WWBW: When did you figure out that music was something you wanted to do?
Felix Peikli: I was eight years old, and I started in the marching band. The marching band was sort of small and they didn't have enough instruments. They lacked clarinetists. So then they just gave me a clarinet and said, "Okay, you're going to play clarinet." Which I'm happy for today.
WWBW: Then what?
FP: So I started and I practiced a lot. I got really good and then my grandfather gave me a Benny Goodman record. I didn't really know of any good clarinet players when I was 10 years old because the only the clarinet player I ever heard was the guy next to me in the marching band.
WWBW: Was your grandfather pretty informed about American swing music?
FP: He just knew about Benny Goodman because when he was young and Benny Goodman came to town he went to listen with my grandmother. Or when Louis Armstrong came to town or Benny Goodman came to town, everyone came out. That was the pop music of that time.
WWBW: Were you ever attracted to the other reeds? Did you wander off into the saxophone at all?
FP: You know, when I was growing up and I started getting serious, serious as in I had a lot of gigs and stuff, people would ask me if I would change to saxophone. Some people switch to saxophone because they weren't that good at the clarinet and thinking somehow if they started playing saxophone that would make them sound better and it often did a little bit. For me, that never made sense.
WWBW: So you mostly got started through self-directed learning with a single Benny Goodman record?
FP: Benny Goodman brought me to jazz. He just blew me away. I never heard a clarinet sound like that. It just was amazing in every way possible. So then I started playing with the album my grandfather gave me, you know, to transcribe it, not on paper but by ear. After a while, I knew the whole album. Then we have this bay window that's facing the street and as we lived sort of close to that train station, so when people came home from work in the train station like around 4 pm, I would just crank up the music on the stereo and just stand in the bay window while facing the street where all the people went by and sort of just like performed for them. And they would look up and clap and wave at me and stuff. It's because I loved it. I was craving attention. I was a very energetic kid.
WWBW: You know, that same kind of joy of playing shines through in every note you play, Felix. I've been listening to you.
FP: Oh, thank you.
WWBW: And that kind of real innocent joy, really unencumbered. There's just a real joy in your music and I really enjoy listening to you.
FP: Oh, thank you. Back to your question of other reeds though, I didn't want to give up the clarinet only because it was hard. I hadn't mastered an instrument yet. Why would I quit something that I hadn't mastered?
So that was sort of that mentality and that has lasted with me until today. I never tried to play a saxophone either. Not because I have anything against it. It's more just…I just focused on…if I have the time to try a saxophone, I might as well as just spend that time practicing the clarinet.
WWBW: Now did you do some further exploration once you had a solid appreciation for Benny Goodman?
FP: I was a diehard Benny Goodman fan to begin with, and I wasn't into anything more modern. Charlie Parker was cool, but that was pretty much as modern as I got and I went back in time because I felt they were more focused on the melodies and stuff like that. That was something that I could relate to because at that point in time, when I like 10 and 12 years old, I didn't really have any concept of advanced harmony. I didn't have an appreciation for music at an intellectual level. It didn't speak to me in those early years as much as Sidney Bechet or Edmond Hall would, when I got into them later on. I was really into Edmond Hall.
WWBW: I absolutely get it.
FP: Until I was 16, I was really conservative in that sense, but then I went to Berklee College of Music for their summer program. They have a Summer Program that I went to and I met tons of other people, a bunch of other kids my age. In Norway I didn't know any other people my age that were as dedicated to music as I was.
But when I went to Berklee, I met tons of other kids my age who were serious and then they hipped me to a lot of stuff. This was the beginning of the time of IPad and stuff like that on computers.
So my friends at the time had a lot of music on their IPods. When I came home I had like 20,000 songs in my computer. I decided to become more open-minded and to listen through. You know, just put the IPod on in random order and just listen through it. Just have the open-mindedness of listening it out and then make a decision whether I like it or not.
There was Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, and there was Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Michael Brecker. And I really loved Michael Brecker right away. He stood out to me a lot. I started checking out a lot more Michael Brecker and from that point, when I got really into Michael Brecker, I started doing the same thing as when I was into Benny Goodman. I started to move back in time from Michael Brecker and see with that understanding of his music, then try to understand where he came from and then I got into Coltrane and Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson and all these players. So it's sort of like I get really attached to certain people and certain eras and then I sort of work my way back to find out how they came about and where they got their inspiration from.
WWBW: You want to talk about equipment for a little while?
FP: Yeah, sure, absolutely.
WWBW: What's your preferred instrument?
