Thursday, May 24, 2007


It's time to answer my question pile - I've had literally tens of queries since I started these blogs, so let's begin:

1. What do you think of all these aging rockers still performing way past their prime?
Well, I've always felt that you're as old as you feel, unless you feel like Strom Thurmond, in which case, you're not only old, but dead...
I did see the Who recently in concert, and I couldn't help but notice that when they sang "Tommy, Can You Hear Me", there was a resounding cry of "What? What did they say?" from the audience, so it isn't just the band members getting older. But I have a question for you - what's the proper way to wish good luck to these elderly entertainers before they go onstage-
would yelling out "Break a hip" be too gauche? That would explain why the security people threw me out...

2. Are you a religious person?
I grew up Catholic, and used to attend the annual summer retreats, where we'd enjoy such appropriate fare for children as live crucifixion re-enactments, partaking of both the body and the blood of Christ, and, my personal favorite, being threatened with burning in hell forever for even thinking about a woman!!! When the head priest took me aside one day for a bracing game of "Pull my finger/That's not my finger" I knew it was time to leave the fold....
I did briefly convert to born-again Christianity when I witnessed an evangelical preacher turning water into Fresca - a miracle!!! The bubble was soon burst when I remembered that I'd eaten a rather suspicious plate of mushrooms earlier that day; later that night I was entertained by a vision - it was Don Rickles, warning me that someone was out to steal my left testicle, so I should always wear a protective "cup" (really bad mushrooms!).
My last bout with organized religion was about ten years ago, when a third cousin, twice removed, of John Travolta's cursed me with gout for not making it all the way through "Battlefield Earth". Coincidence? I think not....
3. Who is your favorite Beatle?
This is easy - there was a man known as the "seventh Beatle"-he grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio, and went by the stage name of "Beppo". He could play the ocarina while simultaneously solving math problems, but, sadly, never met the other members of the group, as he died in a suspicious boating accident.
4. What was suspicious about it?
He was on dry land at the time....
5. What is the meaning of life?
If you're one of the millions of people who believe, like Forest Gump, that "Life is like a box of chocolates", then, my friend, you deserve to spend the rest of your life dining at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., a soul-less corporate restaurant created after a soul-less corporate movie about a moron spouting useless greeting-card epithets, a tradition of fake band-aid drivel which continues today with books like "The Secret" and anything that begins with "Ten Ways To..."
Think about it, folks - you have millions of people now reading self-help books, books on how to get rich, and the only wealthy people are the ones who write this stuff - and you're out the $25.00 that it cost to buy the book!
Let's do an experiment - I'll come up with an idea, starting with "Life is like.." and fill in the rest with the first thing I see, then I'll make a clever tie-in with some vague generalized principles that can apply to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Let's begin: Life is like - a can-opener, because you're always opening up something new; once in a while, you get a bad can, but your job is to keep opening until you find the things you like, etc.
Let's try another: Life is like - a salt-shaker; you just keep shaking until all the salt particles have left the container - so stop worrying, just live your life to the fullest until you've "seasoned" all around you, etc.
Got it? STOP BUYING THIS CRAP!!! There is no "secret" - we're probably a biological accident that was put here on earth by the right combination of chemicals smashing together, so enjoy your short time-span here and stop reading about how to enjoy your short time-span here! Try telling a young child stricken with poverty or disease that he's just not "visualizing" well enough...
I think Charles Bukowski had it right when he said , and I'm paraphrasing, that the secret of life was the same secret as the secret to his writing, which was "Don't try". Don't force it - stop thinking too much - don't worry, be happy - Oh no, here we go again - see you next time-
Ken Peplowski

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bits And Pieces

It's been awhile since my last blog (I feel like I'm back in confession!), but I've been busier than a butt-tick at a Speedo convention, so I'll have to catch up in a few installments. We'll start with:


