virtuoso whose complete control over the clarinet and originality as both an
improviser and a composer are very impressive..."
- Scott Yanow,
world-famous jazz writer
Dr. Joseph D. Howell has gone from being a mostly self-taught
musician from a poor small-town family to earning a Doctor of Musical Arts from
a prestigious conservatory. Today he professionally performs, composes, and
teaches music of many styles and instruments while maintaining an artistic
focus on jazz clarinet and sax.
Joseph Howell grew up in the rural town of Porterville,
Though he played the clarinet in the school band programs from fourth grade on,
it was not until he began college that he received formal private instruction
on his instruments. Music was largely forced upon Joseph until he first heard a
jazz group in New Orleans Square
in Disneyland in the summer before his eighth
grade year. Jazz was something he had not heard much before and the sounds instantly
attracted him. It was not long until he began to consider learning to play this
new kind of music. During this time, he added the tenor saxophone to his
arsenal of instruments in order to become a member of the school big bands. The
intense enjoyment of jazz gave Joseph the dedication to music that soon made
him thrive in the school bands and jazz bands. His obsessive practicing got him
into County and State Honor Bands and Wind Ensembles, as well as Honor Jazz Bands.
At every performance during high school, Joseph was featured as a soloist in
both the classical and jazz genres. At home, he listened to a large variety of
jazz music in particular, including John Coltrane, Sidney Bechet, Eric Dolphy,
Buddy DeFranco, Eddie Daniels, Gene Ammons, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie
Parker, Ellington’s small groups, Johnny Griffin, Don Byron, Tony Scott, and
others. Outside of school, Joseph gained performance experience gigging locally
and sitting in with the youth-friendly Dixieland clubs in the Tulare
counties. He received occasional advice from local band directors and
accessible “early jazz” practitioners such as: George Probert, Abe Most, Evan
Christopher, Frank “Buck” Shaffer, and Dale Anderson.
Largely due to many scholarships awarded to him, Joseph was
able to begin his formal musical training at CSU Northridge. At CSUN, his
unusual combinations of strengths and weaknesses from being mostly self-taught
were ironed out as he began his first private lessons and classes in classical
and jazz music. In particular, Julia Heinen, Matt Harris, Gary Pratt, and Rob
Lockart were a huge help to Joseph’s progress. After graduating from CSUN with
his BM degree, Joseph met Rick Helzer at a jazz camp in Fresno. Helzer’s non-conservative approach to
music really appealed to Joseph and this resulted in his attending San DiegoStateUniversity
toward his MM degree. During this time, Joseph officially added the flute to
his instruments and continued to study classical music alongside jazz.
During the latter part of Joseph’s MM studies, he auditioned
for the DMA program at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was one of a
handful of applicants, out of hundreds, to pass the six-hour entrance exams, in
classical music history and theory, and the performance audition. After
recording with Rick Helzer in Summer 2005, Joseph moved to Boston to pursue the DMA. At NEC, Joseph
continued studying jazz alongside classical music. He took seminars on
everything from Beethoven, to Schoenberg and Ives, to Jazz Vocal Traditions,
audited classes on intervallic improvisation and microtonal music, and studied
privately with jazz teachers, a classical clarinet professor, and a jazz
drumset teacher. He wrote papers, studied spectragraphs, and transcribed music
from many different recordings. Joseph’s main musical/pedagogical influences
from these years would be his many talented classmates at NEC and teachers
Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, Allan Chase, Matthias Truniger, and John Heiss.
After NEC, Joseph recorded his debut CD, “JAZZ CLARINET
NOW!” with some NEC classmates and temporarily moved back to San Diego. During these years, he worked
full-time as a band director at eight private schools, refocused his musical
goals on those organic to his non-student self, and began appreciating things
outside of music. His contemporary classical composition for viola and clarinet
was premiered at Karen Hopkins’ MM recital at SDSU. A special highlight of this
period was his performance, with friend and fellow improvising clarinetist
Brian Walsh, at ClarinetFest 2011, hosted by the International Clarinet
Association. In addition to the many incredible classical clarinetists Howell
heard at the festival (Kari Kriikku and RobertSpring
in particular), seeing AKC Natarajan perform live encouraged Howell’s
curiosities about world music clarinet traditions.
Musicians and writers unanimously use the words “virtuosic”
and/or “virtuoso” when describing Howell’s clarinet and saxophone performances.
His beginnings as a
self-taught musician, mixed with his various school-years influences (from both
teachers and peers alike), has resulted in an interesting mix of influences and
colors…even if they are mostly within the confines of the jazz idiom or of the
clarinet’s various traditions. He has performed with Don Byron, Uri Caine, Rick
Helzer, Marilyn Crispell, Alex Brown, Cory Pesaturo, Abe Most, Jason Palmer,
Chuck Hedges, Vivek Patel, George Probert’s Monrovia Old Style Jazz Band, Brian
Walsh, Vinny Golia, the Beantown Swing Orchestra, Donvonte McCoy, Alex Norris,
Craig Alston, Grant Langford, Tedd Baker, Marty Nau, Todd Marcus, Glenn Moomau’s
Juke Drivers, and many others. He has performed in many venues in California, Canada,
Mexico, WashingtonDC, and Montana.
As a classical clarinet soloist, he has performed his own original works, in
addition to works by Piazzolla, Ben Hackbarth, Pozzi Escot, Jake Svendsen,
Matthew McConnell, Albert Oppenheimer, Anthony Converse, Brahms, Cavallinni,
Donald Martino, William O. Smith, Stravinsky, Weber, and many others.
Joseph Howell has taught private music lessons for over
fifteen years! He has taught clarinet, flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone,
snare drum, piano, recorder (flute), jazz improvisation, musical composition,
jazz trumpet, jazz violin/viola, jazz accordion, jazz clarinet, jazz saxophone,
jazz piano, jazz vocals, and jazz drumset to students of various ages and
levels. He has taught classes of various sizes, ages, levels, and demographics:
from elementary school band to college level music theory, jazz improvisation,
and ensembles. As a teacher, Howell tries to cater lesson plans to the goals
and learning styles of his students and believes that it is very important to
practice and learn with the students, showing them how to practice on their
Since re-relocating to the east coast less than a year ago, Joseph has found success as a performing artist and teacher. Many of the area’s top
musicians have hired him or invited him onstage.
His recent performance showcases at Twins Jazz in Washington DC and The Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center in Baltimore featured hours of almost exclusively
Howell’s own complex compositions. Joseph plans to book
more performances of this nature while also performing as a sideman and teaching music wherever and whenever he can.