Kenny Davern

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Kenny Davern
Kenny Davern on clarinet
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

John Kenneth Davern (January 7, 1935[1] – December 12, 2006)[2] was an American jazz clarinetist.


He was born in Huntington, Long Island,[1] to a family of mixed Jewish and Irish-Catholic ancestry.[3] 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,[1] 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.[1] The late 1960s found him freelancing 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 created.[1] Co-led by Wilber and Davern, both switching between the clarinet and various saxophones, during the next five years Soprano Summit enjoyed a successful string of record dates and concerts.[1] When the group disbanded in 1979, Davern devoted himself to solely playing clarinet, preferring trio formats with piano and drums.[1] 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.[2]


As featured artist[edit]

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[edit]

With Dick Wellstood

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

With George Shearing

With Roswell Rudd


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 112. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  2. ^ a b "Obituary: Kenny Davern". The Guardian. 3 January 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2021.
  3. ^ " - Jazz Artist - Kenny Davern". Archived from the original on 2016-01-27. Retrieved 2016-01-22.

External links[edit]