Daniel Smith finds that a lot of people mistake his bassoon for an oboe. The bassoon is one of the last relatively unknown instruments, he said. He is apt to understand. There was a time when he could not differentiate between a clarinet and a trumpet. That was when he was in his teens-and not a musician at all. "I started indirectly and late in life." Smith said of his career, which has made him one of the few bassoon soloists in the world.
Among his many engagements will be one at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Guest Artist Series on Sunday in the Museum of Art Auditorium.
Smith did not play any instrument until he was 16. he began with the clarinet and went through all of the reeds, tackling the bassoon at age 24 when he was in the Army, where he served as solo piccolo with the West Point Band. A real jazz buff who hung out in clubs, he also played saxophone and considers Charlie Parker "an absolute genius". I was a student in high school and I knew nothing whatsoever about music. It was New Year's Eve and the Benny Goodman trio was playing on television. I was totally entranced by watching this man play the clarinet. Shortly afterwards, Smith went to a music studio and told them what he wanted to study. "Would you believe, I was so ignorant, I actually thought Benny Goodman was playing the trumpet? I went on and on talking about taking trumpet lessons and this man finally says to me, "Describe this trumpet, it sounds like a flute". I said it was long and black and someone named Benny Goodman played it". He said, "I hate to tell you, that's a clarinet."
After that, Smith learned "everything in a hurry". Initially a clarinet major in college, he switched to flute before graduation. His turning to the bassoon was purely for economic reasons. "The reason I took it up had nothing to do with becoming a soloist. I was coming out of the army with a family to support, so I figured if I could play a double reed instrument along with the ones I did play, perhaps opportunities for Broadway shows or studio work would come my way". About 10 years ago, he began performing recitals. He started to then make recordings and has now completed 14, with his next to be released this spring. Smith isn't sure what makes his sound unique. Others have said that it is different, easily recognizable. "I just play the way I feel the music should sound. It is a composite of all my training on various instruments and all the music I have listened to over the years. Ultimately when I play, it probably is very individualistic".
While the bassoon has not been a popular solo instrument nowadays, it was fashionable in the 18th century,with Vivaldi composing 37 concertos for the instrument. Mozart wrote one and possible a second, and his is the most famous. In this century, a solo wind instrumentalist was almost unheard of until the 1950s when flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal flooded the market with recordings and became a world-class soloist. "He paved the way for other wind soloists" Smith said. The bassoon is now in a transitory stage, getting more air-play on classical radio stations.From his own performances, Smith said that audiences relate to it easily. "They like the sound, the vocal quality. It is like a cello...the cello and bassoon are almost analogous in terms of their ranges".
Among his many recordings, Smith has made a crossover disc, "Bassoon Bon-Bons", which he described as a curious hybrid, one of a kind". Crossover means anything written for one performing medium and rearranged for another. The recording contains such tunes as "Danny Boy", which has received a lot of airplay. For his Utica concert, Smith will perform works by Vivaldi, Beethoven, Elgar and Reicha. There also will be some "bon-bons" such as "Danny Boy", Scott Joplin rags, and "La Donna e Mobile" from Rigoletto by Verdi.
- Jonas Kover