Sol Yaged was 12 and living in Coney Island when he first heard Benny Goodman and his band on the radio in 1935. It was an experience that would guide him for more than 80 years.
“They were so hot I still get goose pimples talking about this band 60 years ago, 65 years ago,” Mr. Yaged said in an interview in 2000 for the Fillius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College. “I says, ‘I’ve got to buy a clarinet.’ I didn’t know if I was going to be a professional or not.”
Mr. Yaged (pronounced YAY-ged) never held any job but clarinetist. And he was so fixated on Goodman and his artistry — as a teenager, Mr. Yaged started building a friendship with him by attending many of his performances and talking to him outside stage doors — that he could easily conjure his mentor’s lyricism and creamy, elegant tone.
“If it hadn’t been for Benny Goodman,” Mr. Yaged often said, “I’d have been a juvenile delinquent.”
Mr. Yaged, who continued to perform until about a year ago, died on May 11 in an assisted living facility in Coconut Creek, Fla. He was 96.
His grandson, Jon Yaged, confirmed the death.
As a sideman, and especially as a bandleader, Mr. Yaged was a fixture in New York City and vicinity. He played swing and Dixieland at jazz clubs in Manhattan like the Onyx, Eddie Condon’s, the Three Deuces and the Metropole, where he recorded a live album released in 1961; at restaurants, hotels and motels; and outside the Louisiana pavilion at the World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in 1964.
And well after the 1940s and ’50s heyday of jazz clubs, Mr. Yaged continued to play, with a mixture of relentlessness and joy, into his 90s. He was 91 when he, the pianist Irving Fields (then 99) and the Yiddish entertainer Fyvush Finkel (also 91) teamed up for performances at Baruch College in 2014.
Mr. Yaged often sat in with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, an ensemble that specializes in vintage jazz, at various venues in Manhattan between the late 1970s and the early 2000s.
“I used to tell my band that when he comes up and plays, it’s a master class in the swing language,” Mr. Giordano said in a telephone interview. “He still had that big sound, and he could bring the house down.”
As a bandleader, Mr. Yaged surrounded himself with some of the finest musicians of his era, including the saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, the trumpeters Henry (Red) Allen and Roy Eldridge and the drummer Cozy Cole.
In 1956 he released his only studio album as a leader, “It Might as Well Be Swing.” When it was reissued last year, he wrote on Facebook, “At 95, I would never have thought I’d see the day my music would circulate again.”
Solomon William Yaged was born on Dec. 8, 1922, in Brooklyn. His father, Isidore, managed residential real estate properties, and his mother, Ethel (Kornblum) Yaged, was a homemaker. Sol’s father bought him his first clarinet, for $8, from a pawnshop.
Although strongly drawn to jazz, Mr. Yaged followed Goodman’s path by studying classical clarinet. He traveled two hours each way from Brooklyn to the Bronx for a one-hour lesson with Simeon Bellison, the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic.
In 1942 he married Zelda Wolff. The next year he entered the Army, where he played in a band.
Soon after his discharge, he auditioned for William Steinberg, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director.
“And they offered me the job, like $75, but we had to move to Buffalo,” he said in the Hamilton College interview. “And my wife, who was my manager and agent, she said, ‘Let’s stay in New York.’ Right after that I got myself a steady job at Jimmy Ryan’s on 52nd Street.”
Mr. Yaged’s musicianship and knowledge of Benny Goodman’s music got him hired to teach the entertainer Steve Allen the clarinet when he was cast in the title role of the 1956 movie “The Benny Goodman Story.”
“After a couple of lessons, he was able to pick up the clarinet and play a blues,” Mr. Yaged said in the Hamilton College interview. “He was very astute.”
As a bandleader, Mr. Yaged could be demanding and critical of his sidemen, sometimes during a performance. His longtime bassist, Bob Arkin, said in an interview with The Times in 2014 that he recited a Buddhist chant between sets to prepare himself for Mr. Yaged’s bossy demeanor.
Mr. Yaged did not apologize for being difficult.
“What did Leo Durocher say? Nice guys finish last,” Mr. Yaged said in the same Times article. “All the great bandleaders, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, they were tough guys. If you didn’t cut the mustard, you were out. When you’re too nice, the guys in the band step all over you.”
In addition to his grandson, Mr. Yaged is survived by a son, Martin; a daughter, Melody Yaged; a granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter. His wife died in 1994.
Jon Yaged recalled that his grandfather was a physical marvel nearly to the end — working late, waking up at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, then talking on the telephone for three or four hours to fans and club owners, stopping occasionally to play for them.
“He wasn’t a partyer, he just played all the time — that’s what he did,” Mr. Yaged said in a telephone interview. “When I was in law school, I was yawning one day in class and someone asked me why I was tired. I said, ‘I was up watching my grandfather.’ ”
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