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A conversation with Darryl Cann 

Meet Darryl Cann, the clarineting cab driver, who's slowly becoming a local celebrity. Last year, thanks to his association with PRO Cabbies -- Pittsburgh Relies on Cabbies, a program that coached drivers to be ad hoc city ambassadors -- Cann appeared in the Post-Gazette, the Associated Press, various TV news outlets and even on a Tokyo radio program. By the luck of the fare, he's transported and entertained notables such as Kevin Bacon, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, of Illinois.

 

How'd you get started?

I've been driving a cab for approximately three years; I've been playing clarinet for about 30.

 

I didn't start playing in the cab right away. As a matter of fact, the first week was the most boringest week ever. It's hard to make money: You lease the cab for 24 hours, and it takes you eight or 12 hours to make the lease. Add another eight to try to generate a profit. The hours are long and there's a lot of downtime. I had to question myself, "What are you doing?" Downtown one morning, I saw a street musician playing saxophone. It hit me, "I need to bring my horn and practice!"

 

I like doing airport trips because, if I drop someone off, I have an hour-and-a-half to wait [for a customer] and practice. And my playing has quadrupled.

 

Mainly I play for my customers when I'm at long red lights, traffic jams. I can play on a straightaway if there's no cars around.

 

Other cab drivers are like, "Darryl, you're making this hard for us! Everybody wants to know, 'What are you gonna play?'" They say, "I'm playing the radio!"

 

What's something you're working on?

This guy, he's the modern Benny Goodman: Eddie Daniels. Wait'll you hear this, you'll see why.

 

He's all over the place. That's, like, double-triplets, I guess, and sort of a chromatic scale, but not really.

I'm learning it slowly. Just take a couple lines, and do it all week. It's a great method ... because it works. I'm a student of music. I took 10 years of piano lessons as a kid. And when I got in fifth grade, I picked up the clarinet. Then in junior high, I picked up the flute. When I got in high school, I picked up soprano sax, tenor sax and bass clarinet.

 

You don't hear as many clarinets in jazz anymore.

One reason you don't see the clarinet is the challenge. It's the godfather of the woodwinds. You only have, say, a half-inch [diameter] to blow through. If you don't blow, let's say, properly, it makes a loud, annoying noise. You don't want to be in front of thousands of people and squeak!

But if it's blown through properly, it's a beautiful instrument. I love the sound. The sound is so mellow, and soothing, and healing and quiet and serene. And you don't get enough of it when you hear it. It's like when you're thirsty, a glass doesn't do it. Leave the pitcher!

 

Did you just learn to play in school band? Do you have a jazz family background?

Actually, when I went to Pitt, I took a jazz history course. It was the most interesting course I'd ever taken, and that got me into jazz.

 

One of the best-kept secrets of Pittsburgh, bigger than the Steelers and Heinz ketchup, is the jazz legends that have come out of this town! People from out of town, they have no idea that Erroll Garner's from here, or Fatha Hines, or Billy Eckstine, or Billy Strayhorn, or Mary Lou Williams, but they know of them.

 

You have a chance to teach people something.

Right. So the Steelers' loss isn't that important? No, it isn't! Because music, music wins all the time.

 

Music has blessed my life tremendously. One time, an elderly couple got in my cab, "Where can we get a good seafood restaurant?" I'd eaten at Monterey Bay, and I recommended it.

[Coming up McArdle], a straightaway, the first thing that came to my mind was "Amazing Grace," and I started playing. When I get to the top of the hill, I look in the rearview mirror. Oh, my God, this lady's crying her eyes out. I say, "Are you OK?"

 

Her husband says, "Young man, you have no idea how OK my wife is right now. We're out celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary, and you just played our favorite hymn which was played 50 years ago at our wedding." It gave me goosebumps!

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