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Colonel Stuart Herrington On the "Traitors Among Us."

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Stuart A. Herrington. He spent 30 years as a military intelligence officer, serving in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. He was the Army's authority on counterintelligence and on the interrogation and debriefing of defectors and prisoners of war. He's written the new book "Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher's World" (Presido).


Other segments from the episode on July 7, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 7, 1999: Interview with Stuart A. Herrington; Interview with Ken Peplowski.


Date: JULY 07, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 070701np.217
Head: The Spy Catcher
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Stuart Herrington spent most of his life in the world of spies and double agents. He served 30 years as an Army military intelligence officer. From 1988 to '92 he directed the FCA, the Foreign Counterintelligence Activity, which was responsible for pursuing the most damaging cases of espionage committed against the U.S. by the Soviets.

He's written a new book called, "Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher's World." The case of Clyde Lee Conrad, which Herrington worked on and writes about in the book, has a few parallels to the current Chinese espionage story.

Conrad was an American military officer who spent most of his career in West Germany. He ran a spy ring that sold secret American documents to the Soviets detailing NATO defense plans in the event of a Soviet attack on Eastern Europe.

After a long investigation by the Foreign Counterintelligence Activity Conrad was tried and convicted of high treason in Germany and sentenced to life. He died in prison last year at the age of 50. Conrad was the custodian of the top-secret documents that he ended up selling.

STUART HERRINGTON, RETIRED U.S. ARMY COLONEL; AUTHOR, "TRAITORS AMONG US: INSIDE THE SPY CATCHER'S WORLD": Conrad worked in the G3, which is the operations and plans and training section of the 8th Infantry Division. And essentially, as a sargaent -- staff sargaent and sargaent first class in that section -- his job was to work the war plans and the annual revisions of the war plans which dealt with how that division would react, where it would go and what it would do in the event of a war.

He was a clever fellow, however, and he used that position in order to obtain war plans for adjacent units, other units, higher level units. And amassed for himself, just by virtue of being in the war plans job, a huge family of war plans that he could then betray, in this case to the Hungarian military intelligence service which passed them on to Moscow.

GROSS: Now, what was his motivation for selling the secrets? Was it ideology or just money?

HERRINGTON: Money. To Conrad the Cold War -- in his mind's eye he rationalized that the Cold War was a great game. That there never really would be a war, and therefore smart people like Conrad who sold the war plans and profited from it, were far ahead of those who took the whole thing seriously and did their job.

GROSS: Now, in the book you describe how his reputation among his superiors was that he was great. He was like the model employee. But he had a different reputation to soldiers.

HERRINGTON: Yes, Conrad was, as I said in the book, a chameleon. He was certainly a highly respected non-commissioned officer in the headquarters of the 8th Infantry Division and stayed there year after year. He'd made himself the indispensable man and he was the perfect soldier to his superiors.

But amongst his non-commissioned officer peers, and above all amongst the younger enlisted people, who looked to him as a role model and a father figure, he was a cynical Machiavellian and quite honestly, greedy fellow and an opportunist who made no secret about his contempt for authority.

GROSS: And someone who would occasionally approach, you know, a soldier and say, "say, you want to make a little money on the side?"

HERRINGTON: He did that. And one of the lessons learned from the saga of Clyde Lee Conrad and his co-conspirators, something we've known all along, which is soldiers are very reticent to squeal on anybody who's got anything going on the side.

At least during that period of time the peer pressure to keep your mouth shut, and people knew Clyde had something going and he gave a different excuse for why he was getting his money and -- for offering these jobs to different soldiers.

But nobody -- almost nobody walked in and said, "hey, I think something's wrong with Conrad. You need to look closely at him."

GROSS: Well, what intelligence ended up doing was taking one of the intelligence agents and basically making in a double agent. This was somebody named Danny Wilson who Conrad had approach once and said, you know, do you want to make some money on the side. Hoping that he could sell secrets.

And explain how you used Danny Wilson as a double agent.

HERRINGTON: Well, it was a gambit, you know, and it was a bold gambit that was actually commenced by my predecessor, a Colonel named Bob Lunt (ph). Wherein they'd identified Conrad, and it sure looked like he was the man. He had the access for the years. He had shown signs of undue affluence, more money than he should have had -- gone from rags to riches.

