If Kenny Davern had not chanced upon Artie Shaw's "Concerto for Clarinet" on the radio dial as a youngster in the mid-1940s, he might well have become a comedian instead of a jazz musician. Possessed of rapier wit, a gift for mimicry and innate pantomimic ability, Davern often has audiences in stitches between numbers. At a Smithsonian concert several years ago his mock exasperation over a repeatedly collapsing music stand before a note of the program had been played had the hall filled with laughter for fully five minutes. Davern has also been known to offer pompously tongue-in-cheek correction of the grammatical infelicites of certain song titles (e.g., "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Don't Have That Swing") and he can slip into a nasal parody of a New Jersey accent that is right out of "On the Waterfront."
But all that may be beside the point, for Davern is one of the hottest and most passionate clarinetists of the traditional school of jazz playing today, and his busy schedule takes him all over the world. He'll be in a trio format at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis Wednesday through Sunday with veteran jazz players Dick Wellstood, piano, and Bobby Rosengarden, drums.
Davern says it was his first exposure to the sound of the late Pee Wee Russell's clarinet that pointed the direction for him: "I'd never heard the instrument played that way."