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Comments/Kenny Davern

I had some funny comments about my last missive,but the best was from someone who said he/she had another reason for me to hide in my room-they burned copies of my CD!Actually,this is a tough one-in some cases,that’s the only way to hear music that’s not distributed well,and may draw future PAYING customers into the fold.With my old CDs on Concord Records,for example, they have little or no interest in their back catalog-they’ve deleted almost everything (not just mine),won’t let us buy the masters,and crank out cheesy compilations of songs that every jazz lover already has! But who am I to argue with success-just because I’ve recieved no quarterly statements of earnings,had tracks licensed for other use without my knowledge or approval,and keep remembering my last meeting with the then vice-president who had never even heard of the jazz producer George Avakian (I wanted him to man the helm of my last project for them),and,astoundingly,professed to never having heard the recordings associated with him (Miles Davis,Duke Ellington,Thelonius Monk,Louis Armstrong,etc.),I’M NOT BITTER!!!!!!!!!!!!But to you small cabal out there who remember the music I made for them,I say:Burn Away!!!(note to the legal dept. of Concord:I,of course,am just kidding-ahahhahahahahahhahahahahah)And good luck with your future projects-taking dead people’s notes and grafting them on to whatever sticks-enjoy your sales while you can!

Kenny Davern
We lost one of the great ones last week-Kenny Davern died suddenly of a heart attack at 71 years old.He was a true original both musically and personally,with an almost fanatical desire to tear down any walls of pretentiousness or pomposity around him.He was also funny,with a wicked sense of humor and a great laugh-I remember,years ago,going to a supposed “up-scale” restaurant with him,where you needed a thesaurus for the menu,and the food was even worse than the bad service.At the end of the meal,the waiter came up with the bill,and asked,”Do you need anything else?” Kenny looked him straight in the eye and said,”Yeah,how about a stomach-pump?”I was mortified and strangely proud/envious of him at the same time….There were also the constant battles with his chief nemesis,the Sound Man,which I think a small,morbid part of him secretly enjoyed-Why else would he wait until he got on the bandstand to inform the sound-man that there would be no microphones,jazz was meant to be acoustic,etc.(Although,fascinatingly,he used the microphone to make these announcements!!!)Of course,Kenny Davern had,unquestionably, the biggest sound I’ve ever heard on the clarinet,and so was proven right in most of these battles….
More importantly,no-one played like Kenny Davern.He had the great mis-fortune,largely because of the material he chose to interpret and the ignorance of many critics,of being labelled a “traditional” jazz player.There was nothing traditional about him-he was more knowledgeable about the mechanics of the clarinet than most repairmen,and utilized everything in and out of the book-false fingerings,harmonics,an astounding upper range,bends,lip-slurs,you name it-an astounding,and incredibly moving,musician.
When he was among us,he seemed larger than life-now,sadly,he truly is….
Until next time,take care-Ken Peplowski

Why We Lock Ourselves In Our Hotel Rooms Part 1

Now,before I start hearing from people telling me how ungrateful I am to my audience,let me just say that,generally,I have a deep appreciation of my fans’ “love’….After all,there is ,and should be, a certain intimacy between performer and audience.It’s just that there’s a certain type of person who uses this “relationship” to get out the same kind of passive/aggressive behavior they would normally save for their spouse-behind closed doors!This,then,is our subject for today…Now let us begin…..

There she was-the sweet,kindly-looking little old lady timidly approaching me at a jazz festival to tell me something.This is how the conversation went.
“Excuse me,Mr. Peplowski?”
“I bought your last album….”
(As my chest burst with anticipatory pride)”Why,thank y-”
“I was very disappointed.”
What does one say to this?In my case,I looked at her and replied,”Well,I’m glad to know that-I’ll have the rest of them recalled immediately.”
She just walked away,as we both shook our heads sadly….

That was the “fan-as-critic.”Now we move on to the personal attacks.

