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    • Shades of Gray

      Artists: Gary Gray / clarineto Judith Farmer / bassoon Joanne Pearce Martin / piano Adam...

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Teaching

    • Teaching

      Mr. Gray was appointed Full Professor in Clarinet in the UCLA Music Department in 1993 where he also teaches the...

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Concerts

    • It's A Woodwind World VIII

      It's A Woodwind World VIII Date Venue Program February 27, 2014 8:00pm Popper Theater of...

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2016 Beverly Hills International Music Festival - August 5-14

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

8844 Burton Way Beverly Hills, CA 902112016 BHMF


Click here for more information and ticket info.

The Man Who Has Done It All: An Interview with Gary Gray by Jenny Maclay

Gary Gray is truly the Renaissance Man of the clarinet world!  With a lifetime of experience as a soloist, studio musician extraordinaire, chamber musician, and teacher, Mr. Gray shares his memories and advice below.

 

Jenny Maclay: You have such an interesting background –your musical upbringing, winning the Frank Sinatra award for musical performance, performing for television and film scores – how did your career path evolve?

Gary Gray:  It's interesting you ask about how my career "evolved" because, just last year, I gave a Master Class at UCLA, which was for all interested music students (not just my clarinet students) and I sub-titled it " One thing leads to another" - sort of a play-by-play of how I got to this place in the music world, one step at a time.

My beginning was in my home town of Indianapolis, Indiana, where I began playing the clarinet when I was around 11-12 years old, with no teacher at first (which I DON'T recommend) but since both sides of my family were music-lovers - in particular, my Mother's brother Carl, who played clarinet and saxophone, and was my first model - and my Dad's father was a professional jazz guitarist who lived with us during my early years...I seemed to have a talent for it. I was fortunate enough (and my family supported my interest) to study with one of the top teachers in Indy at that time - Rosemary Lang - at the Jordan School of Music of Butler University. I'm going into such detail about this early stage of development because it's so critical for a young student who's talented and motivated to find THE BEST POSSIBLE private teacher possible on their instrument.

For example, once Miss Lang noticed my talent, she made sure I auditioned for a scholarship to attend Interlochen (and got it) for two summers during my high school years, where I studied with Keith Stein, another wonderful person and master teacher. By the way, fellow clarinet students, those two summers at Interlochen included: Larry Combs, Pete Hadcock, and Eugene Zoro, who were all better than me, but I learned from them, as well as having the opportunity to play in the Orchestra and Woodwind quintets. So, one thing led to another and at the end of high school, I auditioned for Indiana University and received a scholarship there, little knowing that the IU School of Music was in the process of becoming one of the great performance schools in the US.

I should mention that during high school and then at IU, I became equally interested and involved with playing saxophone, mainly so I could be in the big bands at Interlochen and IU. My motivation was not just that it made me more flexible and valuable as a doubler, but because I really enjoyed playing jazz as much as classical music. At that time in academia (the '50s and '60s), jazz was not included in most music schools as a serious performance or historical study. So, my clarinet teachers worried about my double interest, and I had to down-play its importance in my career plans. My two clarinet teachers at IU were such different personalities, but were both important to my musical development. My first three years were with Henry Gulick, a master teacher and refined player, always supportive and a real gentleman. My following three years were with Robert McGinnis, former Principal Clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, who was a tough, old-school teacher who prepared me for orchestra auditions....exactly as I hoped for.

An important "side bar insert" at this point in my history is relevant because it illustrates another bit of advice for students and young professionals: besides the importance of teacher choice as you continue on your career path, make sure you consider the choice of your summer schools, festivals, and jobs. Case in point - the summer of 1960, (while still at IU) I went to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara California and studied clarinet with Mitchell Lurie, another master teacher and wonderful person. Consequently, when I finished my Master's degree, I took an audition for the Kansas City Philharmonic for bass clarinet (doubling Bb, Eb clarinet, and saxophone) and got the job. A year later, when a similar job (the 3rd clarinet position) opened in the St. Louis Symphony, I auditioned and got that job. After two years in St. Louis, I began to realize that a full-time orchestral position was really not meant for me, whatever the actual artistic level of the ensemble. I remembered my summer study with Mitchell Lurie at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara California in 1960 - how much I'd enjoyed working with him and how fascinated I was with the variety of his musical and personal lifestyles. The variety possible in LA meant Mitchell could play in part-time orchestras, do studio work, and also teach - an ideal variety, which meant no one musical position "owned" him. So, I resigned from the St. Louis Symphony, and took a Teaching Assistantship at UCLA to work on a Doctors degree and study with Mitchell. Once I moved to LA, I was able to survive with my TA stipend and began to freelance, both with classical orchestras and doing "casual" work with dance bands and extra teaching. (My saxophone experience and some flute study at IU helped of course). When Mitchell moved to a full-time teaching position at USC in the 1970s, I was asked to take his place. I also taught saxophone and directed the first UCLA Jazz Ensemble in those days. My part-time position gradually evolved into full-time. I became professor of clarinet and director of woodwind studies in 1995. And then "one thing led to another" when some of the composers I met at UCLA and at contemporary concerts in LA began to write for movies and/or TV shows.... i.e. James Horner composed for the Star Trek movies II thru VI and Apollo 13. Don Davis scored The Matrix I, II, and III, and Randy Newman - Toy Story 1 & 2 and Monsters Inc. I should mention that often there is a definite over-lap between "live" work...i.e. playing a musical show (like Fiddler on the Roof was beneficial to me because a TV composer heard me in the pit and hired me shortly after that to play a session for his next score) and/or Concerts.. i.e. with the LA Chamber Orchestra, etc. The moral of this story is to be ready when opportunities present themselves and do your best along the way....nothing really surprising, but with some patience and dedication, it does work. So, this pattern (which I was fortunate enough to begin those many years ago) has persisted to this day, except that now I do less studio work and decided to leave the LA Chamber Orchestra a few seasons ago. My main focus these days is my UCLA teaching and whatever concert repertoire I'm preparing.. i.e. Chamber groups like PACIFIC SERENADES and the periodic recording jobs like Family Guy, American Dad, movies scored by Thomas Newman, etc. that come my way.

