Memos from Paradise

Eddie Daniels
(GRP Records, 1988)

Memos from ParadiseEddie Daniels is a virtuoso crossover jazz-classical clarinettist on the GRP label. I can’t remember who the other dudes are that have their initials in the company name, but I know that one of them is Dave Grusin, who made his name in the movies, providing scores to big Hollywood productions. His name became synonymous in the 80s with a kind of easy listening smooth jazz with high production polish and blockbuster marketing. Kind of the opposite in every way to the ECM label.

I was introduced to Eddie Daniels’s music by a guy who used to come round the Bel Air High School band rehearsal room selling reeds and mouthpieces, slings and lyres, various musical instrument consumables. I got chatting to him, he was curious about how a Scottish kid got to be playing clarinet in a high school marching band way out in the desert heat of El Paso. He came every week and we got friendly. I wish I could remember the name of the place, and the guy’s name too. Let’s call him Bob of Bob’s Music. Anyway, Bob knew I was interested in jazz and invited me down to his store, somewhere off the I-10.

I used to go walking in El Paso. I was probably the only person who did. There were good reasons why not many people walked in El Paso – the heat was ferocious, savagely intense, particularly around the time I’d arrived which was late summer. The city blocks were enormous and the city was so spread out in the suburbs it took much, much longer to get places than you’d expect it to. Like, hours. You’d have to stop by the 7-11 to grab a Big Gulp every couple of blocks just to keep yourself hydrated – and to cool off in the air-conditioning. And anyway, everyone drove. Even kids my age drove; some, like my American brother, Fel, even drove their own cars.

I set out on one of these walks with the aim of popping in to Bob’s Music. He’d promised he’d show me around, show me the workshops where they did their repairs, that kind of thing. Which is exactly what he did, true to his word. The place was enormous – everything was enormous in Texas – and I can recall a massive backroom full of workbenches, people busily making or fixing things. Out front was a standard music shop, probably about fifteen times larger than either McCormack’s or Biggar’s that I’d grown up with in Glasgow. It sold everything you’d expect it to: instruments of all kinds from marching band to rock band, LPs, CDs, tapes, pins, posters, mugs, books and sheet music.

Towards the end of the tour, Bob asked me if, as a clarinet player, I’d ever heard of Eddie Daniels. I admitted my ignorance, which was great because Bob was eager to enlighten. He gushed about this guy Eddie Daniels who had a new album out. Bob put the LP on the listening booth, and gave me a set of headphones. The album was called “Breakthrough”, Daniels’s first on the GRP label. It was astonishing. Back home, thanks to the amazing resources of East Kilbride Central Library’s extensive collection of LPs, I had got into jazz via clarinet players Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw – they played big band swing, but this was altogether something else. All the signs were that this was a classical record: The London Philharmonia Orchestra were credited on the front cover, the first track had an impressive classical music sounding Italian name (“Solfeggietto/ Metamorphosis”) and one of the pieces was by Bach.

BreakthroughThe first track sets the pulse racing from the first beat of the baton. After an exciting intro, intense blocks of chords building up in the strings, the clarinet blasts through – like that image on the cover – with long, sinewy lines that ran from ear to ear looping round and round and up and down like water in the brain. Or electricity. Rollercoastery. And it was fast as fuck. Fast, but not fierce. It was something solid in the ear, but not hard on it. It sounded like sculpted wood. It was a demonstration of such unworldly technical facility – such speed! – that I could only boggle and drool and think, I want to play like that

And then. And THEN, everything just melts.

Those crazy arpeggio ladders he was scaling up and down turned inside out, disappeared, becoming something almost like smoke. It was intoxicating. I bought the album there and then.

“Memos from Paradise”, the follow-up album and the reason for this post, I bought months later on tape. One side, he’s with a string quartet, rather than the full orchestra; on the other, it’s straight up plugged in jazz-bop-pop. I only really listened to the string side which was mellower and more melodic; sadly, all that rewinding has obviously done for the tape, which sort of falls apart as I listen to it now. Listening back to the bits that I can, I am returned to that bedroom in El Paso, listening deeply, learning about the world, learning about music and jazz and love. Eddie Daniels still has the ability to put a spell on me, still makes me want to play like him.