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There are few, if any, continuously working jazz musicians that can match the incredible longevity of clarinetist Sol Yaged. Born in Brooklyn, Yaged has been, with the exception of three years of military service, playing clarinet continuously in and around the NYC area since 1942. He is also a testimony to hard work and the philosophy that if you love something enough, good things will happen. Because of that, even at the age of 84, Yaged's schedule makes him one of the busiest working musicians in the city.
Music started for Yaged when at the age of 12 he heard Benny Goodman playing on Let's Dance, a radio program sponsored by the National Biscuit Company. It didn't take him long to become enamored with the "King of Swing and head up to West 48th Street to purchase his own instrument. He views that instrument as a life saver and is quick to tell anyone that "If it wasn't for my clarinet I would have ended up a juvenile delinquent. Studies with the New York Philharmonic's first chair clarinetist, Russian-born Simeon Bellison, gave Yaged a thorough grounding in classical technique but he was hopelessly bitten by the jazz bug and in particular, Goodman's style. He became so adept and knowledgeable in the nuances of Goodman's sound that when someone was needed to teach Steve Allen how to be Goodman for The Benny Goodman Story, Yaged got the call.
While Yaged is a swing clarinetist par excellence, that is only a part of his wonderful career. The 50th anniversary of his first recording, It Might As Well Be Spring (Herald, 1956), was recently celebrated at Swing 46 as part of a sold-out reunion concert with vibraphonist Harry Sheppard. Yaged has played an astounding number of gigs in NYC and carries a no nonsense home grown outlook reflected in his wife's past statement that "Musicians are on the road 50 weeks a year to play NYC for two...Sol hits the road for two weeks and plays NYC for 50. Amazingly, he has been doing so for over 60 years with his most recent engagement entailing six nights a week at the W. 56th Street eatery, Il Valentino.
Playing in all the legendary jazz clubs like Jimmy Ryan's, the Metropole, the original Birdland, Jimmy Weston's, the Onyx club, the Three Deuces and countless others, Yaged has a host of life experiences that, combined with his expert musicianship, make him a true musical treasure. A multitude of stories such as playing opening night at Birdland, lending Charlie Parker his clarinet so Bird could sit in at Arthur's Tavern on 7th Avenue and rubbing shoulders with all the great jazzers of the past six decades make Yaged a microcosm of NYC mainstream jazz. For his 1961 release, Jazz at the Metropole (Philips), recorded live at the club, Yaged was able to assemble an incredibly impressive cast of sidemen. These included the granddaddy of all tenor saxophonists, Coleman Hawkins, Sheppard on vibes, stride pianist Claude Hopkins, trumpeter Pee Wee Ervin, trombonist Benny Morton and Armstrong bassist Arvell Shaw. The music has Yaged center stage for a wonderful adventure in swing. Yaged was also present for Standards and Warhorses (Jass), the 1950 recorded encounter between Hawkins and seminal New Orleans trumpeter Red Allen.
Equally intriguing is a '50s session fronted by trumpeter Charlie Shavers that has recently been re-released as part of a CD entitled Horn 'O Plenty (Lone Hill Jazz). Here, Yaged's swinging stick is teamed with Shavers' sweet horn, the expressive trombone of Urbie Green and Sam Taylor's honking tenor for a delightful set of eight Cole Porter tunes.
Happily, Yaged continues to be found most nights playing into the early hours of the next morning at any one of several NYC area restaurants and venues that cater to his brand of swing. His business card sums up his lifestyle and dedication to performance with its tagline "Call after 1 PM .
Phil NapoleonTwo-Beat (Columbia, 1950)
Henry "Red Allen& His Guaranteed 100% Pure House Wreckers (Storyville, 1952)
Sol YagedIt Might As Well Be Spring (Herald, 1956)
Charlie ShaversHorn O' Plenty (Jass-Lone Hill Jazz, 1957-58)
Sol YagedJazz at the Metropole (Philips, 1960)
Sol YagedLive at the Gaslight Club/One More Time (Lane, 1967)