Stuff! This is really an excellent album. Everything Howell and his group does is satisfyingly adventurous, yet supremely entertaining. On this recording you will find a truly amazing balancing act between entertainment and exploration. Joseph is a virtuosic player, to say the least. But his humor and style make this recording worthy of several back- to-back hearings. Joseph twists his fingers around some sophisticated figures for sure. The players he's assembled here compliment his style perfectly, and they play an active role in all of his tunes. The standout track for me is The Pot Melts. It REALLY grooves. I only wish it was longer! This is NOT YOUR OLD UNCLE LARRY on clarinet. It's new, hip, and really fun to listen to. You won't regret buying it, I promise.—-Mark DeSimone review on www.cdbaby.com
Review of a Live Performance (JAZZ CLARINET NOW group) ...It was dazzling, as I might have expected. The array of pieces and styles was impressive, and represented a considerable amount of carefully-absorbed influence from contemporary classical music...His own playing was not just virtuosic. It was also capable of restraint and simplicity. At times he reached for the extremes of his technique—range especially. In the end, impressive as it was, it was not just showy, but left listeners with an impression of considerable depth: historical savvy, intellectual underpinning, an equilibrium between compositional structure and improvisational chops, and balance among the ensemble players. I can't imagine anyone hearing this and not being impressed with his range and command. His quirkiness and eccentricity is also completely evident, but in the context, it adds a necessary bit of humor and warmth to an event which otherwise might have been more easily taken as a showcase—-Robert Labaree, Chair: Music History Department, NEC.
Review of a Live Performance (JAZZ CLARINET NOW group) ...Both the compositions and the performances were extraordinary, especially in the diversity of styles represented in the program. The unison playing between you and the sax was amazing; it sounded like a single instrument. Your tuning was so perfect in “Doom Groove” that the 7ths and 9ths sounded consonant by the end of the piece. Your tone and tuning is perfectly consistent from the lowest to the highest registers and your sound is beautiful, even when playing in the stratosphere. The drum and clarinet duet in “Without Reason” was amazing; I loved this tune. But “Phone Call” was by far my favorite number in the program. The change in tone color was striking; a very moving piece. Thank you for a memorable experience—-Tom Handel: Dean of Students, Professor of Musicology, Co-Director of the DMA Program, NEC.
Featured in Down Beat magazine Featured in “Jazz on Campus,” Down Beat magazine. June 1999 (Volume 66, Number 6), pg. 72. Picture and short bio in recognition of winning second place in the Lincoln B. Selleck “Bix Lives” Jazz Awards Competition in addition to awards from the International Association of Jazz Educators, the California Music Educators Association and the Stanford Jazz Workshop. Down Beat magazine, June 1999, pg 72
Featured in Local Newspaper (High School Years) Featured in an article by Henry Winkel (with photo by John Tipton) in The Porterville Recorder. unknown date in 1998 or 1999. pg 12A. “Appreciation for Tonal Versatility.” Highlights: “Talk to those who are knowledgeable about music and they’ll tell you Joseph Howell is a talent to be reckoned with. 'He's one of the most talented kids to ever come through the Porterville school system,' said Buck Shaffer of the 18-year-old clarinetist. It was Shaffer who brought the big band sound to Porterville High in 1953. 'This kid has really got it, no doubt about it.' Dale Anderson, Monache's band leader, agreed. ‘The reason he’s so successful is he listens to a lot of music and he’s a consummate practicer’ Anderson said. ‘He’s put in the time and he’s going to be reaping the benefits.’… ‘I’ve gotten to where I prefer the clarinet,’ Howell said. ‘I feel it gives you more tonal options. For example, you can make it sound like a flute, a saxophone, or even make it growl.’ …”Howell took his advice to heart. ‘As a freshman and sophomore, I practiced all the time—every spare moment,’ he said…Howell, who did find the time to do his school work, recently graduated from Monache and will continue his education at California State University, Northridge, with plans of becoming a professional musician…” The Porterville Recorder, unknown date, pg 12A