"The Clarinet" is a quarterly publication of the International Clarinet Assocciation (ICA) based in Texas, USA.

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

By Ralf Krüger

Eberhard Kraut with George Lewis’ metal clarinet at the Jazz Museum in New Orleans. (Note photo by Bill Russell of George Lewis in the background.) (Photo by CMK)

Eberhard with his 66-year-old Harry Pedler metal Albert clarinet, which is identical to George Lewis’. He already owns a great number of metal clarinets, which constitute an almost complete documentation of the history of this type of clarinet. His oldest instrument was made around 1857, his newest about 140 years later. Apart from the George Lewis model, he also possesses the models of metal clarinets played by musicians of the classic jazz era 1920-50, like Don Murray, Frank Trumbauer, Capt. John Handy, Lester Young, Buster Bailey, Earl Carruthers or Willie Smith. (Photo by Ralf Krüger)

Everything began with the desire to own the same model of metal clarinet that his great jazz idol, George Lewis from New Orleans had played – an Albert system made by Harry Pedler of Elkhart, Indiana. This was 15 years ago. Since then Eberhard Kraut from Leonberg/Stuttgart, Germany has acquired a large collection of metal and wooden clarinets, most of which he overhauled himself. His chapped hands show that he has not become tired of overhauling the slender instruments, as he holds the view that musical instruments have to be playable. ”You do have to hear how they sound.”
”Somehow or other, I slid into it.” Eberhard Kraut cannot really tell how this passion for collecting clarinets began. The 49-year-old engineering graduate’s attention was drawn to the metal clarinet with the rare Albert system by a photo of the famous Bunk Johnson Band 1944 taken by Bill Russell, the foremost authority on New Orleans Jazz. ”George Lewis’ clarinet looked really strange,” Kraut recalls. The fact that he is a clarinet player himself – he started to learn the clarinet as a member of a Musikverein (a typically German woodwind and brass band) in 1966 – and the fact that he later began to admire George Lewis’ way of playing inspired him to deal more closely with the metal clarinet. ”I got my inspiration from New Orleans jazz,” says Kraut. Eberhard Kraut’s eyes are shining, while he is talking about his favorite music. He had not been able to acquire a taste for so-called beer tent music played by the Musikverein. His brother, who is his senior by a couple of years, made him familiar with traditional jazz. At the age of 18 Eberhard Kraut got hold of the music of ”Wild Cat Blues,” one of Monty Sunshine’s favorite tunes, and tried to play it on his wooden clarinet. He became more and more interested in that kind of music and finally he came upon the authentic jazz played by George Lewis a.o.
When listening to George Lewis’ recordings done by Bill Russell in 1943-45 of which he particularly enjoyed George’s ”Burgundy Street Blues,” he knew he had found the right thing – ”Eureka!” The cover of the record showed George Lewis playing the metal clarinet that was to become the object of Eberhard Kraut’s efforts, the one he desperately wanted to get hold on.
In the 1930s, metal clarinets were very common in the U.S.A., but mainly in the Boehm system. And so Eberhard Kraut soon learned that it was impossible to obtain a metal clarinet in the Albert system as played by George Lewis. Besides, he could hardly find any publications on the subject. ”The only thing I had was the Bill Russell photo of George Lewis with the Bunk Johnson Band.”
Not only did he want to know how to play a clarinet, he was also interested in learning how a clarinet is built and how it works. Eberhard Kraut was friendly with a woodwind instrument maker in Stuttgart. In the 1980s, he often visited him, and learned how to repair and overhaul clarinets. Later on he established contact with jazz and clarinet people in the New World, e.g. Bill Russell & Bill Wagner, Chris Burke, Alex Cory, Hartly Severns, Scott Robinson, Barry Wratten, John Russell, Sid Glickman, Dennis Eder & Gary Windo, Francis Perry, Emilio Lyons, Bob Ackerman, Jon Ray & Dick Bentson, Alden Ashforth, Tom Sharpsteen, Jim Gillespie, John Snyder, Bill Maynard, John McCardle, Kermit Welch, Doug Tank and Tom Wheeler.
