Doreen Ketchens’ Astonishing Rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun”: A World-Class Clarinetist Busks on the Streets of New Orleans

Dirt­i­ness has no descrip­tion. It is a  feel­ing. — music tran­scriber George Col­lier

You may be able to read music and play the clar­inet, but it’s extreme­ly unlike­ly you — or any­one — will be able to play along with Doreen Ketchens’ “dirty” solo on “The House of the Ris­ing Sun,” above, despite an assist from Tom Pick­les’ scrolling tran­scrip­tion.

Down­load the tran­scrip­tion for free and keep try­ing.

It’s what Ketchens, a world renowned clar­inetist and music edu­ca­tor, who has played for four US pres­i­dents and busks reg­u­lar­ly in the French Quar­ter, would advise.

“You have to prac­tice and be ready to per­form at the drop of a hat” she told The Clar­inet’s Ben Red­wine, when he asked if she had any advice for young musi­cians hop­ing to make it pro­fes­sion­al­ly.

She’s also a strong advo­cate of lis­ten­ing robust­ly, not throw­ing in the tow­el when some­one else gets the job instead of you, and let­ting your per­son­al­i­ty come through in your play­ing:

You don’t want to sound like you’re play­ing an etude book. This is for all types of music – even clas­si­cal. You want to move the audi­ence, you want to touch them.

Trained as a clas­si­cal clar­inetist, Ketchens cozied up to jazz short­ly after she cozied up to the tuba play­er who would become her hus­band. “All of the sud­den, jazz wasn’t so bad,” she says:

I start­ed to lis­ten to jazz so I could learn the tunes and fit in with his band. I start­ed lis­ten­ing to Louis Arm­strong. He is my biggest influ­ence. Some peo­ple call me Mrs. Satch­mo, I guess because that con­cept is in my head. I’ll hear some­thing he plays, which I’ve heard thou­sands of times, and I’ll think, “What? How did he do that?” Then, I lis­tened to the clar­inetists who played with him: Edmund HallBuster Bai­leyBar­ney Bigard. Those cats were awe­some too! Edmund Hall had this thing he could do, where it sounds like he was play­ing two tones at the same time. Peo­ple today might hum while they play to achieve some­thing sim­i­lar, but I don’t think that was what he was doing. Buster Bai­ley had a sim­i­lar back­ground to me, start­ing out with clas­si­cal music, then learn­ing jazz. Ear­ly on, I emu­lat­ed Jer­ry Fuller, clar­inetist with the Dukes of Dix­ieland. I would steal so many of his solos just so I could keep up with my husband’s band. Even­tu­al­ly, I real­ized what he was doing, and it trans­lat­ed into me being able to impro­vise. I’d start out tran­scrib­ing solos, then play­ing by ear, copy­ing what those clar­inetists were doing. I don’t remem­ber those solos now, but I’m sure that I still play snip­pets of them that creep into my impro­vi­sa­tions.

How­ev­er she got there, she pos­sess­es a sin­gu­lar abil­i­ty to make her instru­ment growl and her com­mand of 32nd notes makes us feel a lit­tle light­head­ed.

Clar­inetists abound in New Orleans, and they prob­a­bly all cov­er “The House of the Ris­ing Sun,” but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more excit­ing ren­di­tion than Ketchens’ on the cor­ner of St. Peter and Roy­al, with hus­band Lawrence on tuba and daugh­ter Dori­an on drums.  Here’s the full ver­sions, sans tran­scrip­tion.

You want an encore? Of course you do.

How about Ketchens’ mag­nif­i­cent solo on “Just a Clos­er Walk With Thee” for the Louisiana Phil­har­mon­ic Orches­tra?

Find more aston­ish­ing, tran­scribed solos and a heap­ing help­ing of Jacob Col­lier on George Collier’s (no rela­tion) YouTube Chan­nel.

His tran­scrip­tions, and those of col­lab­o­ra­tor Tom Pick­les, are avail­able for free down­load here, unless the artist sells their own tran­scrip­tion, in which case he encour­ages you to sup­port the artist with your pur­chase.

If you’re a music nerd who would like to dis­cuss tran­scrip­tions, give feed­back on oth­ers’ attempts, and upload your own, join his com­mu­ni­ty on Dis­cord.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Women of Jazz: Stream a Playlist of 91 Record­ings by Great Female Jazz Musi­cians

Jazz Vir­tu­oso Oscar Peter­son Gives Dick Cavett a Daz­zling Piano Les­son (1979)

Lit­tle Kid Mer­ri­ly Grooves to ZZ Top While Wait­ing for the Bus

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, the­ater­mak­er, and the Chief Pri­maol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Her lat­est book, Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo, will be pub­lished in ear­ly 2022.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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