Joseph Phillips and Ben Kono on woodwind doubling

In a blog post from last week, New York City composer Joseph Phillips discusses his ensemble Numinous and his decision to use woodwind doublers instead of a conventional orchestral woodwind section.

Joseph Phillips
Joseph Phillips. Photos stolen from Joseph’s post.

When I started Numinous back in the fall of 2000, I knew I wanted flexibility of colors in the woodwind section. Even though I’m a saxophone/woodwind player, I didn’t want a saxophone dominant sound to the section. I also didn’t want to have 10 woodwind players to cover saxophones, oboe, English Horn, flutes, clarinets, and whatever woodwinds I happen to write for. So the most natural solution was to have woodwind doublers who would be able to play multiple instruments. Of course with the demands of my music, I didn’t want or need a typical jazz saxophone doubler: someone that plays maybe passable flute or clarinet but not well enough to match their saxophone abilities. In addition to being able to improvise well on all of the instruments, I really need musicians whose abilities on the other woodwind instruments are all fairly equal and could move easily between jazz, classical, and popular genres.

One of Numinous’s woodwind players is Ben Kono, who currently plays the reed 1 book for Jersey Boys on Broadway. In Joseph’s blog post, he interviews Ben about his woodwind abilities:

On Vipassana you play 8 different instruments, but truth be told, how many instruments can you play? What are some of the more unusual or interesting ones?

Ben Kono
Ben Kono

As a woodwind specialist, I am classically trained on all five woodwind families of the orchestra: saxophones, clarinets (Bb and Eb soprano, bass), flutes, oboe/english horn, and bassoon. In practice, however, I tend to play some more than others, and I have left bassoon completely behind. About fifteen years ago or so, I became interested in indigenous musics from other countries and started to collect instruments from my travels, some of which I have incorporated into my own music. I have performed and recorded (in various degrees of success) on the “kena” flute from South America; the “khaen” pipes from Thailand; and the “dizi” flute from China. Of course, as a Japanese descendent I have a special interest in the shakuhachi flute which I was exposed to early on by my aunt who performs traditional Japanese music on the shamisen and koto. I played it on a Pulse Composers concert, and the lesson I learned is that playing western music on it is a lot more difficult than I imagined! So in answer, I am constantly adding and subtracting the number of instruments.

Read the whole thing here. And if you’re in the New York City area, hear Numinous perform Joseph Phillips’s Vipassana this week. Ben Kono will be playing piccolo, flute, alto flute, oboe, English horn, and soprano and alto saxophones.

Numinous performs Vipassana
Wednesday October 28, 2009 8:00pm
Brooklyn Lyceum
227 4th Avenue (Park Slope)
Take the M or R Train to Union Street


4 responses to “Joseph Phillips and Ben Kono on woodwind doubling”

  1. Hi Bret,

    Thanks for posting this! Your site is a great resource for woodwind players. One thing I left out of Joe Phillips’ interview was the concept of the “schlep”. After you add all those instruments together, plus their cases, you have an enormous mountain of horns to haul! Having a car is one thing, but my gig tonight is in Brooklyn via subway during rush hour—and it’s pouring rain! If I’d thought ahead, perhaps a zipcar would have been in order. It’s worth it though because the music is gorgeous—be sure to check out Joe’s sound clips on the Numinous website. Ben

  2. Ben – Thanks for stopping by and for the additional behind-the-scenes peek. Good luck tonight with the subway and the music!

  3. Bret, it has been good reading some of what you are up to in the blogworld; thank you for posting about Numinous and my interview with Ben.

  4. Anthony Avatar

    why is the woodwinds off beat

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