I just happened to catch his eye from across a crowded ballroom,where we were playing at a jazz “party”.He was in a wheelchair,breathing through an oxygen tube,and was beckoning me with a wizened claw to come all the way over to where he was,across a sea of people…I dutifully walked over,carefully negotiating all the chairs,tables,waiters,and general bustle,and bent down to hear what he was trying to tell me.It sounded like….wait-it was-
“You don’t look like you’ve been missing many meals.”And,in case I didn’t quite get the gist of what he was saying,he followed that zinger with: “You’ve really gotten fat.”I staggered away,with my frozeniloveyoualliloveyoualliloveyouall smile pasted on my face.

There’s also the “I remember you when you had a full head of hair” personal-attack variation,usually coming from a person who remembers when Abe Lincoln had a full head of hair!

Then we have the “insider.” He sidles up to me with a conspiratorial glance,and this conversation ensues:
“Now,we both know each other-how much would you charge to play a concert for me-and I don’t want to go through your agent-I want to negotiate directly with you!”
As my butt-cheeks clench vigorously,I refrain from saying,”How much would you charge me for a gall-bladder operation-and I don’t want to go through the insurance company,I want to deal directly with you!”
Instead,I hem and haw,and make some lame excuse that I’ll have to get back to him/her.

Then we have the jazz “expert”,who already knows the answer they want me to give them before they even ask the question,which is inevitably,”Who’s better-Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman?”There’s also the shorthand version,where they just jab me in the stomach and bark out,”Benny or Artie?”There’s two points to be made about this:1.I really don’t care who is or was better,and 2.Thanks for taking me completely out of the equation in your list of all-time greats!

There’s also the “I prefer you on saxophone/clarinet”,or its companion piece,”I hate the saxophone/clarinet!”We’ll just move on from this one for now,though,and skip to my all-time favorite:


This is a person who usually has a copy of my first record (preferably the giant LP-size version),who sidles up to me,eyebrows akimbo,arms behind his back…..
“I’ve got something to show you…”
My heart is already sinking (for I know what’s coming) as my face registers (fake) bafflement and curiousity.”What is it?” I gulp,knowing full well what “it” is.
From behind him,he whisks out the Giant Record Cover With My 25-Year Old Head on it.”What do you think about that?”
I ask you,ladies and gentleman of the jury,what should I reply?”Oh-I didn’t know those were for sale.”or “I thought I had the only copy” or (closer to the response they really want), “You see,I did look good 6,000 gigs ago!”
I guess the best answer I ever heard was from trumpeter Warren Vache,who,when accosted with a double dose of,”You’ve gotten fat andbald!”,leaned down,graciously shook the message-bearer’s hand,and sweetly replied-“Thank you-and may I say that you look exactly the same as you did twenty-five years ago!”

Bye for now! Ken “I love everyone” Peplowski

A Holiday Tale

………For It Was Told That On This Day, the Great God Thoth, Giver Of Heat Rash, ascended to the skies in a winged chariot (Delta to you). And It Was Good……
……….And on that day, the Great Dwarf Rictus (he was called the “Great” Dwarf because he stood about 6’5″) gazed into his Bowl Of Chiclets and saw his shadow. This, as everyone knows, foretold another 4 months of Dental Work. And It Was Good……..
…………And on the eve of the next morning about a week-and-a-half later, the lambs lieth down with the wolves, the crocodiles lieth down with the canaries, and, once again, the Goat-Herders were rounded up and arrested for Unspeakable Acts. And It Was Good………..
………….And, finally, a child was born, fair of skin, dark of complexion, and as funny as Carrot-Top. This child would go on to be a Great Accountant. The child in the next manger over, however, would go on to perform many semi-miraculous deeds. He could turn water into Fresca. He could make a blind man lame. He could take the most mundane thoughts and turn them into a Top 40 Hit. AND IT WAS GOOD………..
……………..And so, we’d all of us here at Team Peplowski like to wish you a very Happy 22nd of December. (Oh, and a Merry Christmas,too!) (Oh, and Happy Chanukah) (Good Kwanza)
And Peace on Earth.

