Ken knows how to grab things from past jazz legends, and gently nudge us into not forgetting them.

Cellar/ Small’s Live Music

Ken Peplowski – Clarinet and Tenor Sax; Ted Rosenthal – Piano; Martin Wind – Bass; Willie Jones III – Drums

From playing in polka bands as a kid in Cleveland, Ohio to gracing the stage at New York’s famous jazz club, Mezzrows is quite a journey. Clarinetist and saxophonist Ken Peplowski paid some dues to get there, but he earned it. After seventy albums as a soloist and around four hundred as a sideman, KEN PEPLOWSKI LIVE AT MEZZROW is remarkable.

Ken said he played his first professional gig when he was still in elementary school. “From my first time performing in public, I knew I wanted to play music for a living.”

He moved to New York City in 1980 and was soon playing in all kinds of settings, from traditional to avant-garde jazz. In 1984 Benny Goodman put together a new band and hired Ken on tenor saxophone. He signed with Concord Records and released close to twenty albums with them. It’s his clarinet you hear on those Woody Allen soundtracks. He has headlined in Las Vegas and the Hollywood Bowl. He has played at the Newport Jazz Festival and all of the big European festivals. He has collaborated with Mel Torme, Leon Redbone, Madonna, Dave Frishberg, Tom Harrell, Bill Charles, Marianne Faithful, and so many others.

Ken Peplowski has admitted to being “a sucker for a good melody.” There are oodles of good melodies on LIVE AT MEZZROW. Ted Rosenthal’s gorgeous piano introduces Russ Columbo’s ‘Prisoner Of Love, ’from 1931. Ken’s tenor sax is lyrical. His tone is rich, resonant, breathy, and listen to that vibrato! I read somewhere that after a Peplowski performance, Tony Bennett walked up and said, “Hey man, you’re a good singer!” Yeah, Ken knows how to own a song.

Johnny Mandel’s ’The Shadow Of Your Smile ’is played slower than usual, but that just shows off the emotional depth of the song. Pianist Rosenthal and Peplowski have been playing together for years. Listen to them swapping phrases. They continue each other’s ideas.

Has a clarinet ever sounded prettier than on ‘Here’s To Life?’ Ken said the last poignant three lines of Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary’s tune mean a lot to him. “Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.”

Coleman Hawkins was the first to record Hank Jones ‘Vignette.’ Hawkins version was a hard blowing bop affair. He came out of the swing era so he blew hard to be heard over the rest of the band. Ken kept the same tempo. He plays as hard, he pushes it. He lets his band share the limelight though. Bassist Martin Wind and drummer Willie jones III offer some great solos.

Ken knows how to grab things from past jazz legends, and gently nudge us into not forgetting them.

I have some of Peplowski’s older recordings and I have always loved his clarinet playing. I used to think he should stick to that instrument. After listening to KEN PEPLOWSKI LIVE AT MEZZROW I don’t think he should give up his tenor. He is a master on both instruments.

Ken has had some health issues. Covid tried taking him out. He recovered from a diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma. In 2021 his beloved dog Honeypie had to be put down. I tried imagining what it would feel like to have to put down my fifteen year old Terrier, Mia. It is not a pleasant thought. Ken has a new dog, Corky. I hope they both have a long life together.