So, I'm in Sweden, visiting my kids, Jeffrey, age 8, and Marty, age 6-we've seen "Pirates Of The Caribbean" Parts 1 & 2 so many times that I feel like I've definitely buckled my last swash . I decide to show them "The Mummy"-you know, the modern re-make with Brendan Fraser, kind of an "Indiana Jones" knock-off; funny, lots of adventure, and just slightly scary (or so I remember it). I explain to my boys all about mummies, ancient Egypt, etc., before we start the movie. They wonder if there's anything scary in it. "Well, yes," I say," but not more scary than "Pirates"."OK, daddy, let's watch it," Jeffrey says with those wide-open, innocent lamb-eyes. The movie begins-lots of laughs, excitement, the scene of the man being mummified, no problem, we're having fun, passing the candy back and forth, the movie cuts to a few hundred years later, more thrills, some laughs, they open the tomb, a beetle crawls under a man's skin, and this is where it gets interesting. I decide the visual just isn't enough, so, caught up in the excitement, I helpfully provide a descriptive play-by-play. "Look, it's going under his skin; now it's eating his heart; now it's crawling up----IT'S EATING HIS BRAIN!!!!!!!"
At which point Jeffrey, on my left, bleats out, "Daddy, I think I'm going to throw up!!" Little Marty, to my right, merely bursts into tears, as I reach frantically for the remote to turn our little adventure off. Now, I'm not trying to turn this into anything but a classic example of "when good intentions go bad", but I do keep forgetting that my kids grow up in a small town in Sweden and aren't as inured to violence and jarring imagery as us tough Amurrricans...and I actually hope they stay that way for a long time...

Speaking of jarring imagery,here's today's trivia question:
How do you know you've rented a car in New York City? Give up?
Answer: When there's two vials of blood in the cup-holder (most decidedly not mine), they won't give you another vehicle, and the steering wheel shudders violently when you go above 10 MPH. Today's trivia question comes to us courtesy of AAmcar, on 96th Street between West End & Riverside.

Speaking of shuddering violently, I just finished listening to the rough mixes of my new CD-no, we kid the Poles!!!!Actually, I'm quite proud of this one-it started out as a duo record with myself and Greg Cohen, and became that and much more-there's lots of surprises on this one, not least of which is that I'm putting it out myself! Yep, I'm tired of seeing everything deleted faster than the Bush administration's e-mails, so I'm gonna own a few of my masters for a change-look in this space for further details....

And, finally, for now, we say a brief good-bye to Kurt Vonnegut.A couple of years ago, I played the clarinet part (as opposed to the part of a clarinet) in a fascinating production of Stravinsky's "A Soldier's Tale", with a new book by Mr. Vonnegut, based on the true story Private Slovik.
To our delight, he showed up to one of the performances,and to my delight,complemented me on my playing (there was a jazz segment we did in addition to the 'straight' performance),and told me that,yes, even he used to play the clarinet , and inquired, "Do they still call it the licorice stick?" I don't really know if 'they' do or not, but God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, for your visionary works of art--you sure inspired a lot of us.....

See you next time! Ken Peplowski P.S. Thanks for the 'typing tips' go out to Jim Lawler (sincerely!!!); Jim responded to my last blog with this warm message: "Ken: Hit the space bar after each comma." Who knew????....... although there's a little book out there called "archy and mehitabel"; you might want to talk to the publishers about capitalizing some of the words.......

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

My Day-Part Two

3:45 P.M.
As I race through the lobby to the elevators,I'm accosted by not one,but two,"grippers" (an English musician's term for the kind of person that latches on for dear life and won't let go),a gentleman in his 90s who used to run a jazz party,and an elderly lady who is the bane of musicians and promoters alike. (She was once kicked out of a hotel for tripping a man with her crutches after he asked her not to block the aisle,and for breaking the lock open on the kitchen door at midnight-"well,I was hungry,and they didn't have room service" was her defense!).These two charmers actually talk simultaneously and over each other in their eagerness to engage me,so it comes out like this---
Popeye:"You've gotten-"
Broomhilda:"What's wrong with your hair?"
Me-"Excuse me?"
P:"-fat.I said you're really-"
B:"I mean,it looks like you're losing hair. Are you going-"
Mercifully,the elevator doors open-I dive in and stab frantically at the 'close' button.I'm free-except for a couple standing in the elevator,who seem kindly enough,but have a habit of always bringing up my LAST marriage.Now,I've been with Kim for five years,but to many fans,you're frozen in their memories to some past time of their choosing-in this case,I'm still married to my Swedish ex-wife,and only have one son with her,an infant (who will miraculously be shaving soon!).
"How's that little boy?" Now,should I say that I'm re-married,have four kids in total,my ex is living in Sweden with my two sons,etc.-No,that won't work,because then the elevator will turn into a scene from The Sorrow And The Pity,and I'll have to recount the whole divorce,the fact that my children are so far away,etc.,while keeping a sorrowful expression on my face throughout their solicitations of sympathy,and trying to reassure them that "No,actually,everything's allright now"....
Instead,I say,"Fine-thanks!"Oops-this backfires big-time,because their follow-up is:
"Your wife's English is amazing!"
Now,I want to reply that,although Kim grew up in Kansas City, and so her knowledge of evolution could justifiably be questioned (actually,she's quite familiar with the descent of man-she's seen Dick Cheney on CNN),her English is exemplary....
Instead,I say,"Thanks!"The doors open to my floor-I break into a run for my room-as I nervously insert the key and the door clicks open,I hear one more,"Hey,Polack-are you going for some kielbasa and sauerkraut? We still haven't heard a polka yet!"(see last entry) SLAM!!!!Safe...
P.S. Just as an aside,if you think events from my life are frozen in time with certain fans,consider the plight of a fellow saxophonist (he shall remain nameless),whose father passed away almost three years ago.He runs into one elderly gentleman about once a month,who has a habit of approaching my friend at the most inappropriate times,shaking his hand,and offering a "I sure do miss your daddy!!!"This means that my friend has to drop whatever he's doing (in one case, a hot date!),and start 'grieving' again,no matter what his actual mood is....But,once again,I digress...