When metal clarinets from the States were offered to him Kraut could not resist and he acquired a great many, even though most of them were in the Boehm system until, at last, the George Lewis type of metal clarinet he had feverishly longed for was also part of his collection: a one-piece Albert system by Pedler with detachable bell, screw adjusting tuning barrel, and silver soldered and strap-mounted pillars. He loved this silver clarinet so much that he almost shared his bed with the instrument he had chased after for years. For month the instrument was laying in a cupboard. ”I was afraid to break off a key or to slip down with the screwdriver when overhauling this very rare metal clarinet,” Kraut explained.
Only when A.G. Klapproth, a jazz friend from Marburg (Germany), came to the area where Eberhard Kraut lives, along with his New Orleans style jazz band and guest pianist Bill Sinclair of Connecticut, and asked him to play with his band did Kraut take his pride and joy out of the cupboard and overhauled it a few days before the concert, which took place in April of last year in a small town called Güglingen. For Eberhard Kraut is also an enthusiastic New Orleans style clarinitist. ”If I join a band somewhere tonight, I’ll only play this particular instrument,” Kraut insisted.
Eberhard Kraut is proud not to be a ”crafty” instrument collector, as he has never wangled any clarinet out of anybody.
He also writes articles on New Orleans jazz and metal clarinets for special journals, jazz magazines (e.g., The Second Line of the New Orleans Jazz Club) or linernotes for CD booklets of metal clarinet players, such as Brian Carrick or Chris Blount – free of charge, of course. Since 1986 the jazz idealist has been an honorary citizen of New Orleans jazz.
Eberhard Kraut has established international connections and is in touch with a great number of like-minded friends he got to know because of his passion for jazz and clarinets. Among those friends are some jazz musicians who play the metal clarinet today: Brian Carrick, Chris Blount, Jack McLaughlin, Nick Polites, Fabio Palchetti, Gordon Hunt, Kjeld Brandt, Mac Rae, Penn Pengelly, MIchel Laplace, Jean Depoid, Franz Stuhler, Louis Siankope, Acker Bilk and Jürgen Vieregge, Twice he even met the daughter of the legendary George Lewis, Mildred Zeno, in New Orleans. Her father’s metal clarinet is on the display at the Jazz Museum, and there seems to exist no further copy of the very special model of George’s and Eberhard’s Pedler. Thanks to Don Marquis, Kraut had the opportunity to scrutinize George Lewis’ nmetal clarinet minutely and to see for himself that it is identical to his own.
Eberhard Kraut’s love for metal clarinets has not faded. Apart from his instruments and different clarinet mouthpieces, he has collected lots of descriptions of clarinets printed in old catalogs, as well as patent-specifications and serial number lists, which help him classify and date his instruments. Due to his extensive studies he has also acquired the specific skill to recognize on photos what clarinet model a particular jazz clarinetist was playing at the time. He is proud to own the identical model of most of the wooden or metal clarinets pictured in the hands of the old jazz masters, of which he also has the recordings on the new CD format. Kraut hopes that his collection will go to a museum one day. ”But before this happens I am going to write a book about the history of the metal clarinet and the New Orleans clarinet tradition,” says Eberhard Kraut with an air of determination. There is no reason to doubt his word.


The above article was written by Ralf Krüger for the Leonberger Kreiszeitung on December 4, 1997, and it was republished in the German reed instrument magazine ’rohrblatt No. 2/1998 and then translated and revised by CMK.

Each clarinet has its very own history. Concerning his wooden clarinets, Eberhard Kraut has put the main emphasis on models played by jazz clarinetists like Alphonse Picou, Jimmie Noone, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, Emile Barnes, George Lewis, Edmond Hall, Barney Bigard, Sidney Arodin or Omer Simeon from the mid-1920s ’til the 1960s.
(Photo by Ralf Krüger)