Family Is Everything-The Backuns

The family on vacation, sons Jeremy and Joshua, the divine Mary and “Uncle Mo.”

I met Mary and Morrie at my first Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble rehearsal in 1985. I was just sitting in on third clarinet. I would have sat down with the first clarinets, because I had been Principal Clarinet of every ensemble I had joined for about a decade then, but I heard Mary warming up and I would have sat with the 5th clarinets if there had been any. I told Morrie I had just gotten a bass clarinet and he invited me to bring it, but instead I just went to the woodshed for a year.

I was then introduced to David Branter, the band president (and a god to saxophonists.) I had to send in a CV, he said it looked good, and said I could sit in at a rehearsal and that Mary would let me know if I could join the band. She never did say “you’re in” officially, so we are still joking about me being a “sub” almost 40 years later!

Thus began the musical education of a lifetime. I was sitting in front of two of the great woodwind players of the world, David Branter and his wife Julia Nolan on 1st and 2nd alto saxophone. Mary inspired from principal clarinet. Morrie picked great repertoire and had the most amazing ears I had ever witnessed in a conductor…and let you know what he heard….good, bad or indifferent. He helped me to progress from the latter two.

The lessons I learned just listening to the players in that band is still going on. Morrie never left the band, he is still Music Director Emeritus and a huge supporter of the group.

Morrie went on to found Backun Musical Services, now a legend as a clarinet manufacturer and the single greatest research centre for woodwinds in the world, in my estimation. I worked there for a year in 2002 and learned about 1% of what went into making and maintaining clarinets and saxophones. The worlds greatest clarinetists came to that shop and I got to hear them and get lessons, with Morrie and Mary always being the continuous mentors throughout. Morrie’s abilities as an acoustician, designer and voicer, and master of materials, mechanics and technology continue to flabbergast every player he touches.

Morrie is simply the future of the clarinet, as is his son and VP of Operations, Jeremy. Jeremy is a genius chipped right off the block, a fine trumpeter, a dear friend and an amazing executive. Mary Backun, a phenomenal teacher and sublime clarinetist play-tests every Backun Clarinet and is Principal Clarinet, Concertmaster and PSWE Board Member. Jeremy is the President of PSWE and Principal Trumpet.

Mary Backun was an instrumental influence in my teaching along with her husband and all the incredible musicians I met through them. I would be nowhere without them.

I had the incredible luck to form a life-long friendship with another Backun family genius, Joel Jaffe, a great operatic tenor and businessman! I met him at the lathe in the very first Backun shop when the first Backun Bells and Barrels were being hand made and changing the world. “Backun Musical Services, reinventing the clarinet one piece at a time,” was just the first of his fantastic slogans as VP of Sales and Marketing. Here he is with his wonderful mother, Morrie’s sister Susan, in the very early days. I can’t believe we found the time to cook together. Susan got 10 full course dinner cooking lessons from me to which she could invite friends and family and in return, I received the only Backun Alto Clarinet Bell in the world!

Two great friends and great clarinet nerds at a Backun booth.

There has been no greater blessing in my life than the friendship and mentorship of the Backun family.

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