7:00 P.M.
I'm doing the opening set at the Newport Jazz Party-this is always a good one,because not only do I get to play with some of the West Coast's finest musicians,but Joe Rothman,the organizer,and I have a long-standing tradition of insulting each other mercilessly over the microphone throughout the weekend,and I get the opening salvo....
Now,Joe Rothman is a bachelor for life-he's never been married,never will,so,naturally,my jokes lean in that direction-for example,two years before,I'd lowered the bar significantly with this joke:"You know,if you laid all the girls in California end-to-end...then you'd be Joe Rothman!" This,incidentally,was funny to everyone but his first-time date that night-who knew?????So this year I softened things up a bit-here's my comments:
"It's great to be back here in Newport Beach,and I'm glad to see Joe Rothman healthy again (some murmurs,some titters in the audience).No,you know he's had some health problems-I don't think he'd mind me telling you-for the last year,every time he had sex,his upper body burned like crazy-but a team of doctors finally figured out the cause-pepper spray!!!!"This was followed by,"No,I shouldn't kid Joe-at his age,he has more testosterone than Rosie O'Donnell in a women's prison!"These jokes,again,got a huge laugh from everyone but,alas,Joe's date,who subsequently referred to me as an "asshole" and a "jerk"-again,I didn't know she was in the audience,and I really didn't think that she'd be offended,considering that (a) Joe "gives" to me as good as he "gets",(b)we're close friends,which is clear to everyone,(c)these jokes were pretty mild on the offend-o-meter,and(d)our banter is just an act.(I tried this reasoning on Joe's date-she informed me that "I'm not an act!!!").OK,to anyone not in our inner circle (all 2,000 of us)-I'M JUST JOKING!!Joe's a great guy,he really is a perfect gentleman and a good,loyal,friend,and I love him-if you don't believe me,I have an elf in Irvine who can testify on my behalf!!!!(again,see last entry)
Bye for now-Ken
P.S. You should sign up for Joe and John's West Coast Jazz Party in Irvine on Labor Day weekend for more great music and hi-jinks!!!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

My Day (Some events juxtaposed slightly,but 99% true!)

