William Thomas McKinley, composer and jazz musician

RS and William McKinley

William Thomas McKinley -- for 50 years, the most powerful, universal force for music in my life -- has died. He awakened in me the true and primal energy of music. Beginning with Attitudes (1965), he and his music unleashed a blinding spectrum of colors and emotions which took my breath and heart away. He left us miracles of music which will resonate with the boundless beauty and brilliance, the love of life, and the sweet surprise that only the greatest jazz musician and genius composer can express.

The photo was taken in Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall after the world premier of Burning Bright by Tom. Photo by Hiroyuki Ito.

Remembering Benny Goodman

My first aural memory of Benny Goodman probably came from the many 78 recordings of swing bands which my dad loved to play in the evenings when I was a child in San Francisco. But it wasn't until my grandma took me to see the Benny Goodman Story at the Castro movie theater that I really put the sound together with the man and the legend and dreamed of one day playing the clarinet. Flash forward 30 years to the moment when the legend called me to come visit him, talk clarinets, and play duets. As I took the elevator to Benny Goodman's penthouse on the east side of Manhattan, my knees started to shake and I felt as though I was ascending to God. The childhood memories of my dad's records and going to the movies with my grandma filled my mind. The elevator opened to the door of his apartment and I nervously rang the bell. My whole life seemed to be building to this moment. The door opened, I looked up and was struck speechless. I was shocked to see another person! I struggled to regain reality. I suddenly realized I had been expecting to see Steve Allen, who played Benny in the movie. But the man who warmly invited me in was indeed the one and only, attired in silk smoking jacket and ascot. And then for a precious few hours the legend and I spoke of all the mundane things which every clarinet player ends up talking about: reeds, mouthpieces, and equipment. He wanted my opinion of a live recording he had made of the Max Reger Clarinet Quintet. And we read through the old Italian clarinet duets every kid growing up loves to play with a friend. His chauffer took us two blocks away to an east side deli for soup and sandwich. It all seemed like a dream, but people kept coming over to our table to make sure I realized with whom I was having lunch. Not Steve Allen. It was the king.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What type of mouthpiece do you use?
I play on a mouthpiece made by Kalmen Opperman.

Q: What type of clarinet do you play?
My clarinets are Buffet R-13 clarinets (both A and B-flat). They have gold-plated keys and are worked on by Mr. Opperman.

Q: What reeds do you use?
Vandoren White Master reeds, size 3. 

Q: What type of ligature do you use?
I play on a Buffet ligature, which was reworked for me by my teacher, Kalmen Opperman. I also use an M. Martin ligature which is very similar. When I'm testing out reeds, I use a Ratterree to save time.

Q: How much do you practice every day?
It would be difficult to know the exact number of hours every day, but I take the clarinet out when I wake up and come back to it all throughout the day.

Q: Where can we find your concert information?
In addition to my web site, check out my Facebook page and Duo For Love on Facebook.

Q: When and why did you start using double lip embouchure? I switched to double lip after hearing a recording of Schubert's Der Hirt Auf Dem Felsen for soprano, clarinet, and piano with Benita Valente, Harold Wright, and Rudolph Serkin. Wright's gorgeous legato and sublime homogeneous sound was so inspiring. I discovered that he used double lip embouchure. He suggested I work with Kalmen Opperman. Mr. Opperman basically tore my playing apart and rebuilt it again based on his philosophy of sound and understanding of technique.

I find double lip feels organic and natural for me. It allows for subtle variations in the amount of mouthpiece and reed inside of my mouth. It also seems to allow for greater variety in tone color.