But the real challenge, of course, anytime you get a suspect in your sights is to document the elements of the crime of espionage. And you've got to be more specific than just, "he looks like our boy." So, in this particular case the decision was made to take a young soldier whom Conrad had approached with an opportunity to make some easy money.

A number of years earlier, almost a decade earlier, and who had, during interviewing him, reported later -- years later -- to our agents that Conrad had asked him about a chance to make some quick money on the side. And essentially to transfer that soldier back into the area where he could re-strike up a relationship with Conrad. And just see if Conrad might take the bait, view the young soldier as someone who hadn't reported the problem at the beginning, and therefore might be trustworthy -- he might take him into his confidence and try to recruit him. And that's what we did.

GROSS: Did it work?

HERRINGTON: It worked. Conrad was apparently -- at that point in time he had recently retired. He didn't have direct access to secrets as he had in the past. He was what I called at the time, "the once and future spy." He'd like to have gotten back in the saddle and resumed his stature as the pride of Hungary's -- of Budapest's agent stable.

And when Danny Wilson walked into his life Conrad, after initial fright thinking that Wilson might be there to actually apprehend him, saw daylight. He saw pure opportunity in his old friend Danny, and in a matter of months he began to brag about his espionage career, and ultimately recruited Danny dangling in front of him the visions of a lot of money to be made by a smart guy off this game called the Cold War.

GROSS: What was your biggest frustration when you took over the Army's Foreign Counterintelligence Activity in 1988? Your biggest frustration in terms of this case?

HERRINGTON: Well, I was told by my superiors when they gave me the new job that that case -- the case, which was called "Canasta Player," was the major challenge. That the case had been open for a decade. That for more than two years Conrad had been identified. But closing on the target and collecting the information, which would then be assessed by prosecutors as adequate to lay hands on Conrad and arrest him, was the challenge.

The word was out that the Foreign Counterintelligence Activity had gotten a hold of his tiger by the tail called, the suspect, Clyde Lee Conrad and just didn't know how to bring the thing to a conclusion. So the prosecutors could say, yes, we've got what we need. There's no question about it. The elements of the crime of espionage have been met. It's time to grab him.

GROSS: What was the turning point in actually ending the case?

HERRINGTON: Well, I'd like to say that we had a great plan and we proceeded step-by-step and the case ended on our terms. Actually, the turning point was at the time when we were doing well and manipulating the case to where we were collecting those elements of information about Conrad, such as where his money was, who was his Hungarian contact.

A member of the media, one who is quite well known today, Jeff Gerth (ph), actually picked up a tip in spite of all the security surrounding the case. Jeff picked up a tip that this case was underway and approached the government to see if he could verify whether the tip was correct or not.

And that approach by Jeff Gerth was actually a traumatic event and it forced us into going on a route to bring the case to an end that we had not planned to do. Which was to go to our German colleagues in West Germany - the then West German government and ask for assistance in arresting and prosecuting Conrad.

GROSS: And that's why he ended up getting tried and imprisoned in Germany?

HERRINGTON: That's correct. The Germans were as aggrieved a party as we were. In fact, you could argue even more aggrieved since any war that would have resulted in catastrophe out of Conrad's betrayal would have been fought on the battlefield of West Germany not in Pennsylvania.

So, we had to essentially take a case that had a cloak of security around it so dense that we didn't dare tell the Germans about it even though we'd been investigating for a decade in their country. And we had to go to the Germans - I had to go to the Germans and say, look, this is what we have been doing in your country behind your back. It was a deep secret. Security was essential.

And we now find ourselves in a position where the whole thing is on thin ice based upon a leak to the media. Our own prosecutors are not really ready to make the jump as to, you now, stepping up to the plate and prosecuting and we need your help.

And the Germans respondent, gratefully, with a positive response. And the rest is history.

GROSS: My guest is Stuart Herrington. And he directed the Army's Foreign Counterintelligence Activity from 1988 to '92. He's written a new book called "Traitors Among US: Inside The Spy Catcher's World."

You were based in Berlin during part of your career. What was it like working in Berlin during the Cold War?

HERRINGTON: Well, it was, of course for those of us who were blessed to serve there, for professional the personal reasons, a great experience. Professionally, of course, Berlin was the Mecca for espionage. It was what Istanbul was 75 years earlier -- or Vienna.