Thursday,February 15th,9:00 A.M.,Newport Beach,California
I had agreed to do an interview with the BBC for a three-part radio special on Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw,and had to do a link-up somewhere in my travels.This was the best date for all of us,so the BBC tried to secure a studio nearby...My "engineer" picked me up at my hotel,and took me to a local college radio station.I knew this one would be different when I stepped into the 'studio' ,which looked more like a quonset hut with cables dropped randomly about. I was greeted by a David Crosby lookalike (complete with walrus mustache!),who was hunched over a computer;without looking up,he flashed me the "peace" sign and drawled out a "What's happenin',dude?", a phrase I hadn't heard since I tossed out my old Cheech & Chong records....
Over the radio-station monitor came the voice of a lady who was doing a weekly radio show called "What Would Arwen Do?-An Elvish Perspective On Life".She was later introduced to me (with no trace of irony,I must add) as "our resident elf."As I shook her hand and listened to her blessing me for my spiritual gifts to the world,I gazed earnestly into her eyes and thanked her also,for the good work that all the elves do, while praying silently that she wouldn't hunt me down later and kill me.....I then moved into the cubicle where I would spend the next hour reading the newspaper,while my "engineer" tried to figure out how to do a trans-Atlantic link-up.We finally got things rolling.Then,after answering long and detailed questions about Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw for the better part of 90 minutes,including playing and discussing examples of their characteristic phrases,musical differences,personalities,etc., with Sparky sitting a foot away from me and staring at me intently,he actually turned to me when it was over and said,"So,was this mostly a show about Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman?"Remembering that I was in Southern California,I looked at him and said,"Why,yes,it was...."
11:45 A.M.
I'm back at the hotel for the Newport Beach Jazz Party,an event put on by Joe Rothman and John McClure,two friends who have made a big success of this annual festival,and another one Labor Day weekend-if you haven't been to these,look them up-they're great,fun,well-run weekends of jazz! But I digress....
I'm met in the lobby by a decidedly unusual greeting:"Hey,fellow Polack!Are you gonna play us a polka?"I look over-it's one of the 'regulars',dressed like he went shopping at Emmett Kelly's garage sale.This jazz diplomat will continue to try and ingratiate himself with me throughout the weekend by uttering more and more of these remarks, such as -"Hey,Polski!""There's my Polack!""How come I didn't hear any polkas last night!",etc. I begin to wonder if this might be a new form of address in Southern California,where people just yell out ethnic slurs to each other...I later tried this out on my waiter in the restaurant,with a friendly cry of "Hey,wetback-could you bring me some more coffee?"The waiter,God bless him, was so taken by my greeting that he accidentally spat into the middle of my Clams Casino,threw the dish down onto the table,and quickly hurried off,shaking his head in obvious merriment....
2:00 P.M.
I have a poolside set to play with two great trumpet players,Terell Stafford and Gilbert Castellanos,and Scott Whitfield,a real trombone virtuoso-lots of fun,and great to hear Terell and Gilbert play off one another-very inspiring! I later have another set by the pool as a guest with a pianist whose unorthodox technique is somewhat off-set by his monumental ego...I know,because I've been down this road before,that either he doesn't know my name,and will introduce me like this-"Let's hear it for Mr. Saxman!"or "Now we'd like to bring on my main man!";or,even better,he will kind of remember what my name sort of sounds like,and will bring me on with a "Now,we'd like to bring up Mr. Ben Peroski to the stage",or any of thousands of variations therein.A lot's riding on his introduction,as I have a bet with two guys in the band about this....soon, it's time-he looks around,catches my eye,gazes up in a heavenly direction for a clue,any clue,looks out over the audience,and says,"Now,I'd like to ask our bassman to introduce our special guest",and hands the microphone over to him-Brilliant! To be continued in my next installment.......See you then-Ken

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Mailbag

Mrs. E.C. in Fairfax,Virginia,writes in:What do you like to do in your spare time?
Well,Mrs. E.C.,here are a few of my favorite things:
Taking long walks in the moonlight
Going to pet stores and looking at the frolicking puppies
Admiring a beautiful sunset
Meditating on ways to improve the human race,starting with moi
Sitting with my wife before a roaring fire in our home,even though we don't have a fireplace
Haggling over wax lips in a Turkish bazaar
Dressing up like Betty Hutton and laying in a bed of pine nuts
Looking for secret messages from Larry Fine in boxes of Chiclets
Speaking Urdu to a group of barnyard animals,while they nod appreciatively in acknowledgement
Getting wasted in Margaritaville
Trying on mock-turtlenecks while listening to Mannheim Steamroller
Bidding on E-Bay for Ernest Borgnine's back-hair
Declaring a state of war against Zainesville,Ohio
Taking my Chia pet for a walk
Looking for Capuchin monkeys in all the wrong places
Seeing how many times the word "eclectic" is used in any given issue of a jazz magazine (minimum so far-5!)
That's all the time we have for this Mailbag-see you next time!KP

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Laughing Fit

As far back as I can remember,I've had what some might call a "problem" with laughing in very inappropriate,to say the least,circumstances. This could be some kind of weird defense mechanism,or part of a long-standing,and only partially suppressed,anti-authoritarianistic streak.I have a quite early memory,for example,of my mother,exhausted in frustration,calling me a "son-of-a-bitch",to which my reply,"Then what does that make you",was not exactly recieved with accolades for my clever bon mot.I think I was 10 at the time......
Anyway,I know it's not right,but I can't help bursting out into helpless guffawing at all the wrong times.I was once on a long,strange road trip (more about this in another installment) with my friend,trombonist Dan Barrett,when he proceeded to close a van door on his own finger.As he lay on the ground,trying not to pass out,I'm pretty sure the pain was not alleviated by me bending over him and stammering out,"" between peals of unbridled laughter.But there you go.Now we come to......

