Ron Reuben was my mentor and my friend. He was a man who possessed great musical talent, an uncanny sense of humor, an inquisitive mind, a desire to share his knowledge, and an ability to attract friends from different career orientations. He was also one of my greatest inspirations. We lost Ron on September 11, 2022, at 90 years old after a number of years of declining health. He was one of three instrumental teachers I studied with who changed my life. (Joe Allard and Tom Nyfenger were the others.) I first learned of Ron in 1978 through Lawrence Feldman. He played me a tape of Ronnie’s live performance of a solo clarinet piece by Jean Rivier (Les Trois “S”) at an ICA Conference which thrilled me.
I had never heard a clarinet tone as interesting and an articulation as resonant. This feeling was corroborated by many musicians over the years. I once asked the revered clarinet technician Mark Jacobi who had the best sound among all the great clarinetists with whom he had worked. Mark said without any hesitation, “Ron Reuben.” Soon after hearing that recording, I set up a lesson at Ron’s apartment in downtown Philadelphia. When he came to the door, he was in his boxer underwear with a tenor sax around his neck and a cigar between fingers of his right hand. He was upset because he couldn’t figure out a certain chord change in Lush Life, a Billy Strayhorn tune from Duke Ellington’s repertoire. My first thoughts were, “What have I gotten myself into? This is the guy I came to study classical clarinet with?” Little did I know at the time that I would be beginning a 40+ year journey into the world of Ron Reuben, a world where one is in constant search of a more elegant and resonant musical expression ALONG WITH THE PERFECT MOUTHPIECE; a world where Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Stan Getz, Larry McKenna, Ralph McLane and Harold Wright reigned supreme; a world in which I experienced first-hand how giving a teacher can be and should be; and a world where no topic was immune from his ability to leave one in stitches with his jokes. By the way, that first lesson lasted 4 hours and Ron wouldn’t accept any payment from me, even though we had never met before. (He did allow me to take him out to dinner.)
Ron was a brilliant clarinetist, bass clarinetist, and saxophonist with marvelous abilities in both orchestral playing, chamber music and jazz. He was a Philadelphia native who studied privately with Joseph Gigliotti and then with Anthony Gigliotti while a student at Curtis. He played in several influential ensembles after his conservatory studies including the Chicago Little Symphony, the Chamber Symphony of Philadelphia, Si Zentner’s Band, Terry Gibbs’ Band, and the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He also did club dates in and around Philadelphia as well as stand-up comedy. Ron even appeared on the “Tonight Show” with Steve Allen doing a bit with the grungeaphone—an invention that combined the bass clarinet with a bassoon.
Ron was appointed Bass Clarinetist with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1967. During his long tenure with that orchestra, he developed great lifetime friendships with a number of players including Bernie Garfield (bassoon), Louis Rosenblatt (English horn), Sid Curtis (viola), and Anthony Gigliotti (clarinet). Here he is with Bernie Garfield.
Ron was fiercely proud of the orchestra and never failed to talk about how great it was to play with them. He was especially proud of the Philadelphia woodwind tradition that started with Tabuteau, Bonade, Kincaid, Schoenbach, McLane, etc., and that his generation of players still respected. He allowed me to attend every Tuesday rehearsal The Philadelphia Orchestra played at Carnegie Hall when they made their monthly trips to New York in the 1980s. Those were some of my most memorable musical experiences. Here are excerpts from two of Ron’s recordings with them. First, in 1967 with Eugene Ormandy conducting Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite as well as the 1976 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony. They are indicative of his magnificent sound, expression, and facility on the bass clarinet:
Ron’s diverse musical interests informed his performances with Philly. Here is his rendition of the tenor saxophone solo in Ravel’s Bolero from 1982 with Ricardo Muti conducting. I still find his interpretation to be the most endearing and musical statement of Ravel’s melody:
His sincere love of swing jazz was a lifelong passion. The influence of Artie Shaw and Stan Getz were evident in his jazz playing. The conductor Dennis Russell Davies recognized this ability and requested him to be the clarinet soloist in Bernstein’s Prelude, Riffs and Fugue with Philly as well as the tenor sax soloist in Ellington’s Les Trois Rois Noirs with the American Composers Orchestra. Here’s Ron playing the Blues on tenor saxophone with a Philadelphia group of musicians:
During his 38 years with The Philadelphia Orchestra, he also taught at several schools including Temple University, The New School of Music, and the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts. He was beloved by those who studied with him and was an in-demand source for young players who were taking clarinet or bass clarinet auditions. I have heard from numerous professionals how helpful and giving Ron was to them in those scenarios and that he did not accept payment for his time in many cases.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the role Ron’s wife, Marian, played in his life. Anyone as brilliant, talented, and sensitive as Ron who works under the pressure of a major job can provide challenges for a partner. Marian was a rock throughout all the years I knew them and especially so these last few years. Much of what Ron accomplished is due to her love and support. Thank you, Marian, for allowing all of us to enjoy and learn from Ron.
In conclusion, I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to study with Ron and become friends with a musical giant. His friends became my friends and his influence on my life has been monumental. I, along with countless others, could not imagine our lives without him. He was a unique individual who made life interesting and eventful. I will always miss Ron Reuben.