Pocket Cornets by Nick DeCarlis

Pocket Cornets: Actual Size. A Pictorial Overview of the Smallest Antique & Vintage Cornets Ever Made. By Nick DeCarlis. Published by the author 2009. 75 pages hardcover. Information: www.PocketCornets.com  www.JazzCor.net

This beautifully designed and illustrated book features a detailed examination of many of the instruments from the author’s private collection of several dozen rare pocket cornets arranged chronologically from an 1872 Distin instrument to various Amati, Holton, and Alexander pocket cornets from the 1960s and 1970s.  The 8x9 ½ inch page format of this publication enabled DeCarlis to feature beautiful “life size” color photos of the instruments. They are so sharp and clear that I found myself constantly reaching toward the page with my right hand imagining that I could grab the cornet and pull it from the page. Details of length (typically 8 or 7 inches), bell diameter, bore size, key and pitch and serial numbers are given for each instrument featured. There are also numerous photos of related material such as illustrations of the makers, 19th and early 20th century performers holding pocket cornets, instrument cases, original advertisements, and catalogues. A brief historical background is also given along with a description of various unusual design configurations.

Besides the descriptions of each instrument featured, the book gives information about a number of musicians who performed on pocket cornet along with information on what instruments they played and what time period they were involved in playing them. Included on this list are Sylvester “Hooley” Ahola (Boosey), Donald Byrd (F. Besson MEHA), Don Cherry (F. Besson MEHA), Herbert L. Clarke (H. Distin Baby), Roy Eldridge (unknown model), Bobby Hackett (Amati), Manny Klein (Calicchio), and Uan Rasey (Calicchio). Another wonderful photo is that of an elder Herbert Clarke holding a Distin “Baby” pocket cornet that was presented to the great cornetist by Henry Distin himself in 1886. Also included is a photo of the actual cornet, elaborately decorated, now housed in the Clarke archives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There is a selected bibliography of related literature and a list of some museum collections that include pocket cornets and trumpets.

DeCarlis’s introduction presents a brief overview of the history of this small marvel. The foreword by Niles Eldredge affectionately captures the spirit of instrument collectors and in this case, cornet collectors. He talks of the nature of passion of collectors and the “Cornet Conspiracy,” a small group of cornet aficionados, to whom this book is dedicated, and to which I happen to be a proud member, is nothing if not passionate about cornets. This beautifully made book is clearly the product of Nick DeCarlis’s passion for his chosen instrument and we are all the better for it.

-- Jeff Nussbaum