When I first came to New York,I found myself doing all kinds of strange jobs, so long as they involved me holding a clarinet or saxophone. These included,but were certainly not limited to: Dressing up in a musty Santa Claus suit that reeked of generations of disgruntled Santas past,and playing outside of Macy's in the freezing cold;playing in the lobbies of buildings for some "corporate good-will",where the only person not to completely ignore us was the lady who booked us.What she did,though,was hide behind collonades and spy on us to make sure we weren't (a) taking too many breaks,and (b) passing out our own business cards.And my personal favorite all-time low-a banjo-playing friend and I played the opening of a 7-11 somewhere in the wilds of New Jersey.And, just to help denote the grandness of the occasion,we had to wear red felt vests and fake styrofoam "straw" hats.
Now, a couple things spring to mind-first,why would one even want to celebrate the opening of another 7-11?It's not as if people would only shop there if they felt comforted by the strains of bad dixieland music wafting through the doors;I mean, it's a 7-11!!!!!("Look,Herb,you need shaving cream-there's a 7-11-pull the car over" "I don't know, Betty,this could be one of those rogue stores we've heard about.....but wait....what's that it...When The Saints Come Marching In? Is that a banjo and clarinet I hear? Come on,let's go in and shop!!!!!!!")
The final cap on this engagement was the knowledge that we brought no happiness whatsoever to the customers,as we found that no matter where we positioned ourselves in the store,we were only annoying people by blocking their pathway to the hot dogs/Twinkies/sodas,etc. ("Can't you guys move over there?" was a constant refrain)
The only saving grace about this gig was that we did learn a valuable life lesson: Just when you think you've got it really bad,somebody else has it much worse.This thought came to us as we gazed across the store at a man dressed as a giant Slurpee,and watched as he lurched violently around the shop in a manner meant to convey "joy".....But,I digress....Back to the funeral....

Our assignment was to play for the funeral of a theatrical impresario who loved Dixieland music (is there any other kind?).We were to play some tunes at the funeral home,and then drive out to Long Island and play again as they lowered the casket into the grave.But this was back in the 1980s,when many of us were diligently staying up nights,mixing together various ingredients in our ongoing scientific research into the effects of various chemical substances on the human body.Mornings were not our strong suit....
We showed up early at the funeral home,a few shades worse for wear,only to find we would be playing beside an open casket,facing the mourners.So,naturally,I lobbed a few preliminary comments out-"Don't look now,but I think he just blinked", "This may be a bad time to ask, but when do we eat?",etc--to no discernible effect on the band.Until we started our first number.I saw,out of the corner of my eye,the tuba player's shoulders shake ever so slightly.I immediately burst out laughing,which quickly drew the attention of both the mourners and our now-worried band-leader. I was soon overtaken with gales of laughter so deep that I had to bury my face in my hands and pretend I was weeping,as I staggered out of the funeral parlor,shoulders heaving, past the now-alarmed family and friends of the deceased.The band-leader,at this point, was not happy.......
Now, in the ride out to the cemetery, I tried desperately to compose myself by thinking about the most depressing things I could conjure up-my grandmother's death,my career,etc.,but in a bad foreshadowing of things to come, I kept erupting into truly seismic mirth-quakes.
We arrived at the cemetary-I seemed to be fine as the hearse pulled up.And then one of the pall-bearers stumbled and the casket fell to the ground. I burst out in paroxysms of laughter that must have drawn the attention of both mourners and mournee, as the band-leader barked at me,"For Christs' sake,go for a walk in the woods!!!"But that's not the worst part....
As we were piling into our cars for the ride home (in my case,the Ride Of Shame),I felt a great wave of remorse come over me.I felt really bad.I timidly approached the band-leader to apologize. As I was just beginning to stammer out a feeble "I'm sorry",I caught a glimpse of the tuba player again,and erupted once more. I reeled back to my car and quickly drove away....
Until next time---Ken Peplowski P.S. If there's any justice,my funeral should be a hoot!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

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