Stanley Drucker doesn't come from a musical family but when he was 10, his parents surprised him with a clarinet.
"I think my parents gave me a clarinet because it was the era of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw," Drucker said of the most famous musicians of the 1930s.
Whatever the reason, the Druckers made a fortuitous choice. Young Stanley turned out to be a virtuoso, getting his first professional job with the Indianapolis Philharmonic at age 16. Three years later, the New York Philharmonic came calling.
"The first rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic I was 19," Drucker explained. "I got out on the stage at Carnegie Hall. And I was overwhelmed by the sound and the kind of playing I was hearing. I thought I knew everything and I probably knew nothing. Everything I heard was a master class."
In his 60 years with the New York Philharmonic, Drucker has seen the orchestra move from part-time players to full-time members, from all men to co-ed.
"This was during the era of Leonard Bernstein. And the first women came into the orchestra. It was very much overdue, I thought. It was an exciting time. Camelot, as they say, in music," Drucker said.
In 1960 at age 31 Drucker became the orchestra's principle clarinetist. He has played 10,200 concerts, in 60 countries, including Germany just days after the Berlin Wall came down.
"We performed the 9th Symphony of Beethoven. And we changed two words in the Ode to Joy: from freude to freiheit, from joy to freedom," said Drucker.
Not surprising, Drucker holds the record for longest tenure with the orchestra. He probably holds the record for longest tenure with any orchestra.
"There isn't a principle player in the world on a major symphony that is my age. In Europe they have to retire 20 years sooner," Drucker explained.
After playing for more than 40 million concert-goers, Tuesday night Drucker blew his final note with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.
"I'm 80 years old. That's a scary number. Even though I feel half my age," Drucker admitted.
He said he wanted to go out on top.
"I feel at this point in my life I am still doing everything I have ever done the same way. This is great to stop at this point," he said.
But before he said good-bye, he played his signature piece one last time.
"The Copland Clarinet Concerto is one of the great pieces of the 20th century," Drucker explained.
It was commissioned by Benny Goodman in 1948. And only Goodman and Drucker have ever played the piece with the New York Philharmonic.
"I always looked forward to trying to keep everything fresh and play it with a lot of joy and a lot of passion. And for me I feel the same as I did years ago. So I am very lucky."
Drucker doesn't like calling what he is doing retirement. He plans to give master classes and he says he will never stop playing.