A Holiday Tale (Part Two)

OK, first of all, I realize I’ve inadvertently left off an extra “a” in ‘Kwanzaa’ (see my last posting), so I must apologize to the following: All the people who observe Kwanzaa; The letter “a”; and Thomas Gutenberg.Sincerely, Kn Pplowski

And now,on to:


It seems that one day Shekel, the God Of Tipping, was playing whist with his friends Gropo, the God Of Overly-Familiar Embracing, and DelRubio, the Goddess Of Three-Part Harmony Groups, when he had an epiphany. Once his friends had recovered from the shock and cleaned up the table,Gropo said, “I’m bored-Let’s create something…..But what?”
DelRubio quickly replied,”What if we created someone who would steal from the rich and give to the poor?”
“Already done”,scoffed Shekel.”Remember ‘Robin Hood’ and his band of suspiciously merry men?”
“Oh,yeah”, said Gropo. “But wait a minute-what if we create someone who steals from the poor and gives to the rich?”
And that is why, every December 21, we celebrate the creation of Trickle, the God Of Supply-Side Economics.

Happy Holidays!!!!!!

A Quick Story

I’m in Sweden,where the people seem to embrace both the cold and the semi-permanent state of darkness like a badge of honor.Luckily,I’ve been here enough times to come prepared-I’ve packed extra sweaters for the cold and my coal-miner’s helmet for reading……OK,a brief,and strangely endearing,story about Benny Goodman….
I was eating lunch with Benny Goodman at the Carnegie Deli while he suffered through a reporter’s questions.Finally,the reporter asked,”Benny,did you ever have any nick-names when you were a kid?”Benny pondered on this for a moment,started giggling (he was a great giggler),and said,”Well,some people called me the king of swing!”I don’t know why I find that so charming,but it hopefully captures a different side of Benny than one finds in the books….
Enough for now-take care-KenI’m in Sweden,where the people seem to embrace both the cold and the semi-permanent state of darkness like a badge of honor.Luckily,I’ve been here enough times to come prepared-I’ve packed extra sweaters for the cold and my coal-miner’s helmet for reading……OK,a brief,and strangely endearing,story about Benny Goodman….
I was eating lunch with Benny Goodman at the Carnegie Deli while he suffered through a reporter’s questions.Finally,the reporter asked,”Benny,did you ever have any nick-names when you were a kid?”Benny pondered on this for a moment,started giggling (he was a great giggler),and said,”Well,some people called me the king of swing!”I don’t know why I find that so charming,but it hopefully captures a different side of Benny than one finds in the books….
Enough for now-take care-Ken

The Jazz Cruise

OK,so last week I embarked on the annual Jazz Cruise,only to come out on the other side as the new artistic director/MC ;there will be an interim year when Cherrie Scheets,the current AD, very ablely (my own spelling) shows me the ropes-I’m very grateful to her for that,as she’s done an exemplary job booking everyone and putting the sets together….So,for this year,I’d be very grateful if you send all suggestions,complaints,queries,etc.,to Cherrie (why do I have the feeling she’s doing the same thing to me right now?).
The cruise was great-there’s so much music,the only complaint I heard was that it was an over-abundance of riches,and people couldn’t get to hear everything…Anyway,some highlights for me were The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (probably the best real big band going),Don Friedman’s magic touch on the piano,Houston Person (he always does some dance sets to remind us where this music came from,without compromising his great artistry in the least),the classy and sensitive performances from Freddie Cole,and Russell Malone and his great band-he’s a wonderful guitarist and a fantastic showman!
There’s always a series of ‘questions with the stars’ on the ship-before my session,I’d joked about whether we would get the same two questions-“where is jazz going/what will happen when we’re all dead” and The Ken Burns Question.Happily,I think the Burns questions have finally-well-Burned themselves out,but the former raised its ugly spectre once more.The answer is-Jazz ain’t going nowhere-the fact that this question has been asked for probably the last 30-40 years should tell you something about the state of jazz!We’re all still here,and making livings off this music-it may be a slightly older audience,but I was only half-joking in my ship-board reply when I pointed out that ‘the good news is there will always be a new crop of old people when these have gone’!Jazz may never again be the popular music it was,but no form of popular entertainment stays at number one forever!And it may always skew to an older,more ‘cultured’ audience (see:Lincoln Center),but as people get older and wiser,I don’t see them attending either hip-hop or speed-metal concerts;they’ll all find us,eventually!
Bye for now,and to paraphrase our grate presidennt,’don’t forget to put food on your family!’Ken

