Penzel-Mueller improved Albert system

Thanks to Gary Kern for sending me this link:

George Lewis' Penzel-Müller clarinet

by Eberhard Kraut, April 2005

In my collection I now have another low pitched Bflat Albert system clarinet which is identical to one of George Lewis': It's a 1920s made Penzel-Müller with an improved Albert system I recently obtained from Cindy Merritt. It was the clarinet her father-in-law Peter Paul Vicari (1928 - 2004) played in Andrew Hall's Society Jazz Band.

George Lewis' Penzel-Müller which is of the same construction and age as Paul Vicari's went to Japan after George's death and has been in the possession of Ryoichi Kawai since then. In a statement of Nov. 15, 1970 Bill Russell wrote about the history of this George Lewis clarinet:

"In the spring of 1961 when I had my record and music shop at 731 St. Peter St, New Orleans, I bought an Albert system (improved) Bflat L.P (Low Pitch) clarinet made by Penzel-Müller & Co. New York. I don't remember exactly what I paid for it, or where I bought it, but it was probably some amount between $ 10 and $ 15, and it was possibly a store such as the used furniture stores on Magazine Street.

Not long after that George Lewis came in my store one night and I showed him the clarinet. He said he had wanted to own an improved Albert system Penzel-Müller for some time and asked to buy it.(Several New Orleans clarinettists in the past had used them, and I believe today Albert Burbank and Louis Cottrell have Penzel-Müllers)

So I sold him the clarinet for whatever price I had paid for it. He took it to Werleins music store to have new pads and adjustments made. I think he used it quite often during the following years and in fact used it on his last job, when he played with Kid Thomas' Band at Preservation Hall on Fri. Dec. 13, 1968. The last numbers he played were "My Blue Heaven" and of course Thomas' final "Theme" song - "I'll See You In My Dreams".

Shirley (Lewis) & Carolyn (Buck) said that George always called this Penzel-Müller his "Bill Russell Clarinet", but I had almost forgotten about it."

Some additional notes:

Penzel-Müller clarinets had a world-wide reputation. Their preference by the most eminent soloists marked them as first class instruments of first class makers. "They combine in the highest degree the essential qualities of free and pure tone, perfection in scale and mechanism, ease of manipulation and execution", as a Penzel-Müller ad of the 1920s put it.

The Penzel-Müller company was established in New York in 1899 as a partnership between the German immigrants Gustav Ludwig "Louis" Penzel (1855 - 1920) and Edward Georg Müller (1869 - 1956) and existed till 1950. The fact that Penzel & Müller were German-trained craftsmen and that they imported parts for their clarinets (finally marked with the American eagle) from their native place in Vogtland/Saxony a Penzel-Müller Albert clarinet looks slightly different to the common Albert clarinets made by most of other instrument makers: the design is more "German" than "French".

Beside the classical trained soloists and above mentioned jazz clarinetists George Lewis, Albert Burbank and Louis Cottrell Penzel-Müller clarinets were played by other jazz greats like Sidney Arodin, Willie Humphrey and Woody Herman (the latter used a Penzel-Müller in the Boehm system which was common in big bands).

George Lewis with his Penzel-Müller shown on the cover photo (taken by George Fletcher in the late 1960s) of the Delmark CD "Ice Cream" (DD 202). But at the time when the recordings were made (1953) George wasn't in the possession of this clarinet and used a French Fontaine Albert one can see on the cover photo of the other Delmark CD "Hello Central... give me doctor jazz" (DD 201). Another photo of George Lewis with his Penzel-Müller (taken by Dan Leyrer) was published in the "New Orleans Jazz Family Album"; it shows the George Lewis All Star Jazz Band infront of Preservation Hall before touring Japan in the summer 1963.

My "George Lewis" Penzel-Müller (fitted with a white Runyon "Swing Bore" # 4 mouthpiece*) together with the same model but made in one joint (This Penzel-Müller which doesn't break in the middle once belonged to Sidney Arodin and I obtained it from Chris Blount). Far right for comparison: a Fontaine clarinet in the plain Albert system as played by George Lewis in the early 1950s.

*)According to Bill Russell George Lewis tried out a white plastic mouthpiece (Runyon "Swing Bore" # 4 with a Rico V-3 1/2 reed) in the last months of his life and used it on his final job on Dec. 13, 1968