 

JM:  You have successfully balanced a multifaceted career as a concert artist, LA studio player, and teacher. How do you approach so many different musical situations, sometimes all in the same day?

GG:  As I've learned, a few simple habits apply to all three of the above mentioned musical areas: (A) Be as prepared as possible for all three areas.. i.e. learn new works for concerts slowly and clearly (Listen to CDs of them, if possible). Do dry runs in front of friends. (B) You can't prepare completely for studio playing because you don't get to see the music until you're at the session. Do sight reading practice with the metronome on. DON'T stop and repair or perfect each note. If you've worked for a particular composer before, you can bet they will write something similar (sort of their signature style). (C) Teaching prep.  Have I mentioned to ALWAYS be on time for whatever the appointment – it's the sign of a professional player and responsible teacher - just do it!  And all three above situations demand that you're prepared to play your BEST, no matter what the reed feels like, or how much traffic there was on the way or anything else on the "excuse list."  Remember that your students are listening to you as a model & example for how the etude or piece should sound.  So if you seldom or never play for them you're really not completing your role as a master-teacher.

 

JM:  In addition to clarinet, you perform on several other woodwind instruments.  Which was the most difficult woodwind instrument to learn?

GG:   For me, the double reeds, in particular bassoon, were a real challenge.  And of course the particular teacher who helps you get started on any instrument is critical to the formation of your early habit patterns.  Choose teachers wisely, if possible.

 

JM: You've played the entire clarinet family in your career. Please explain why this is important. 

GG:  You have to eventually "own and operate" all the clarinets from Eb piccolo to Bb contra, or at least have access to the Eb & Bb contras (mine have been loaned out to clarinet colleagues or students MANY times over the years!) My favorites of the clarinet family are the Bb, A, and Bass clarinet - my least liked is the Eb piccolo clarinet (unless I'm in a very nasty mood!)

 

JM:  How does it feel to be heard by millions on movies such as The Matrix I, II, and III, Legally Blonde I and II, Finding Nemo, or on television shows such as The Simpsons?

GG:  To be honest, it's always rewarding to be part of such popular entertainment projects, but it's kind of a detached appreciation since the musicians playing these scores are not identified individually to the film audiences around the world. Very seldom, if ever, are any orchestra players listed in the screen credits, whereas the composer, arranger, and orchestra contractor (manager) do get such credit.  But as I said earlier, I've been fortunate and proud to be involved in recording so many film and TV scores. My admiration for my fellow musicians in the music business has grown over the years to epic proportions! I've heard such great solo and ensemble playing. Often, it had to be done over and over while the engineer and/or the orchestrator decided if we finally had THE perfect take in a certain cue.

 

JM:  Who are your favorite film composers to work with and on which scores?

GG:  There are a few film composers who I've had the pleasure to play for over the years who have consistently written playable, effective scores for a variety of projects and have included me on their "asked for" list when they record in Los Angeles. Thomas Newman is one of them; a composer/pianist who has a personal approach and special talent for scoring a variety of movies.  I particularly enjoyed playing on his scores for Shawshank Redemption, Meet Joe Black, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and The Help.  Lalo Schifrin is known for composing the theme for the legendary TV show Mission Impossible, but I also played for him for other fun films like Rush Hour 1, 2, 3, and a film most people didn't see (unfortunately) with Queen Latifah & Steve Martin called Bringing Down the House, in which I got to play the opening theme with solo clarinet plus jazz rhythm section - no screen credit but much self-satisfaction! And I've played many scores with John Williams, but my personal favorite was for a film called The Accidental Tourist with John Hurt & Geena Davis - such haunting music! TV series - in recent seasons it's been great fun to work for the very talented composer, Ron Jones, who scores many episodes of Family Guy and American Dad for Fox TV. Ron has a wicked sense of humor (personally and musically) so he fits in with the show's creator, Seth McFarlane, very well! His woodwind writing is often challenging but always works well with the picture and if you saw the movie Ted, you know what I mean.

 

JM:  What advice do you have for aspiring clarinetists looking to begin their own career path?

GG:  Use Vandoren reeds on ALL your clarinets! (Actually, it's a true bit of advice...because I DO!)

Listen to Gary Gray

2008 Grammys

Gary Gray was the clarinetist with The Grammy Award Orchestra for the 50th Anniversary Show.
February 10, 2008

garygrammys

Click on the photo above to hear Gary play.