Famous flute players

Great Jazz flautists

Present day Jazz flautists of note include Herbert Laws and Dave Valentin, with past greats including Yusef Latif, Frank West and Herbie Mann. As one would expect, many of the famous jazz musicians were American, for example Frank Wess originated from Kansas City, born in 1922, and was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra from 1953 to 1964.

Great classical flautists

There are many classical flautists who are famous amongst those who art aficionados of such music, such as Jean Pierre Rampal, Auriel Nicolet, William Bennett, Emanuel Pahud and more, but the flautist who has probably made himself famous to the public in general is the Irish flautist James Galway, now Sir James Galway, OBE. He crossed the border between purely classical music and light music, particularly with Annie’s Song, and became being nicknamed “the man with the golden flute”.

As well as being a virtuoso flautist, he had that very special Irish charm which when put together with his broad view of music, has made him a household name. I remember him being interviewed on the radio some years ago, and asked how he managed to play the flight of the bumblebees at such a speed, without pause for breath. He confirmed that the speed was his virtuosity, but the lack of pause for breath was not his doing, but due to some very good sound editing. In reality, he had taken breaths, and no he didn’t breathe in through his ears.

The issue of taking breaths is something that comes up in Irish folk music played on the flute. Particularly in an Irish ceilidh band, where the seeming seamlessness of the Irish tunes in gender is a sort of hypnosis in the dancers. In classical music, the flautist would take breaths between phrases. The equivalent of phrases in folk dance music is the end of the eight bar line, typically four sets of eight bars making up the 32 bar trick or real. An Irish flautist however, will not breathe at the end of the line, but will breathe somewhere fairly randomly in the middle of the line, so their breath is partly disguised by the other instruments, and is partly unexpected in such a position so that it goes unnoticed by the listener. It’s the sort of conjuring trick, doing things when no one is paying attention is not expecting things to happen.

Pop Flautists

The flute is not an instrument commonly used in pop bands, but one notable exception was the Jethro Tull rock band who were famous in the early 70s bands vocalist was also a talented flautist, and I think guitarist as well. He played the flute with microphone attached, to enable high volume PA system to be used without feedback, or at least only with feedback when he wished it to occur.

I remember sitting on the floor of the concert hall at wedding University in my first year there, at a concert given by Jethro Tull. It was the sort of rock band where the volume of the base notes in particular moved one’s intestines around. It wasn’t so much an experience of hearing, the volume was so high that it cause distortion in the eardrums, it was more an experience of feeling the music through the whole body as the sound waves hit you. (The military have experimented with infra-sound weapons, which vibrates the whole body to incapacitate the enemy. This was an experience that came close to the weapon system.) Anyway, he was a super flautist, or at least I enjoy displaying. I’m not sure that he went down too well with some classical flautists!

Folk flautists

Many of the best folk flautists play in Irish ceilidh bands, and the instrument being a key part of the melody. There are a number of Irish flutes and whistles, transverse flute being a large hold flute without keys, then there’s the Irish piccolo, a keyless piccolo sized wooden instrument, then there are the tin whistle style flutes in various sizes and keys, made from wood, metal and some quite good ones in plastics.

One you are a mere you are a walk down a you are you are a answer no to a notable band amongst many, is the Irish band Flook, who play Irish and and concert flutes in their performances, including the base flute.