On Monday, December 19, 2022, the world of music lost a giant. Clarinetist Stanley Drucker, the heavyweight champion of all orchestral clarinets, passed away at his home in Vista, California. Stanley’s accomplishments are well documented as an orchestral player, chamber musician, soloist, recitalist, recording artist, educator, and editor. The many obituaries that have been published list most of his achievements. However, what he has left us is a lifetime of lessons to hold up as models for being a professional musician. I had the honor of interviewing Stanley in 2017 when he was 88 years old. He told me then that “each performance is different for me….I approach the music with a fresh eye each time. I don’t want it to be the same. Only a recording is the same….You want to create something and you want it to be fresh and new each time.” And Stanley certainly lived by that credo.
His technical virtuosity has always been admired and acknowledged (Bartok Contrasts, Nielsen & Corigliano Concerti) but the warmth of his expression was also a vital part of his musicality (Debussy Rhapsody, Mozart Concerto). My friend Dr. Ron Odrich, jazz clarinetist and renowned periodontal surgeon, related a cute story that occurred when Leonard Bernstein was a patient in his dental office. During a discussion of various orchestral clarinets, Bernstein said that Stanley “could make you cry.” Stanley’s palette of tone colors, dynamics, and articulations enabled him to be vital in all styles of music and in every performing situation.
Stanley also had a brilliant mind. He observed everything around him musically and catalogued them in his memory. Clarinetist Mitch Estrin, Stanley’s friend, former student and colleague, recently told me how much Stanley learned musically during his early days as a member of the New York Philharmonic. He elevated his playing by listening intently to colleagues Leonard Rose (cello), Harold Gomberg (oboe), William Vacchiano (trumpet), John Corigliano, Sr. (concertmaster), and Gordon Pulis (trombone). His ability to recall performances of his and others from decades prior or musical situations in which there was a special moment was astounding. Equally unique was his incredible ability to focus on the situation at hand. Conductors would remark on Stanley’s ability to constantly maintain eye contact with them when they would conduct the New York Philharmonic. Stanley commented on that trait during our interview. “I feel that it’s very important as an ensemble player to look at the other musicians, in this case the conductor. You have to have contact….It’s a chamber music approach.”
Stanley always maintained a passion for life, music, clarinet playing, and learning. Over the past several years, I called him a number of times at home to inquire about some clarinet music, recording or pedagogical text as well as to see how he was doing. He always answered the phone with “Hi Ed. How’s everything?” and proceeded to answer any and all inquiries with incredible clarity. As the various recordings that make up the magnificent Heritage Collection of Stanley’s performances were released (created by former Drucker student and longtime friend, clarinetist Jerome Bunke), I’d ask Stanley about certain pieces or composers that I was unaware of and he would proceed to give me a detailed history of their creation. He always radiated enthusiasm and positivity and I invariably came away feeling uplifted.
If you were a New York baseball fan in the 1950s and a Brooklyn Dodger fan, you rooted for Duke Snider & Jackie Robinson; Yankee fans hung their hopes on Mickey Mantle & Whitey Ford; Giant fans lived and died with the playing of Willie Mays & Sal Maglie. As a kid growing up in New York City in the 1950s/1960s playing the clarinet, Stanley Drucker was our hero, he was the guy we rooted for. And he always hit a home run. He was a New Yorker through and through and helped make New York a “helluva town.” I’m very grateful that he was a part of my history and that I could hear him play so often and get to know him better these last 15 years. He once told me that our teachers are the most important people in our lives. I believe that to be true and I also feel that Stanley was just that because we all learned so much from him via his performances. Thanks Stanley. RIP.
*Please take a moment to watch my video interview with Stanley Drucker AND listen to the opening of the film Manhattan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Z4FgnAVFgM.
That’s Stanley playing the famous glissando from Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue better than you’ve ever heard it played.
**Stanley’s bio: Stanley Drucker—Clarinet Master, can be purchased via:
***The Heritage Collection of retrospective live performances, solo & chamber music recordings of Stanley Drucker can be accessed using the following links: