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Kenny Davern
Kenny Davern.jpg
Kenny Davern on clarinet
Background information
Birth nameJohn Kenneth Davern
Born(1935-01-07)January 7, 1935
Huntington, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 12, 2006(2006-12-12) (aged 71)
Sandia Park, New Mexico, U.S.
GenresDixieland, swing
LabelsArbors, Chiaroscuro, Jazzology
Associated actsSoprano Summit, Jack Teagarden, Joe Temperley, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ken Peplowski

Kenny Davern (January 7, 1935 – December 12, 2006), born John Kenneth Davern, was an American jazz clarinetist.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Kenny Davern part 1 Interview by Dr. Michael Woods - 9/23/1995 - Clinton, NY
  • ✪ Kenny Davern part 2 Interview by Monk Rowe - 3/16/2001 - Clearwater Beach, FL


MW: We are filming for Hamilton College and developing a jazz archive with America's greatest jazz musicians. We have with us a fabulous artist on clarinet, Kenny Davern. KD: Hello, Michael. MW: Tell us a little bit about the concert that you played last night. It had all the things in it that I try to teach my jazz class. KD: Well- MW: Let me give you what I mean. You played themes, you played backgrounds, each one of you got a chance to be featured, you played ensemble passages. KD: Well, that's what the music is about basically. I think that as far as the tunes, I mean generally your basic song forms, 32 bars, what-have-you, from a period of music that probably from 1910 to about 1940, this phenomena occurred in the history of music that never had occurred before. Arias and stuff, maybe little songs. But never where the entire public has been able to sing a verse, and then probably the words to every stanza of the tune. And that never happened before or after. You know, like we're back to square A today where there is no song melodic form. If you take Andrew Lloyd Weber, nobody can sing past four bars of his music. That's it. I doubt if they could even sing four bars of it. But yeah, I mean so we're really dealing in a time capsule of music which no longer exists, which probably the greatest artists and practitioners of this kind of art form honed and crafted their trade. MW: Would you even say that at that particular time that jazz was America's popular music? Or did that particular form that the music found itself in, how did it communicate to an audience better than some of the songs today? KD: Well they could anticipate and memorize the melody and the lyrics, which is, as far as the period as far as I'm concerned, originals that are being produced by everybody almost on the scene today. "I want to do my own things - I want to do my original pieces" which is fine. I mean you could do that, I mean once I talked to Sonny Rollins about the fact that he played, I went to see him at the old Five Spot and he had taken "I Got Rhythm" and he played the melody at least a dozen times without changing any notes of the melody but changing it rhythmically to prove a point. There was a guy next to me sitting there, wearing shades at midnight in a darkened club, which was the des riguer of the time, we're talking about the 50s, who said, "Why is he playing-" such-and-such, you know Charlie Parker's head or Dizzy Gillespie's head, on the tune? I said, "Well 'I Got Rhythm' is a Foster period melody, you know, people can identify with that. And Sonny is doing a number on it so to speak." "Oh." You know what I mean? So I hope that answered that question. MW: People need points of reference though. KD: Yes, absolutely. In every walk of life. MW: Tell us about the clarinet, because it's artists of your ilk that keep this instrument in the forefront. KD: You think so? Some people might say the opposite. Some people might say we're helping to bury it. It's an instrument which could go the way of the oboe d'amour or the viola da gamba. It's a very difficult instrument. To quote Jerry Dodgion it was invented by two guys who didn't know each other. There's no rhyme nor reason for it. You have to be some kind of a sadist, masicho-sadist to continue on this instrument. It's not the voice of bebop, it's not the voice of today so to speak, even though there are more commercials on television I've noticed recently that use clarinets, you know, sort of the background. Ever since the Benny Goodman-Chase Manhattan ad, you know. It has the most amount to offer of all the woodwinds in the sense that it has almost the same range as a violin. It has almost four and a half octaves, four octaves, you know which is a great deal of spans, as opposed to two and a half of a saxophone, and whatever you can get out of a trumpet. You know and probably two and a half out of the oboe. And a little bit more out of the flute. But it's too difficult an instrument. And not everybody wants to devote themselves to that one thing, to do that. Because also it doesn't lend itself very well, as you've noticed, to so-called modern jazz. It just doesn't - it's not that kind of an instrument. It's not that kind of voice for the music. Whereas a saxophone is, most brass instruments are, and now they don't even call a pianist a "pianist" they call him a "keyboard player" which means - MW: A synthesizer - KD: Yes, exactly, whatever. So I don't know. But I grew up loving the instrument, that's all I can say. And whatever doubling I did on the way up it was always with the clarinet being the instrument that I was going to focus on from then on, you know, for the rest of my life, whether I made money or I didn't. MW: But you have a very distinct voice on that instrument. You've taken that instrument past any generic conception into this elusive category that all musicians seek called "voice." And you have that. KD: Thank you. That I think is a prerequisite for anybody doing anything, is to put their "John Hancock" you know, once you've seen that signature it's forever imprinted on your mind. And I think the only way you can ever establish yourself is to have something like the cookie cutter, according to that syndrome, is you must take it upon yourself to bite the bullet and say, for better or for worse, this is the way I sound. This is the sound that I make. And you must stand by it. And that's why this, you know "you're stealing my music," or "this is MY-" If you can make your own noise on the instrument and make your own sound which is instantly recognizable within let's say four bars, then you know, that's it. Then you may steal anybody's anything. You might be a composite or a storehouse or a bank, you know, a depository of all you've heard and all that's come before and all you've chosen to absorb. But once music is out there, you can do this. And I think that's the most important thing is to get what you've listened to, what impressed you most, what moved you most, and make it into your own thing. When Louis Armstrong died, Walter Cronkite when he was anchor on CBS had Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis and I think Buck Clayton and Bobby Haggart to name a few, this was in 1971, and he asked them well, "How did Louis Armstrong influence you?" So everybody, like Miles Davis says you know, "We'd all be digging ditches if it wasn't for Louis." And when he got to Bobby Haggart he said how did he influence you, and he says, "Well," he says, with that New England accent he says, "Well I spent half my life," he says, "stealing everything I could from him, and the other half covering it up." But that's it. I mean nobody, no one person can claim anything. Once it's out there, it becomes everybody's. MW: It's public domain. KD: Correct, it becomes music, and music is for everybody, for all. MW: I wanted to ask you, you have a gift, and I'm going to kind of give a setting in which this gift manifests itself, and then I want you to talk about it. That is, not every musician, irregardless of their ability to be a great soloist or even to be a great arranger, has the gift to be a band leader, and you are a natural band leader. Talk about this. KD: That's very interesting Mike, thank you. I say thank you because I enjoy being in control. I think that's number one, you have to enjoy being in control. You have to really believe that the guys that you're playing with will allow you to be in control and they won't go kibbutzing around. But I think you have to be an extrovert, which is either you're introvert or an extrovert, and you can't do it halfheartedly, otherwise it fails. And the ability to conceive the beginning, the natural beginning of a tune and how to end it, is what it's probably about. You know, like how much time should you allow or allot a given piece? You know, for the most part though, like last night, well last night was not really a good example of what it was I can do as a leader because I was really not the leader I was more or less flung into it. When you have Scott and Warren and Ralph and the guys, they're all natural leaders. Each of them wants to be the leader but they're all being very reticent about taking the bull by the horns and doing it. But I prefer to work, really, and it's no reflection on their abilities and what they do, in as small a group as possible. A trio, quartet or quintet whereas a guitar is added or whatever. Because then I can control the situation. And I think it's a need to control and not be controlled. Maybe that, you know, however - and also your presentation of how you talk to people. MW: That's what I was going to ask you talk about too because you have a specific stage presence. And I want you to talk about this because you know this music is a combination when you play the blues there's some sorrow in there, but it can't be one hundred percent sorrow. And then of course when I see your stage demeanor there's some humor in there, but it's not trite, it's somewhere in the middle. Talk to us about that. Because you have, that's what I meant that you have a stage presence that, that mixture of humor and wit and sometimes even melancholy. KD: Yes, you've got two things in there. You've got, in your statement, you've got blues, which is sad but then again blues can be like Lester Young, it can be frivolous, it can be cheerful, it can be medium-fast, medium-slow, very slow, dirge blues, uptempo blues. You know there are a lot of people who didn't know that the blues could be more than one you know like velchmats. You know, velchmatsix, which means for those of you who are out there in radioland, the weight of the world is on you. The blues is a natural thing as far as a feeling goes. Either some people can play and/or sing the blues, or they can't. And this is beyond racial things. I mean Marian Anderson when she sang "St. Louis Woman" with her "diamond ring" had about as much to do with blues as the man in the moon. But I'm deviating. Blues. The basis of all music as far as I'm concerned, at least this kind of music that we're talking about. When I was a kid in high school, we didn't know songs. We knew twelve bar blues. And we used to play it, like you said, sometimes like a dirge, like some kind of a heartfelt ballad, but some people you know if you play a ballad with a blues feel, then maybe they want to do a lindy. So you play the blues brighter, or into a real fast one, or play the fast blues. And maybe you threw in a song, you see, but for the most part that was my upbringing as a kid, playing blues. Now that's part one as I see it. The second part, humor. When I went to England, one of the first times I went over there, I discovered that if you were very serious with those people who were sitting there like this, with arms crossed. When I see people sitting there with arms crossed I know their defenses are up. Body language. And they're sitting there like this. Let's see, let me see, who are you? So I think I said something to the tune of, "G'evenin' shore is nice to be here, hope you have a good time tonight" you know and I looked around and saw the light, and they fell on the floor because they were expecting something like, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, we're going to play now a number for your musical edification, we hope that you enjoy it." So I said, "Well here we are now folks, nice to see y'all out there havin' such a nice time." You know and that was the end of that. MW: The Gomer Pyle routine? KD: That's it, the Gomer Pyle routine, yeah. "Laverne'll leave the light on for ya." And they didn't expect that. And I think that you have to disarm your audience in order to just, okay, get rid of all this nonsense, and then maybe we can partake in a rapport. But if you feel that freeze or that chill, you can't really loosen up and play. MW: Or it may take you three tunes to get through it. KD: If it takes that long, Michael, I think it's the end of me. I'm shattered. It's got to come pretty quick, you know. You're right, though, it does sometimes I can't say it happens right away because you look out there and you don't really feel like bantering with them, you just want to play and see what we've got up on the bandstand because you just shook hands five minutes ago and you don't know if you're going to be able to do anything, before you want to make friends with the audience, there is the musicians that matter. MW: And it, isn't it funny sometimes how that you can play the exact same notes and play with the exact same energy, but if people are not ready or willing to receive what you're doing, the level of edification that they get is minuscule, or much lesser by comparison, then if they're free and open and looking forward to a positive experience. KD: That's true, absolutely right. So the hard part is then, well, the same part of your question earlier about the blues, music is a form of entertainment. Maybe not the music but there should be, I mean the music could be deadly serious, witness those films that Louis Armstrong made in Denmark in 1932. I mean here you see this guy kind of like looking very southern relaxed style, and all of a sudden he picks up that horn and they pan in on him, and those eyes are like two pieces of steel. I leaped away from the screen when I first saw it because I said this guy, he is deadly in earnest. He may be kibbutzing up there, but those eyes are telling me, "Get out of my way, this is it." You've seen those films, Louis at Tivoly Gardens in Copenhagen. Incredible, incredible films. I think he is probably the biggest influence on my playing. I think he might have been the biggest influence. In fact, I don't think, I know he was the greatest influence on the entire scope of this century's music. And there hasn't been anything better than what it is he did on any given composition, the way he interpreted it. Some people would disagree with me, I mean I know in some parts of the world music began with John Coltrane. That to me I think it sort of ended with John Coltrane, not began. There are some people, I heard on the radio the other night just going from airport to home or whatever, there was some guy talking about that he was going to go back to the roots of it all. And he was talking about people I never heard of. And then he said, well if you really want to go back to the roots, then we'll go back to John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. I mean he just left out perhaps fifty years of wonderful stuff that helped form these guys into where they were, what they took it to finally. And that was very distressing. MW: I wanted to ask you, you talked about Coltrane and of course his main innovation is what we call the sheets of sound, to the place where, and of course he began to go off into the free jazz movement and all that. What is happening now in jazz? Is there any movement now that you see in any way that is equal to any of the great artists or great movements that have shaped jazz in the past? Or is it at a standstill? KD: I think you said it, it's at a standstill. It's perhaps in a state perhaps of decomposition because the other night I heard, again, airport to home and scan the airwaves, I heard a concert from I think it was either Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis and they were playing the music of Jelly Roll Morton, which is what I cut my eyeteeth on so to speak when I was growing up. And I mean I really love that music. I could tell you the alternate takes you know, that kind of thing, that's how engrained and how much I loved Jelly Roll's music as a kid and I still do. And I heard them, when I say "them" that whole group of guys who formed that organization who are like what would you call them, part of the repertory company, take that music and actually decimate it to the point where I was outraged that they should play this music so badly and, even if they read the notes they were being played without really the true passion that the music had, and the musicianship was noticeably inferior to the original. And if you can't do it as good as the original, do it different than, but don't try to do it the same way and have it fall short of the mark, you see. And I just said they're making a travesty of the music that I grew up and loved, you know. The same as using alternate takes as - supposing you were a kid and you never heard this stuff. It always takes some recording that goes WHAM, that gives you the emotional hook so to speak, where you bite, and you say that's it, this music is IT. And it comes at different times. Hopefully it comes at an earlier age, then you have much more time to develop and you know to work things out. But I've heard, even Louis Armstrong's second and third takes, which were not the ones that the artist intended to be issued, and being the artist is now deceased and has no representation of his own music, people seem to feel free that they can take a second or third or what they call alternative/alternate take, and use it as the one that was set up as the standard. The one that grabbed me. The one that said when I hear this played, this song played, that's the definitive version of it. It will never be better than that. And that's what I love about this particular thing. And then they play one that was with a couple of flubs a couple of goofs and which is not bad, but, it didn't have exact placement in the articulation of that particular, those notes. And to make up this masterpiece that deservedly belongs to be raved about, but, they'd go and they'd decimate that too by a take that wouldn't grab the young kid that let's say I was, today coming along, and it wouldn't grab him, it wouldn't send out the message that that original one did. MW: Let me ask you something on this. And is that all about money and just selling records? KD: Yes and no. I think a lot of it is ignorance. I just think somebody's out there, you know some of those DJs who can't pronounce even half the names of the sidemen correctly, and you should hear, you've probably heard some of that one, you know you just go crazy, what's this guy doing. No I think some of those people just don't know the difference. Or they themselves have not been hooked on a particular tune, or version rather, not tune. I think yes is a way it might be that they'll try to capitalize on alternate takes and stuff. But if you don't know the original take, the alternate take wouldn't make any difference to you. So I don't think money is really the thing. Because first of all, the majority of people who have the records started collecting them when they were on 78s, as I did. And then they went to LP. Then you grabbed them in LP form. And then from LP or EP, and then now it's CD. And I find myself so almost befuddled when I walk into a large record store and I cannot, I see like ten different versions I mean of the same piece, on different labels and pirated labels and I don't know which one to buy because I don't know what it's going to sound like. What's the transfer like, and stuff like that. And if you grow up listening to the originals as they were issued, you know, I'm not talking the time when they were issued, but on the original intent, like a wind up phonograph and stuff like that, and you hear the way they sound, that stays with you. It really gets you here. If they hear how it's been convoluted from generation to generation, until you wonder what did this thing really sound like, you know. And that's something that deserves some studying, really. The tragedy here I think is we are being, we are in the wrong place at the wrong time in the sense that we wouldn't have this problem if we were born say, for myself 20 years earlier than I was born. You, a great deal more. Because we're witnessing the end of music as we love it I think. I think physically, one man with a synthesizer can produce four times the amount of volume in a given space, like vis a vis a ballroom, that in 1938 it took 16 men, well trained, practicing bunnies and section rehearsals and okay fellas, to get that kind of intensity and volume into a ballroom, which, because all kids are the same whether it was 1938 or 1998. They all really are morons, you know they really are. But it just so happens that the music - that the intensive of the working up, and the pitch of music then, I think was superior to let's say the same amount of intensity given off in a rock concert. Well actually there's more intensity given off in a rock concert, but it's a similar kind of frenzy. Kids need to congregate and do tribal things, you know, tribal rituals, like "The Rite of Spring," sacrifice of life and stuff. That's what it all is, it really is. And they have to congregate together and somehow or other, and maybe it's like some primordial thing where there's a sense of smell. But the same kids today, as was supposedly back in '38 or '28 or whenever you talk about them, they're the same people, the same mentality, and very little has changed as you can tell. But what has changed, and that's the sad part back to what you asked before, is that the means of communication, vis a vis the instruments, although there are many, many people out there playing instruments, have no place to go with them. And to be usurped by one man and his synthesizer, and there are no more clubs, a few of them but not very many, with a variety of music. That's the other thing, variety. There's no variety out there. There's either very very bad traditional, or very very bad ultra modern, whatever that means, both of which will bore you to tears, even in small doses. So the emotional impact of a single instrumentalist going out there and doing his thing is a rare phenomena. And I hate to say it, I mean I hate to see it vanish but it's very possible with the values of the world today as we know it, to see this entire western idea of culture, you know from Bach on to the present day, go bye-bye. MW: Fall prey to Blockbuster Video and a bag of microwave popcorn? KD: Sure, that's right, and a floppy disc. It's very possible. MW: I have a theory. I want you to expound on this. I don't think that's going to happen, you know why? I think the pendulum, no matter how negative we think, can only swing so far before young people of their own volition sit down one day, go to a library, pick up a Charlie Parker record and now you've got to let them think it's their discovery, "I've discovered Charlie Parker." When they think it's their discovery and they think it's their peer group way of being hip, then I think quality will kind of reinvent itself and become part of the scenario like you said. KD: Well I hope that this is true, not only for your sake, but for all of our sakes, and for people who live music and practitioners and artists, you know who have come to the height of a Charlie Parker phenomena. But that type of phenomena needs to be nurtured in a culture that digs what it is doing. And just, although jazz music was always a minor, I mean a subculture, a minor percentage of the population really knew - I mean the so-called jazz age was not the jazz age at all. Big bands were not jazz music. Great jazz soloists were in those bands but those were not, I don't care who wrote the charts. Thus the jam session was born. A band would come into town and the guys were so drugged, night after night after night playing SOS on the book, and they would find these little horns in the clubs and test their metal against each other by playing, you know. And that is the part that really is missing and may remain missing forever. Because the stuff, the clubs, the environment it spawned guys who could play like Roy Eldridge's going against this guy and that guy, and Hawkins against a Webster, and all these different people. That doesn't exist anymore. So where are they going to do this? Even though jazz, like I said before, is an underground and always was, a very small percentage of the population ever really got it. Period. And what you're saying is maybe some guy who is like the leader of his peer group, says "listen to that." Well is he rediscovering, is he rediscovering Brahms or is he rediscovering Offenbach. I mean I don't see what you mean, it's a very obscure or obtuse correlation but it does, is, well maybe he'll discover Rudy Weidoft instead of Charlie Parker. See now that could be the rub. You see what I'm saying? MW: Yeah, I do see what you're saying. KD: Like Bach was overlooked for a hundred years until Mendelssohn. MW: Mendelssohn, um humm. KD: Found his music and brought it to the public, at the Leipsig Gewand haus. Prior to that his music was buried and forgotten. His sons' music was much more popular than the old man's music. So today would you go, all right, I think I've belabored that point. MW: Well listen, I know that you all are going to perform yet again tonight and I thought that the performance that you did last night was some of my students were there from my History of Jazz class, and I thought it was just simply a clinic, everything that I've told them about you guys did. KD: That's lovely to hear. I mean that's nice. It makes us feel good that we lived up to your expectations of what you wanted them to experience. And that's what music is really, isn't it Mike? It's an experience. It's an emotional experience like reading or looking at a painting. And either you have a penchant for picking up on that, or you don't. I mean you either get an emotional experience from it or you don't. MW: I was going to talk to you about that too. You talk about an emotional experience and you also talk, you used before the word "passion." You spoke on Louis Armstrong and you talked about passion. And the thing I would like to see and I would like you to talk about this that I'd like to see come back even more so in jazz, is passion being pushed to the forefront, even more so than technique. KD: Technique. MW: You've got to have some though. KD: Technique is only good enough to execute an idea. If you have no ideas, then technique by itself is not music. MW: It's an etude. KD: It's not even that. It's not as good as that. An etude at least has form and shape. But technique, how many notes you can cram into a bar is totally meaningless. One note, well placed at the right time with the right intensity, is worth more than a thousand notes played at a velocity that's like fancy footwork, it's dazzling. It's good for children. Children like to be dazzled. But mature people don't want to be dazzled, only unless it's to show a point or say, see I can do that too. Yeah, but technique is really nothing more than the execution of an idea. If you have no ideas, then you're just an array of cunning stunts. MW: How does a musician translate human experience into sound, to get those ideas? Or how do you do it? KD: Well, I'm a composite of everything I've heard. A sponge. We're all sponges, all humanity is a sponge. Take a little from this guy, a little from - ah it's beautiful, okay. What it boils down to is can you sing through your horn? Can you sing? Can you sustain a melody and make it beautiful without all the gibberish and nonsense and trying to show everybody how many notes you can play around a melodic theme. I mean can you just state, simply, the bare essentials of a melody and make it convincing? Strip it to its bare essence. And Charlie Parker knew how to do that, and Louis Armstrong knew how to do that, to name a few or a couple. So I don't know, there are so many wonderful musicians. I mean if you hear Bix Beiderbecke play, I mean he played magnificently, hear Frankie Trumbauer play. There should be a musical reevaluation of what his influence was, because he - Lester Young and Buddy Tate and Eddie Barefield, and also Don Byas. All these guys I knew, all tipped their caps to Frank Trumbauer who was in Kansas City at the time. He operated out of St. Louis and Kansas City at the Muehlebach Hotel. This goes to him. This is when Coleman Hawkins was still slap-tonguing, he was bending and slurring notes and they all acknowledge him as the probably most influential. Prez took his sound from Frankie Trumbauer's C melody saxophone. MW: Am I correct in saying that by nature, the C sax spoke a little softer than the tenor or alto? KD: Absolutely. I've played C sax as you call it, the C melody saxophone. But it is a C tenor. If you look at the charts, you know the stuff from contra bass saxophone, bass saxophone to, then it says baritone saxophone, E flat, then B flat, then tenor, B flat tenor and then just above, it tenor in C melody, and then E flat alto, F mezzo saxophone, etc. However there are two ways of playing that instrument, you can either use an alto mouthpiece or a very small old fashioned Otto Link tenor mouthpiece. With that if you use it, the chambers are the same as a C melody, you know. An alto mouthpiece will get a Prez-like sound, which Prez's first instrument was a C melody, and if you use the old fashioned Link mouthpieces like Ben Webster used to use, you get this Hawkins type sound, vis a vis the Rambler when Hawking recorded in Holland before the second World War with the Dutch group called The Ramblers, where he made his most rhapsodic, romantic statements with that band, you've heard them, you know, "Mitch's Dream" and things like that. Wonderful, wonderful tracks. That will come out on the C melody. It's a very versatile instrument that way. But, once again I was talking to Sonny Rollins about it years ago, and it has no carrying power. It is truly, I mean you may sit there and it's very comfortable to play and you may love it, you know you get all kinds of nice things and hold it up this way. It doesn't carry. And that's probably why it went out of popularity. Also the key is not really conducive to, unless you like to play in C sharp and F sharp and D and G flat, and things like that. MW: Those are some really tasty insights. And another thing that you've talked about, you've talked about how one player influences another. That I think is important. Do you know of players that you've influenced? KD: Yeah, but the thing is this, Mike, I mean let's put it this way. There are people who have very strong - if you're stylistically strong, there's a very good possibility you may have no followers and influence no one because you're unique in that way. I mean unless you are truly a revolutionary, vis a vis Charlie Parker, vis a vis Louis Armstrong. But the difference between Louis and Charlie Parker was that everyone that tried to play like Louis Armstrong, you could take 20 guys and they all sounded different. Even like I think Rex Stewart told me. Dressed like Louis. Walked like Louis. Tried to play like Louis. He still sounded like Rex Stewart. You name him. Roy always thought well this is another influence, but I mean all these different people, Doc Cheatham, they all, Harry James, really very diversified cast of characters all claimed that they were influenced by Louis Armstrong but they all sounded so different and unique in their own way. Fine. Charlie Parker, however, everyone that ever tried to be influenced by Charlie Parker, ended up by sounding like him, to the point where I heard some early Sonny Stitt recordings, I couldn't tell the difference, I really said - what's this, Parker I haven't heard? And it turned out it was Sonny Stitt. Of course I'd never heard it by Charlie Parker, because it was Sonny Stitt. So is this good or bad? I mean to be able to emulate somebody but be stuck in their grip so to speak is not good. Then you never get your voice. But to emulate somebody and come out with your own little thing involved with it, is another ball game again. MW: To emulate to the point just of discovery. KD: Correct. But not mockery or whatever the word is. MW: Like the Elvis impersonators. KD: That's macabre. Don't laugh. It's just as macabre in jazz life too, to see all these Charlie Parker clones come out. Did you ever hear of the guys who try to emulate Louis where they, Armstrong, where they really fail is when they try to do the vocalizations. Then it becomes a travesty, like the Elvis. Because that's where they fail. Unless they just use their own natural voice. I mean if you want to quote that, like Ethel Waters did, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby," but she actually does scat Louis' chorus, she'd get away with it. Why? Because she was one of the founding - without her there'd be no female vocalists in the big bands. She set the whole stage from whence they all came. Whether you had a Mildred Bailey or a Billie Holiday or you name them. They all came out of Ethel Waters. She was THE grand dame of how the female vocalist should sound. Does that make sense? MW: Yes it makes a lot of sense. We are going to have to move here, because I know that we've got to wrap up this interview, but I've enjoyed talking to you. You've given us some marvelous insights. Say something to our young people about going into this music, if they find themselves as music majors in universities now. What are they going to have to face? And how to face it? KD: A lack - these very poor guys are going to find that you have no place to practice your art and you're going to have to create it. And I don't know if there is enough initiative to create it. That after you've learned certain things, how are you going to, and where are you going to release this and test your mettle and test your knowledge and test your feelings? Where are you going to display this? If you have no place to display this, then it becomes nothing more than a phonograph memory, which is very sad I know. I'm not exactly a bundle of enthusiasm when it comes to mapping out what would be a future for anyone that comes and studies music seriously, but, if you study music seriously, you will have gained something personally inside. Whether or not you ever become a practitioner or you know just a part time practitioner, or whatever. It doesn't matter. The fact is you will have gained something that will be something that you can keep within your self lifelong if it grabs you. And that's it. I mean there's no other way I can think of. I can't say, "Oh it's a great life out there - a wonderful field - just millions of opportunities - just graduate and a hand will pick you up and snap you into a band and you'll go on the road and see the world." MW: It's like, what's wrong with this picture? KD: End. MW: Thank you very much.



