Davis Hampton ’21 Wins Principal Bass Clarinet in the U.S. Army Band

Davis Hampton

The newest member of “Pershing’s Own” talks working with faculty members Jeff Anderle and Jerome Simas as well as balancing music and life

During the final audition round for the principal bass clarinet position in the United States Army Band, Davis Hampton (MM 20; PSD, 21) joined the clarinet section for a familiar piece: Alfred Uhl’s “Divertimento for Clarinet Quartet.” Hampton purposefully performed the piece a week prior in SFCM’s chamber music class knowing that the extra practice might help him in the audition room. 

This decision showcases Hampton’s ethos—a combination of ambition and work ethic—honed with his SFCM mentors Jerome Simas and Jeff Anderle that would ultimately lead him to win the job. 

The Road to SFCM 

Hampton came to SFCM in 2018 after a lot of what he calls “playing catch up.” Two years prior—mid-way through undergrad studying music education—he realized that he wanted to pursue a master’s degree and later a career in performance. His teachers encouraged him but were candid about the challenges ahead. Hampton hadn’t spent years working towards being what he deems a “big-time player” and he had a lot to learn. 

“I started on bass clarinet, in sixth grade, and I didn't learn regular clarinet until I was halfway through undergrad,” says Hampton. “It’s in the same instrument family, so it's not new fingerings or anything, but it is something I wasn't used to and I had about two years to get to a high enough level for grad school.”

Hampton worked incredibly hard for months. He credits his work ethic as well as his support system of teachers, family, and friends for the continuous encouragement.

“Whenever you start late, you always feel like you're playing catch up,” he muses. “But what you bring to the table is unparalleled ambition and drive. You know there are many obstacles put in front of you, so you end up saying, ‘All right, I'm gonna crush all these obstacles because there's no other way.’”

The Best Faculty

Hampton brings this ambition to SFCM, a place he calls “one of the best schools in the entire country to study bass clarinet.” He continues, “We have two outstanding bass clarinet teachers—the ensemble player and the soloist/contemporary player—when most schools are lucky enough to have one.”

Both of these teachers are Hampton’s mentors. As a master’s student, he studied with Jerome Simas, solo bass clarinet and utility clarinet with the San Francisco Symphony, and refined his soprano clarinet skills. Now Hampton is the first post-graduate studies diploma candidate in bass clarinet and works with Jeff Anderle, chair of the Woodwinds Department and member of Sqwonk, Splinter Reeds, and San Franciso Contemporary Music Players.

Hampton credits his musical progress to the individual attention received while working with Simas and Anderle as well as getting to know them as people and artists.

“I was one of two or three students that Jerry had at any one time, and I'm one of two or three students that Jeff has right now,” he said. “Having that much focus on me was incredible. At a lot of other [schools], teachers have 25 students and they do a great job, but the kind of focus I have right now is not just about playing with or learning from my teachers; it’s about being able to go see them play all the time. 

He continues, “I was able to see their lessons put into practice, both by seeing the San Francisco Symphony and the many faculty recitals Jeff performs. I know them outside of the studio and more as artists than I would have otherwise.”

Of working with Hampton, Simas says, “During our time together, I was struck by Davis’s work ethic. He was always completely prepared from week to week, organized, curious, and eager to tackle the next project.”

Anderle agrees, “Davis is a really special student who combines his own thoughtful artistic ideas with an utter dedication to improvement and a drive to succeed.”

Hampton has learned even more about his artistry through working with his mentors—particularly how achieving success in art goes hand in hand with crafting a life outside music. Strategic hard work is key, but so is balance. 

“Jerry told me one time, ‘do the work, and then don’t do the work,’” recalls Hampton. “It’s about keeping your practice focused and organized in the right places, so you can do other things and have a multifaceted kind of unique lifestyle. And that helped me in my mental health to not feel guilty every time I wasn't thinking about the clarinet.”

This mindset was helpful in the months of auditioning for Pershing’s Own during a pandemic. 

The Audition Process

Hampton first learned about the US Army Band position opening in August 2020 after months of lockdown. Instantly, he knew he must do as much as possible to get the job. 

“I told myself, ‘This audition is coming up. There is no other audition coming up [because of the pandemic]. And it’s a bass clarinet job which is always what I’ve wanted … so, here we go,” recalls Hampton.

He sent in nine excerpts and solos on clarinet and bass clarinet over the summer. In September, Hampton learned he would be amongst a handful of finalists traveling to Fort Myer, Virginia in February 2021 to audition. 

In the interim, Hampton had to pass exams and medical tests (which is par the course for military or government jobs) while diligently preparing for the audition with Anderle. They were able to safely continue working together throughout the fall semester using the Dante Audio Network System, a tech solution offering players virtually no audio latency while performing together in separate rooms.

Hampton felt prepared by the time he flew back east for the audition -- both musically and mentally. 

“There was a great deal of stress leading up to it, but the only way I could calm myself down was by getting comfortable with all possible outcomes and accepting them as a potential reality,” explains Hampton. 

“In my mind, if I lose the audition, I still live here in SF,” says Hampton. “I have plenty of things I love to do here other than playing the clarinet. I work in a coffee shop that I like. I love biking around town. And that [thinking] calmed me down.”

After a normal three rounds of auditioning and interviewing with members of the band, Hampton landed the principal bass clarinet job.

“When they offered me the job, everybody was super friendly and welcoming, and I’m excited to be playing with them—to join them,” says Hampton.

Simas and Anderle are equally thrilled. 

“This is an exciting new chapter in Davis's career that underscores his consistent approach and eagerness to seek out the full range of opportunities,” says Simas. 

Anderle adds, “I'm incredibly proud of Davis' achievement. His focus, work ethic, and warm personality have been a really important part of the whole wind department for the past three years. I was delighted that he decided to stay after his M.M. to be our first post-graduate studies diploma student in bass clarinet, and I'm excited that our first student with this degree has had such success even before graduating!”

“I feel a sense of gratitude to my teachers and the community at SFCM,” says Hampton. “[The Conservatory] was the right place to be for what I needed at the time and so was the city of San Francisco. It’s a wonderful place with so many different types of people, a place where everything is so close together that you can’t help but find people you like somewhere. Having all that together worked out very well for my life.”

Hampton will complete his degree in May, but his time at SFCM will always be special—years of personal and professional growth that underscore a strength of character and passion enviable to any musician. 

Learn more about SFCM’s woodwinds department or check out Davis Hampton’s Takeover Tuesday on Instagram to explore a day in the life of an SFCM clarinetist.