Greetings – Clarinet stuff,Tales From The Road

Hi, and welcome to my sounding-board. I’ll use this space to talk about anything that interests me (and, hopefully, you). I’ll try to answer some of the more technical questions about playing, improvising,etc.,here,and also tell some tales from my life on the, to begin:
I’ve had some e-mails about recording the clarinet,so I’ll expand on one of my replies.
First of all,everyone has their own methods and preferences,so,despite what they say in method books and music schools,there is no correct way to do anything in music-every ‘rule’ has been broken time and again;you just have to find whatever works for you (so take what I say with a grain or twelve of salt)!You must remember that your instrument is just an amplifier/speaker of your sound;but the sound comes fromyou!Your mouth cavity,teeth,air capacity,etc. produce the sound(more importantly,your brain conceives the sound)-the sooner you realize this, will save you a lifetime’s worth of searching for the ‘holy grail’ in mouthpieces,equipment,reeds,microphones,etc.Figure out what you want to sound like first and find something that stays out of your way and makes your life as easy as possible-in a sense,this approach allows you to internalize your sound and then find the external means of achieving same,rather than the opposite….
Now,as to microphones and mic placement,I’ve always preferred the Neumanns for their amazingly natural sound,and I like to position the microphone over and above the hands,slightly favoring the left hand,and at a distance the human ear would choose to be able to hear the whole ‘sound picture’.I absolutely detest the sound of a microphone in the clarinet bell,just as I detest it jammed down my saxophone bell-again,the instrument is a sound amplifier,and you don’t listen to it with your head down the bell,so why record it there?I always emphasize to the sound engineer (also in live settings)that I want as natural a sound as possible-whatever that takes!But the most important thing is to find an engineer with ‘good ears’,who understands what you want and can achieve it with the least amount of distraction and interference!OK,moving on to…

OK,years ago I was touring with a singer who had some memorable appearances on Saturday Night Live,and had quite the ‘cult’ following (I’m sure Squeaky Fromme would have loved him…).Amongst many other quirks,he had a way of terrorizing road managers with ever-increasing demands;because of this,we went through road managers like George Bush goes through soldiers (no letters,please!),So here we found ourselves starting a long tour with a new guy,who had never road-managed before,and was very,very nervous to begin with,which just emboldened our fearless leader to act even more like the proverbial fox in the hen-house.Every thing this road manager did (who we christened ”Tall Whiteman” as he was about 6’5″)was questioned,taken apart,and critiqued,to the point where he was literally quaking in his boots around Fearless Leader.It all (quite literally) came to a head when we played a club where the stage was surrounded on all sides by low-hanging wooden beams,with a rickety set of steps leading to the side of the stage.
Now,part of our singer’s act (remember,this was in the pre-PC early eighties) was a little sketch where the current reigning road manager would interrupt us mid-show,walk on stage,and deliver a ‘note’ (a folded square of white paper) from an audience member.The singer would then open the package,wherein a great deal of suspicious-looking white powder would fall to the stage.This would invariably get a reaction of nervous laughter from the audience (half of whom,in those days,were probably snorting the real thing!),then we’d go on with the show.
About two weeks into Tall Whiteman’s tenure,it happened…He’d up until now found new and unique ways of aggravating our leader in his performing this bit of business,by either forgetting to deliver the ‘note’,sending it up through someone else,talking,breathing wrong,etc.Finally,we come to the club with the stage surrounded by the low beams.None of us watched him climb the stairs,but we all (including the audience) heard the loud ‘thwack’ as he knocked himself senseless on the wooden beam.Two bouncers then carried him down the steps,out the door,and into road-manager history.

P.S.This,incidentally,was by far the biggest laugh that routine ever got.