He was born in Huntington, Long Island to a family of mixed Jewish and Irish-Catholic ancestry.[1] His mother's family originally came from Vienna, Austria, where his great-grandfather Alfred Roth had been a colonel in the Austro-Hungarian cavalry, the highest rank accessible to a Jew in the Habsburg Imperial army.

After hearing Pee Wee Russell the first time, he was convinced that he wanted to be a jazz musician, too; and at the age of 16 he joined the musician's union, first as a baritone saxophone player. In 1954 he joined Jack Teagarden's Band, and after only a few days with the band he made his first jazz recordings. Later on, he worked with bands led by Phil Napoleon and Pee Wee Erwin before joining the Dukes of Dixieland in 1962. The late 1960s found him free-lancing with, among others, Red Allen, Ralph Sutton, Yank Lawson and his lifelong friend Dick Wellstood.

At this time, he had also taken up the soprano saxophone, and when a spontaneous coupling with fellow reedman Bob Wilber at Dick Gibson's Colorado Jazz Party turned out be a huge success, one of the most important jazz groups of the 1970s, Soprano Summit, was born. Co-led by Wilber and Davern, both switching between the clarinet and various saxophones, during the next five years Soprano Summit enjoyed a very successful string of record dates and concerts. When the group disbanded in 1979, Davern devoted himself to solely playing clarinet, preferring trio formats with piano and drums. His collaboration with Bob Wilber was revived in 1991, the new group being called Summit Reunion. Leading his own quartets since the 1990s, Davern preferred the guitar to the piano in his rhythm section, employing guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden and James Chirillo. He also made several appearances to the Colorado Springs Invitational Jazz Party and performed with numerous international jazz musicians.