FP: I play on a Buffet Crampon Devine B flat clarinet. I'm using the Vandoren mouthpieces. I use their products exclusively. I play on the Vandoren 5JB mouthpiece.
WWBW: With the Vandoren ligature?
FP: With a Vandoren Optimum ligature and Vandoren B12 3-1/2 reeds.
WWBW: Have you been pretty faithful to those reeds a while?
FP: Yeah, actually yeah. I started playing the Blue Tag, you know the regular clarinet, Blue Tag, Vandoren reeds. And that was because I didn't know that I had alternatives. Some of the alternatives that I tried were presented to me by classical players that had a tight set up. It wasn't really for me because I have a wide set up with a lot of air and you can force a lot of air through that. Some of the options I was presented earlier weren't really my cup of tea.
I found the V12 reeds and they were really amazing. They were a little bit wider and gave me more flexibility to my set up so I really loved it right away. I only used the Blue Tag and then when I found the V12, that's what I used.
WWBW: And that 3-1/2 tension has been where you're at for a long time as well?
FP: I'm not really that specific really. I mean I'm specific in the sense that I know what I like but I'm not specific in the sense that certain other clarinet players are. I know there's a lot of players that go to the office to measure their reeds and then edit the reeds a little bit and get really caught up into the details of it. I'm not really like that. If my reed is done, I open a new one and I notice right away if it works or not. If it doesn't work, I try another one and I find something that I can work with because that I know with time, I'm going to play it in.
FP: You know but I can tell if I'm going to be able to play it or not and if I find a reed like that, I put it on and it'll last me a month.
FP: So I think I'm one of the cheapest artists in terms of gear and products that Vandoren has because I pretty much use like a pack or two a year. You know?
WWBW: What's next for you? Recording? Tour? What should we look out for?
FP: I recently recorded my second album. It's a 1930s Benny Goodman tribute project. We play the music of Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton. It's me and my musical partner, Joe Doubleday. He plays vibraphone. I mean, he's my best friend. We're also roommates, too. We had been on this project for two or three years. We were thinking a Benny Goodman chamber band format. Vibraphone, clarinet, piano, bass and drums. Then we sort of delve into the world of Benny Goodman once again. It's called, It's Showtime.
WWBW: It's Showtime, okay.
FP: It's Showtime. And then on August 17th, like two weeks ago, we did a pre-release performance headlining the Oslo Jazz Festival. The album will be officially released on October 4th which starts a mini European tour where Joe and the band are coming over to Europe again and they're going to play in Oslo, in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in October and then we're going to back to the US in the end of October and then we're playing in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, New York, and Boston pretty much.
WWBW: Any plans for the West Coast any time at all?
FP: Well you know I want to but ever since I got to the US, I've been on the East Coast all the time pretty much, so that's my main hub of contacts. I hope to be able to string enough performances together to come out with the band and really bring it wide over there.
WWBW: Do you ever get to New Orleans? I bet they'd love you there.
FP: You know, I was in New Orleans not that long ago. I think maybe a year-and-a-half ago. That was really awesome. It was the International Clarinet Association, a Clarinet Fest that they have. So that was really cool. I've been there on and off over the last five years. It's always a joy to go to New Orleans.The energy and the vibe they have there is just incredible.
WWBW: Yeah, it's a great scene. A fine horn soloist doesn't have to buy a drink ever.
FP: Right, right.
WWBW: Well, I pretty much have everything I need. Is there anything you want Woodwind & Brasswind readers to know that maybe I missed or anything on your mind?
FP: Yeah, maybe just like a word or afterthought maybe. If you're young and an aspiring artist, just keep going at it. Regardless of what people have to say. Because if I listened to whatever people had to say, most likely I wouldn't play clarinet today and most likely I wouldn't even be an artist at all. You really have to believe in yourself and believe in the stuff that you think is cool. Because if you think something's cool, other people ouyt there, somewhere, probably think it's cool too, and eventually if you follow your heart and play the music that speaks to you, you'll find your audience and you will end up sounding like yourself. No matter what instrument you play.
WWBW: Thank you very much for that, Felix. That was beautifully said.
FP: Yeah and there's one quote that I would like to say too. The world doesn't always have room for another musician. It will always have room for another artist.
WWBW: Well, thank you for your time today.
FP: Thank you so much, Chris. I really appreciate it.
WWBW: Well, you've helped us and I hope that our article helps you too. And if you ever do get to the West Coast, I would come check you out.
FP: We'll stay in touch and thank you so much.