Spotlight on Litchfield Jazz Festival performer: Ken Peplowski

WASHINGTON — Clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Ken Peplowski will appear alongside bandmates Ehud Asherie on piano, Peter Washington on bass, Willie Jones III on drums and Houston Person on tenor saxophone closing the Mainstage shows at the Litchfield Jazz Festival on Saturday , July 30.

Peplowski, like so many jazz stars, started performing at a very young age and went on to build a successful career.

Born in 1959 in the vibrant port city of Cleveland, Ohio, Peplowski’s interest in music was cultivated early in life by his father. A police officer and amateur musician by his side, Peplowski’s father familiarized himself with a variety of instruments but did not master any in particular. These discarded instruments will find new company with the young Peplowski brothers; his brother Ted would be drawn to the trumpet and Ken to the clarinet. It turns out that both boys had musical abilities.

When they were around 12, their father asked them to form a polka band called the Harmony Kings and hire weddings and other gigs. Peplowski described this sudden push towards live performance as follows: “…exactly as if you wanted to learn to swim by being thrown in the water. We [had] progress, because we suddenly find ourselves having to play these trades” (Lee Mergner,, 2019).

By the time the brothers were in high school, Ken began to experiment more with jazz while performing with their school’s live bands and other local musicians. Ken was even starting to teach at his local music store, mastering his saxophone and clarinet. Later, he studied at Cleveland State for two years. Here he would start playing in the big leagues. He had the opportunity to perform alongside the trio of Teddy Wilson and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra under the direction of Buddy Morrow with whom he toured from 1978 to 1980 when he moved to New York at age 21 years old to work as a freelancer.

There Peplowski would work with top pros, including Benny Goodman and Carl Jefferson, and record some 20 albums as a frontman with Concord Records over a decade. These include his debut album, Double Exposure in 1988 and The Natural Touch in 1992, which received the award for Best Jazz Record of the Year by the Deutschen Schallplatten Kritiken Prizes. This success led him to tour across Asia, Europe and the United States and make time to headline gigs like the Hollywood Bowl and the Newport Jazz Festival. During this busy period, he also recorded as a sideman, and sometimes as a leader, with musicians like the Eddie Higgins Quintet, Bobby Short, Shelly Berg, Jay Leonhart and Joe La Barbera.

All of this success was not without heartbreak, according to Peplowski, as his family believed he had abandoned them. “I think,” he says, “my parents lived vicariously through us, but they gave me a lot of grief and guilt for abandoning my brother, and they would say I’ll never make it. ..” (Lee Mergner,, 2019). His father, he said, was particularly hard on him, criticizing his work even after standing ovations and never complimenting him. Peplowski solved these problems by thinking, “…I’m going to get so good you’ll never be able to say anything” (Lee Mergner,, 2019).

True to his word, Ken Peplowski has continued to achieve exponential success with his music. In total, he will record more than 70 CDs as a soloist and some 400 as a sideman during his career. He went on to perform on the soundtracks of Woody Allen films, became musical director of French and Italian interactive cookbooks, and became director of the Sarasota Jazz Festival, the Newport Beach Jazz Party and the Newport, Oregon Jazz Festival, and has won numerous awards. awards for his work.

Ken Peplowski is widely regarded as the greatest living jazz clarinetist. He went beyond expectations to become one of the first modern performers in the jazz world and a true master of the clarinet and saxophone. Today, at 63, Peplowski can be found most often teaching workshops for students of all ages, conducting and performing at jazz festivals around the world, or recording albums like the 2019 duo Counterpoint (Arbors Records) with Dick Hyman.

Visit the Litchfield Jazz Festival website at for more on in-store performance July 29-31. To buy tickets to see Ken Peplowski perform at 5:15 p.m., as well as all the Litchfield Jazz Fest Saturday lineup on July 30, and to share an artist talk at 2:25 p.m. with fellow saxophonist Albert Rivera, go to ljf2022.

Saturday’s main stage performances are all held at the Tisch Family Auditorium at the Perakos Art and Community Center at Frederick Gunn School, Washington.

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