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Jazz Oboe?
You Can't Be Serious!

by Gail Ford



Gail Ford


For some folk, the idea of jazz on the oboe is like seeing a dog walking about on its hind legs, and talking.  You’re not surprised at it being done well, you’re amazed it’s being done at all.  Jazz and oboes?  Really?  Oh yes my e-friends, indeedy.

I started as a pianist (still my full time job), and was classically trained.  I took up the oboe in an unguarded moment – unguarded by my husband and daughter that is, who had been used to a reed-free existence, with no reason to suppose that would ever change.  They have put up with living in an oboe-centric universe wonderfully well, all things considered.  I have a wonderful teacher who is mildly bemused at the path my playing has taken – open mic nights, busking, jazz gigs, and the idea for a jazz oboe quartet; any passing pianists/keyboard players reading this, please get in touch.  I’d love to hear from you (I live in the Cambridge area).  I started playing jazz, Latin, etc, because I liked it, and nobody told me it couldn’t be done.  I began learning my jazz trade courtesy of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s Jazz-Rock Summer School.  Truly one of the most supportive and encouraging courses to go on – irrespective of instrument, with some amazing names from the jazz world giving their time and expertise to nurture and bring on new talent. THOROUGHLY RECOMMENDED – and no, they haven’t paid me to say that. 


Listen to Gail playing her composition, Thank You Mr Baker, (inspired by the 2015 film about Chet Baker, Born To Be Blue, starring Ethan Hawke).





We’re a C instrument, and the sound is produced through a double reed, made of 2 pieces of cane from a grass - arundo donax, since you’re asking.  With the French horn, it’s the smallest embouchure of any wind/brass instrument – making it very challenging to play. We’re more usually found in orchestras, classical chamber groups, and (almost grudgingly) wind bands, Baroque Oboewhere we are sometimes used as ersatz flutes, often getting a part consisting of all the notes left over from everybody else’s, like a bad collection of tiles at musical Scrabble.  If I see a part marked ‘Flute/Oboe’ my heart sinks.  It usually means the arranger/composer forgot that an oboe part was needed, and just added ‘and oboe’ next to ‘flute’, grabbed his coat and dashed off home– job done.  Our heyday was the Baroque era, where we were loved, feted, given endless concertos…….  Ah, the good old days.


Baroque Oboe


Don’t get me wrong, I do like clarinets and saxes (though I couldn’t eat a whole one) – the tone and range of colours, not to mention their flexibility over a wide range is amazing. Think of us as having a similar range to trumpets (not too far wrong), and being quite nifty at punchy bright rhythms (à la Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France).

Once you know our strengths, you can play, or rather write, to them.  It’s just that due to the way the oboe is made, it’s not suited to passages like the syrupy glissando that sets the beginning of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue alight.  The reason is that there are open-holed, conservatoire and dual system styles of construction and key work; the metal gubbins that crawls over much of the grenadilla wood of the instrument’s body.  Don’t bother about this – we can do funky stuff too - we can bend and inflect notes, with the way we produce the air through our lungs and the soft palate in the mouth, ideal for blues soul and Latin. 


Listen to Gail playing her composition Tea And Empathy.





  And there is a fairly long and honourable history of oboists in jazz to prove it, including the following:-


Yusuf Lateef


Yusuf Lateef – a multi instrumental jazz legend, who played with Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, and turned his attention to the oboe – on his album Cry Tender! the oboe is described as a “double-reed creature that bites inattentive handlers” – and that’s before we get onto the vexed and complex subject of reeds.  (No, trust me, if you’re not an oboist, you won’t want to know). There’s a cool track by Yusef orginally released on the Savoy label and on his album The Dreamer called Oboe Blues – check it out. I was incredibly privileged to get Lateef’s personal permission to transcribe his arrangement of Jerome Kern’s classic song ‘Yesterdays’, about a year or so before he died.  I’ll always regret not sending him a recording; I felt it wouldn’t have done him justice and didn’t want to be pushy or intrude.




Yusuf Lateef playing oboe on a recording of In The Evening
with Kenny Barron (piano); Bob Cunningham (bass) and Albert Heath (drums).






Paul McCandless





Paul McCandless – fronts a band called Oregon, and has worked with such varied artists as Al Jarreau and The String Cheese Incident.  How can you not respect a man who works with an outfit called that. 








Oregon (Ralph Towner - guitar, piano; Paul McCandless - woodwinds; Glen Moore - bass; Mark Walker - drums, percussion)
and Witchi-Tai-To.






Evan Cobb





Evan Cobb – Nashville.  Tenor sax player (see, we are related to saxophones!) musician, composer, educator and all round good jazz egg.  He has played with (amongst many others) Steven Tyler, Jerry Lee Lewis and the late, great, Aretha Franklin. 









Jean Luc Fillon





Jean-Luc Fillon – who not only plays jazz oboe, but jazz cor anglais and jazz oboe d’amore to boot.  Jazz oboe d’amore – now there’s a niche market.   Jean-Luc, known as ‘Oboman’, also runs a summer school in a fabulous chateau in France for oboists wanting to learn and improve their jazz improvising skills.  All that and great wine too.







A compilation video of Jean-Luc in 2004 with
Jean-Luc Fillon (oboe, english horn, duduk); João Paulo (piano) and Carlo Rizzo (tambourins).







Yoram Lachish




Yoram Lachish plays jazz cor anglais with Avishai Cohen, and many other groups.  He’s a performer, improviser and composer, who combines classical with other genres, and plays not only the cor anglais and oboe, but the shehnai (Indian oboe) and Zurna (Turkish oboe) amongst other ethnic wind instruments.








Yoram Lachish playing Oblivion with the Piango Quartet
(Yoram Lachish - Jazz Oboe; Adrian Justus - 1'st Violin; Guy Figer - 2'nd Violin; Amijai Shalev - Bandoneon; Shachar Ziv - Piano; Rinat Avisar - Contrabass).





I am now a published composer and arranger – an arrangement of Dean Friedman’s beautiful ballad ‘Humor Me’ was given the thumbs up by the man himself, and at one time featured on his website’s home page.


Gail's arrangement of Humor Me is no longer on Dean's website, but you can listen to it here:




For further information about Gail, or to contact her, click here for her website.
She also has music for sale on, and



Gail Ford



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Other pages you might find of interest :

Jazz Harp
Jazz Violins And Cellos
Video Juke Box
Jazz As Art

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