In 1997, he was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame at Rutgers University, and in 2001 he received an honorary doctorate of music at Hamilton College, Clinton, New York. In addition to the jazz greats that inspired him, Kenny Davern indicated classical clarinetist David Weber, principal solo clarinetist with the New York City Ballet Orchestra, as his most important teacher.

Although playing mainly in traditional jazz and swing settings, his musical interests encompass a much broader range of styles. In 1978 he collaborated with avantgarde players Steve Lacy, Steve Swallow and Paul Motian on a free jazz-inspired album appropriately entitled Unexpected. In addition to his accomplishments in jazz, his ardour and knowledge of classical music was encyclopaedic, particularly of the work of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler.

Especially after concentrating exclusively on playing the clarinet, Kenny Davern called his own an unmatched mastery of the instrument. A full, rounded tone, especially "woody" in the lower chalumeau register, combined with highly personal tone inflections and the ability to hit notes far above the conventional range of the clarinet, made his sound immediately recognizable. In the late 1980s, The New York Times hailed him as "the finest jazz clarinetist playing today".

Davern died of a heart attack at his Sandia Park, New Mexico home.


As featured artist

Title Released Note Label
Dialogues 2006-05-08 w/ Ken Peplowski Arbors
No One Else But Kenny 2006-11-21 Kenny Davern Trio Sackville
In Concert at the Outpost Performance Space, Albuquerque 2004 2005-09-13 Kenny Davern Quartet Arbors
At the Mill Hill Playhouse 2003-11-04 Kenny Davern Quartet Arbors
The Kings of Jazz 2003-08-05 - Arbors
Live at the Floating Jazz Festival 2002-01-22 w/ Joe Temperley Chiaroscuro
The Jazz KENnection 2001-10-30 w/ Ken Peplowski Arbors
A Night with Eddie Condon 2001-05-01 w/ Eddie Condon Arbors
You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet 2001-01-01 - Jazzology
Ralph Sutton and Kenny Davern 1998-01-01 Chiaroscuro
Smiles 1998-01-01 Arbors
Breezin' Along 1996-06-13 - Arbors
Spanish Eyes 1995-11-05 Chiaroscuro
Never in a Million Years 1995-10-01 - Challenge
Kenny Davern and the Rhythm Men 1995-06-15 Arbors
East Side, West Side 1994-06-24 - Arbors
Soprano Summit 1994-01-01 w/ Bob Wilber Chiaroscuro
My Inspiration 1991-09-11 MusicMasters
The Last Reunion 1998-05-14 - Upbeat
Ralph Sutton and Kenny Davern 1998-01-01 w/ Ralph Sutton Chiaroscuro
Summit Reunion 1989-01-01 w/ Bob Wilber Charoscuro
One Hour Tonight January 1988 Kenny Davern Quartet Musical Heritage Society
I'll See You in My Dreams 1988-01-01 MusicMasters
This Old Gang of Ours 1985-12-10 - Upbeat
Kenny Davern Big Three 1985-11-25 Jazzology
Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood 1984-01-15 w/ Dick Wellstood Challenge
Live Hot Jazz 1983-12-18 - Statiras
Stretchin' Out 1983-12-01 - Jazzology
The Very Thought of You 1983-01-01 - Milton Keynes
El Rado Schuffle 1980-06-07 - Kenneth
The Free-Swinging Trio in the Jazz Tradition 1979-12-02 - Fat Cat Jazz
The Hot Three 1979-07-01 - Monmouth
Unexpected 1978-05-30 w/ Steve Lacy, Steve Swallow, and Paul Motion Kharma
John and Joe 1977-10-23 w/ Flip Phillips Chiaroscuro
Live at The New School 1972-04-01 w/ Eddie Condon, and Gene Krupa Chiaroscuro

As sideman

With Dick Wellstood

  • Dick Wellstood and His All Star Orchestra (Chiaroscuro, 1981)

With George Shearing


  1. ^ " - Jazz Artist - Kenny Davern". Archived from the original on 2016-01-27. Retrieved 2016-01-22.

External links

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