Ken Peplowski has been compared to Benny Goodman--favorably. The noted New York Times music critic John S. Wilson called him "a clarinetist with a Benny Goodman tone and a Buddy DeFranco style." It is not surprising, because Peplowski was a member of Goodman's last working orchestra. But truly Peplowski plays the music that he likes, his own way. He does not try to play like Benny Goodman or anyone else.
Peplowski was born May 23, 1959 in Cleveland, Ohio, and began his professional career at age nine, making local jazz radio and television appearances. He played orchestral and jazz arrangements in the Cleveland area before joining the Tommy Dorsey Band under the direction of Buddy Morrow in 1979. He met saxophonist Sonny Stitt while on the road and soon became one of his pupils.
In 1980, Ken moved to New York and was soon playing in such musical settings as traditional Dixieland bands, avant-garde jazz ensembles, and symphony orchestras. He was also involved in making movie sound tracks and commercial recordings.
Ken has recorded and performed with musicians as diverse as Mel Torme, Charlie Byrd, Peggy Lee, George Shearing, Warren Vache Jr., Hank Jones, Dan Barrett, Leon Redbone, Jimmy McPartland, Max Kaminsky, Dick Hyman, Ruby Braff, Scott Hamilton, Howard Alden, Rosemary Clooney, and Steve Allen .
He has been a featured performer with the American Jazz Orchestra and has performed regularly in New York's major clubs such as the Blue Note, Fat Tuesday's, Eddie Condon's and Jimmy Walker's. He has appeared at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Peplowski's own group performs on a regular basis at J's on 97th and Broadway in New York City. Ken has made numerous extensive tours of Europe, Brazil, England, Mexico, and Japan. In the fall of 1993, he led the Great American Jazz Orchestra at the Fujitsu-Concord Jazz Festival, appearing in several cities in Japan.
His impressive performance as a sideman on Dan Barrett's Concord album Strictly Instrumental (CCD-4332) brought about a recording contract with Concord Jazz. His debut album as a leader was Double Exposure (CDD-4344). The title calls attention to his proficiency on clarinet and tenor saxophone. He plays both instruments brilliantly on the recording. Author Peter Straub, who annotated the album, wrote:
"Peplowski demonstrates how absolutely he has assimilated Goodman's unrelenting daring and brought it to a more modern rhythmic and harmonic landscape...like every artist whose imagination is expansive and generous and human, this thirty- year-old musician widens and increases the world."
Peplowski has gone on to record Sonny Side (CCD-4376), Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool (CCD-4419), Illuminations (CCD-4449), and, in 1992, Groovin' High (CCD-4509), a three-tenor romp with Scott Hamilton and Spike Robinson, all for Concord Jazz. Also in 1992, Peplowski came out with The Natural Touch (CCD-4517), which earned him the highest award in Europe for Merit for Jazz Recording, the prestigious Preis Der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik Award in 1993. May 1993 brought the release of Ken Peplowski and Howard Alden Concord Duo Series--Volume Three (CCD-4556), recorded at Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, California. His August 1994 release, Steppin' With Peps (CCD-4569) , is an exiting and charming outing full of musical magic.
Ken spends much of his time traveling the world as a solo artist or as a leader of his own quintet. He was recipient of Best Emerging Talent on Clarinet in the Jazz Times magazine Critic's Poll of 1990. Peps, as his friends call him, continues to gain well-deserved recognition. Cash Box called him a "talented mainstream multi-reedman." The Boston Herald commended the "purity of Peplowski's silvery playing, " declaring that "everything on Illuminations sounds marvelously fresh--and refreshing." Chip Defaa wrote in Jazz Times, "...he was an exceptionally facile, fluid, and melodic soloist even at the tender age of 19."