[JPL] EWI master Bernie Kenerson 'You can choose almost any sound you want'

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Thu Dec 20 06:40:11 EST 2007


'You can choose almost any sound you want'

EWI master Bernie Kenerson plays Jazz'd

By Jim Reed

BERNIE KENERSON IS a man with a mission.

Bernie Kernerson
A professional jazz musician for many years, the producer, composer and
arranger was born into a musical household. He first took to the clarinet at
age seven, and by ten had added the sax. By 13, he was playing the flute as
well, and at 16 went pro with a group in his hometown of Ft. Lauderdale.
Barely more than a year later, he had joined the U.S. Army, and over the
next 14 years, he¹d serve as an instrumentalist and arranger for Army Bands.

But now it seems that all these experiences (as well as subsequent music
degrees from esteemed schools like Berklee College of Music and Appalachian
State University) were merely preparation for the latest chapter in his
life. Kenerson you see, has found his calling, and is in the very early
stages of a proselytizing ministry.

His message? Embrace the EWI.

What may you ask is an EWI? Well, it¹s an acronym which stands for
Electronic Wind Instrument. In other words, it¹s a device that you blow in
‹much as you would a traditional horn or woodwind instrument‹ but which is
capable of generating an almost limitless range of sounds.

Think of them as synthesizers played with breath as opposed to fingers.

Despite the fact that these unusually versatile instruments have been around
in one form or another for three decades, and that many major artists have
dabbled (and recorded) with them, EWIs have never made significant inroads
in the music community. Why not? Well, maybe it¹s the name, which, frankly,
sounds like either a personal flotation device or an Australian cocktail. Or
maybe it¹s the fact that for some, the notion of making music by blowing
into an electronic stick connected to a computer just seems a tad, well,

And yet, according to Kenerson ‹who¹s performed alongside such jazz icons as
Bob James, The Yellowjackets, Jimmy Smith and Gato Barbieri‹ for serious
musicians not intimidated by technology or the evolution of their art form,
EWIs are simply ³where it¹s at.² Given the option, he¹d much rather play one
of these electronic wind instruments than any of the ³regular² horns at his

³I keep Œem out and still play Œem all pretty much once a day to keep my
chops up,² he says of his collection of varied brass and woodwind axes. ³But
for my own music, I wanna concentrate on the EWI. 2008 will mark 30 years
that I¹ve been playing EWIs. I¹ve always loved Œem and so I made a decision
that I wanted to showcase that.²

³I¹m bringing the EWI to the forefront. I think they¹re great and there
hasn¹t really been anyone who¹s decided to seriously make it their main

Kenerson says that quite a few jazz artists play and record with EWIs, but
usually only in small doses.

³They¹ll use it for a little color here and there or for a piece of a
melody. Maybe for one song an album. But the instrument itself is so rich
with possibilities that it needs to be out front. I¹ve always been a
multi-instrumentalist and wanted to play more than one thing. In the past,
on jazz gigs, I¹d show up with five or six instruments. Piccolo, flute,
tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet.

³So the nice thing about doing my thing and my music with an EWI is that I
have a palette of different sounds to choose from. They¹re all right there.
I don¹t have to bring an armful of horns and keep up with the reeds and
everything else. I¹ve grown up with and always liked synthetic and
electronic sounds. So, as a horn player, it¹s fun to be able to tap into all
of that.²

He knows some people dismiss EWIs as less than a ³real² instruments, but he
hasn¹t run into too many EWI haters. Plus, he sees that as mainly a holdover
from a previous generation that was in many respects slow to embrace the
possibilities of electronic instruments in general.

³By contrast,² he notes, ³Michael Brecker ‹who recently passed away‹ was one
of the best jazz musicians that ever lived, and he embraced EWIs. He was a
real innovator, and did a lot of unique things with them. Time has come for
it to be accepted as a viable, deserving instrument we all have to pay
attention to.²

To that end, Kenerson has recently released an independent album called You
& Me (The Art of the EWI), which features the EWI as the melodic lead on
every track. Musically, it¹s an upbeat mixture of slickly played, feel-good
tunes boasting a facile and live acoustic rhythm section of bass, guitar and
drums. Compositionally, the album shifts between modern material and more
traditional fare, but at all times, his electronic axe is front and center.

It¹s a bold statement that¹s meant to validate his chosen instrument. And it

Kenerson says that for most any wind player, the EWI is not only a wonderful
compliment to their standard arsenal, but given the chance, just might wind
up being their preferred ³horn².

³It has all the elements needed for great, artistic music,² he enthuses.
³Plus, you can choose almost any sound you want. With this new Akai 4000s
model I use, you don¹t have to plug it into an effects rack.²

According to Kenerson, this brand-new development is a state-of-the-art
upgrade in previous technology that has effectively made EWIs virtually
indistinguishable in most functional and visual respects from an acoustic
horn or woodwind.

³A lot of guys get into wind controllers, which I do as well. I could
trigger banks of sound modules, but the horn I use now has a dual-oscillator
analog modeling synth engine right on board, with built-in effects. So, when
I go wireless, I¹m not tethered to anything! I¹m essentially as free with
this EWI as with an old-fashioned, acoustic horn. I¹m even freer than if I
was using a traditional horn with a clip-on mic.²

If anyone is in a position to comment on the evolution of the EWI, it¹s
Kenerson, who became intrigued with the potential of this new breed of
instrument from the start, and has been a devotee ever since.

³That first one was called the Lyricon, and I played one back then. It was
totally electric. No chips, and it was not digital. There were plenty of
transistors. You¹d open it up and the guts were full of wires!²

Up until fairly recently, the Myrtle Beach, S.C. resident had a full-time
gig playing seven nights a week at a dedicated jazz venue in that popular
tourist town.

³I was the musical director for their house band,² he recalls. When that
venue closed, he saw an opportunity to, as he puts it, ³keep the momentum
going,² by devoting all his energy to composing original material and
hitting the road with his own group.

³The CD is getting a lot of airplay. We¹re on 92 stations in 34 states and
nine different countries! My CD has been heard on Savannah State¹s station
90.3 FM. What¹s fun about having my discs for sale online is going to
CDBaby.com and seeing that someone from Barcelona or Japan has ordered one.
That¹s really exciting.²

Kenerson has played a few gigs in Savannah over the years, but he¹s always
been acting as a sideman to someone else. He considers this upcoming date at
Jazz¹d as his official debut in our market.

³The show will mostly be original material from the current CD, plus some
new stuff from the CD that should come out next Spring,² he explains. ³I
sprinkle in a handful of covers and standards. There¹s a Monk tune we¹ve
modernized, and a John Scofield tune we love to jam on. There¹s also a
couple of Coltrane tunes that work very well on the EWI. I¹d like to think
that if Coltrane were around today, he¹d have really gotten into EWIs.²

To anyone unfamiliar with the sounds of EWIs, but who might be considering
making the show, Kenerson has these words of encouragement: ³I¹ve got a
great sounding band that¹s both fun and entertaining. It¹s very accessible
stuff. If you¹ve never seen someone play the EWI, it¹s really a joy to hear.
We¹re at a point in time where it¹s nice to have something that just sounds
fresh, you know?²

³The cool thing to me about the EWI is that it¹s got a newness to it, but
there is a familiarity there as well. Because the basis of the thing is in
analog sounds that have been with us for a while. This is just a new twist
in the horn player¹s expression.²

The Bernie Kenerson Group plays Jazz¹d Tapas Bar Friday at 9 pm. There is no
cover to get in.  More info and music samples at: www.berniekernerson.com.

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