He played clarinet with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and the Santa Fe Opera before joining the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1974. He was appointed principal clarinet of the CSO by Sir Georg Solti in 1978. He has appeared as a soloist with the orchestra on many occasions. He retired from the CSO following the 2007-2008 season to spend more time teaching clarinet students at DePaul University.
He is also a founding member of the Chicago Chamber Musicians. He has performed the Brahms Clarinet Trio with Daniel Barenboim and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and has appeared at the Ravinia Festival with its music director, Christoph Eschenbach. Other appearances have been with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Smithsonian Chamber Players. + He is also a founding member of the Chicago Chamber Musicians. Combs is also a jazz aficionado. His Combs-Novak Sextet is one of the headliners at the 1999 Chicago Jazz Festival; he cut an album with jazz clarinetist Eddie Daniels, called "Crossing the Line"; and the Chicago Reader's Ted Shen wrote that he is "a Benny Goodman-like chameleon who can execute breathtaking arabesques and add a touch of eloquence to the plainest phrase." He was a clinician for the G. Leblanc Company, which made the Opus II clarinets he helped to design, and the Larry Combs models of clarinet mouthpieces. He is married to Gail Williams, a horn professor at Northwestern University, and retired Associate Principal Horn of the Chicago Symphony.
Awards and recognition
- Daniel Barenboim, Dale Clevenger, Larry Combs, Daniele Damiano, Hansjorg Schellenberger & the Berlin Philharmonic for Beethoven/Mozart: Quintets (Chicago-Berlin) (1995)
- He was awarded his second Grammy Award in 2002 for his recording of Richard Strauss' Duett-Concertino for clarinet and bassoon, strings and harp.
- "The Jazz Brothers", Riverside, 1960 (alto sax in the Mangione Brothers Sextet)
- "Crossing the Line" with Eddie Daniels
- "Mozart: Music for Bassett Horns", CBS Masterworks, 1986 (Grammy nominated album)
- "Chicago Chamber Musicians at 15"
- Chicago Chamber Musicians
- "Larry Combs, Clarinet", Music of Rozsa, Rochberg, and Schuller, 2005
- "Orchestral Excerpts for Clarinet", 1994
- "Brahms, Scriabin, Prokofieff for Clarinet", 1995
- "The American Clarinet", Music of Bernstein, Copland, Gershwin, and Gould, 1995