In memoriam
Chris Blount 1940-1998

by Eberhard Kraut & Christel Müller-Kraut, published in THE CLARINET, December 1999

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Chris Blount in 1989 with his wooden SELMER Albert-system clarinet. It was said that it once belonged to Barney Bigard (1906 - 1980) who played it in the Duke Ellington orchestra. In the mirror the bent (“swan neck”) register key is clearly visible which is typical of wooden Albert-system clarinets. Note the lowest tone hole on the right-hand side of the instrument which was a distinguishing mark of Albert-system clarinets made by SELMER.
(Photo by Jackie Blount)
Chris Blount's “clarinet of his dreams” - a PEDLER metal Albert
(Photo by Eberhard Kraut)
The jazz community all over the world was shocked and overwhelmed with sadness about the sudden death last December of the English clarinetist Chris Blount. Chris was a musician of the highest renown, one who had dedicated his life to New Orleans jazz. For 35 years he had been the leader of a very successful New Orleans-style jazz band which often went on tour both in Britain and abroad.
Chris Blount's greatly admired role model was the New Orleans clarinetist George Lewis (1900 - 1968). Both of them had a warm and singing clarinet tone and a wonderfully fluent and sensitive playing style. Not only as musicians but also as persons they were very much alike. Both of them were '”gentlemen” and “gentle men” in the true sense.
Chris Blount was born on June 12, 1940, in Derby. His mother was a classically trained pianist who was well experienced in accompanying the silent movies that were very popular in the cinemas then. She must have passed on her brilliant technique of improvisation to her son.
At the age of 15 Chris started to play the clarinet. He took lessons, but only for a short period of time. When his teacher realized that Chris' tone on the clarinet would never go with classical music because of his inclination to use vibrato, he stopped teaching him. But Chris was so much fascinated by jazz that he couldn't get it out of his mind. Like many young jazz musicians, he had no choice but to be his own teacher. And it was George Lewis who became another “teacher” for Chris: He listened to George's recordings again and again and thus learned how to play the George Lewis style. When George Lewis' jazz band was on tour in England in the late 1950s, Chris was one of his most attentive listeners.
In 1963 Chris Blount set up his own New Orleans jazz band. Even though the personnel changed over the years the aim remained the same: to keep the authentic New Orleans music alive, the kind of music that had captured Chris' heart.
As mentioned above, Chris' band was a great success, especially at the very popular English New Orleans jazz festivals in Bude/Cornwall and Keswick/Lake District as well as in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Chris wanted his band to be recorded again and again, as he considered this a suitable way to find out how to improve the sound of his band so as to get as close as possible to the authentic New Orleans sound. The best recordings were released on LPs and MCs. Nineteen CDs are available now and five of them were recorded in churches and contain hymns and spirituals. Chris had been particularly inspired by those religious songs which are part of the New Orleans jazz tradition. He was very good at playing them on the clarinet. Another tune he played so outstandingly was George Lewis' “Burgundy Street Blues”. Chris succeeded in capturing that full American, almost black New Orleans tone and technique of George Lewis.
As a band leader one couldn't think of anyone better. Derek Winters, Chris Blount's trumpeter for a couple of years said, “He cared so much about the music that this concern manifested itself on stage. The band was always in time, and never forgot that we were there to entertain our audience. At the end of the gig while we got off the stand to chat and finish our drinks, Chris would remain on stage with his notebook and calculator working out the money. You always knew where you were with Chris and because of this the band was great fun to be in.”
During his whole career as a musician Chris Blount, whose main occupation was that of a chef at the University of Nottingham, devotedly played the Albert simple-system clarinet, as the original sounds of traditional jazz can only be reproduced by this type of clarinet, which was favored by the old New Orleans jazzmen. Chris preferred clarinets by HAMMERSCHMIDT, NOBLET (Fontaine), BUFFET and SELMER (In the U.S.A. the two latter makes were mainly played by old masters of New Orleans jazz). Chris was constantly looking for the best sounding clarinet. Some years ago he therefore used two very unconventional instruments, an old HAWKES simple-system metal clarinet and a clarinet which his friend and fellow countryman Derek Joynson had made for him of old English boxwood. Chris had read an article about the excellent sound qualities of boxwood and inspired Derek to make him such a simple-system clarinet with modern keys. In September of last year (he was not yet aware of his fatal disease) his long cherished dream to get hold of a PEDLER metal Albert clarinet came true at last. George Lewis had played this type of clarinet in 1944 when his famous recordings for Bill Russell's “AMERICAN MUSIC” label were made. Chris was very proud of this instrument which he had acquired through an Internet auction in California. He thought that of all his wooden clarinets, most of which were identical to George Lewis', this silver clarinet was the best-sounding instrument. Unfortunately, the CD recordings with this PEDLER metal Albert clarinet he desperately longed for, could not be made any more. Chris Blount died on December 18, 1998.

Read also:

Committed to New Orleans Jazz and metal clarinets – Eberhard Kraut has set his heart on the New Orleans clarinets

and

The Clarinet That Made History

George Lewis' Penzel-Müller clarinet

New Orleans Delight Homepage