The place where the major adversaries in the Cold War came into direct contact because the city itself was decided amongst communist and non-communist parties. And so from that perspective it was professionally extremely gratifying because you had the chance to actually lock horns with the adversary.

Whereas a lot of counterintelligence folks would spend a career and never get that opportunity. There were a lot of games being played in Berlin, and the watchword was "that nothing is as it appears to be."

GROSS: What's it like to work in a world where nothing is where it appears to be? Do you start distrust everything, everybody?

HERRINGTON: Again, a wise observation on your part. I think one of the occupational illnesses of working in the counterintelligence arena is a tendency to become almost paranoid. Since nothing can be accepted at face value, you know, going across the line to where things are face value and how one copes with them; I think that's a real problem.

It was for me and was for a lot of my agents. An innocuous phone call, for example, by someone or an innocuous meeting in an airport terminal causes one to think, you know, I wonder if the reason she asked me that question is she's trying to get close to me. Why did she sit down next to me and strike up that conversation? Is she for real, or has someone instructed her to try and get close to me for the worst of possible reasons?

Those kinds of thoughts and second-guessing tend to -- they tend to characterize the way one becomes when one is subjected to that environment year after year.

GROSS: I'm wondering if the paranoia you describe also filters into the political level. In other words, if you risk becoming more paranoid about an enemy country than maybe they deserve. In other words, if you were more fearful about the Soviets during the Cold War than perhaps you needed to be.

HERRINGTON: Well, I think I say in "Traitors Among Us" that we certainly painted our adversary as a 10-foot tall adversary. And intelligence people are very good at that. Not because of the more cynical reasons evinced by the commentators on the system, namely that the threat is painted very, very - overpainted and overdrawn greatly and for resource reasons.

But I think there is a very real tendency when you focus, and focus intently on target to begin to be a little bit cowed and over awed by that target, and to overstate its threat. The Chinese case, for example, I read the Cox Report and, you know, I consider it to be tremendously overdrawn -- tremendously overdrawn in the worst case.

And yet, I can see in that the product of inputs from a lot of intelligence community folks.

GROSS: What do think is overdrawn about that report?

HERRINGTON: Well, I think it's the rhetoric, largely. I mean, nobody would dispute that the Chinese government has a program in order to collect military intelligence and economic intelligence from the United States. And in that sense the Chinese government is doing nothing more and nothing less than what all governments do, including our own.

But the rhetoric with which the report is framed and the way it just -- the overall sense and feeling of that report strikes me as somewhat evidence of the same kind of occupational paranoia that we've talked about.

GROSS: My guest is retired Colonel Stuart Herrington. His new book is called "Traitors Among Us." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Stuart Herrington. And he ran the Army's Foreign Counterintelligence Activity from 1988 to '92. His new book is called "Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher's World."

Now, you were in the position of being the Army's head counterintelligence agent at a time when the Cold War was ending. You say in your book you didn't see it coming.

HERRINGTON: Well, I wished I could say -- it sounds like a broken record. "I wished I could say that I'd seen it coming."


But the truth of the matter is, we were so completely consumed with the serious hemorrhages of national security that were on our plate and the need to focus on collecting the elements of the crime of espionage, not only on Clyde Conrad, but as readers will find out, there were a total of 11 co-conspirators of this ring. Not to mention other cases that we had underway.

That from the point of view of counterintelligence folks we didn't see it coming. And I think if you look across the board at the performance of the U.S. government at the highest levels that when Ronald Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall," everybody snickered and it was regarded as just so much rhetoric.

But the truth is that the Soviet system was shot through with vulnerabilities. They knew it better than anyone, particularly the KGB knew of the vulnerabilities better than anyone. And they had a better sense of their own system than we did, that's for sure.

GROSS: You briefly describe in your book that after the Cold War you were working on a project for which you ended up flying in the same plane as a former KGB official. And so you got a chance to, you know, share stories with your former arch foe.

What was that experience like?

HERRINGTON: Well, you know, I had quite a lot of time to talk to this KGB Colonel because we flew all the way across from Moscow to Vladevastock (ph). You know, my first thought was I never thought in my career that I'd ever have the opportunity to sit on an aircraft and talk with one of these folks and watch him as he consumed the vodka and sausage that was his desire. And ever get a conversation going with him.

And it was almost surrealistic. But equally interesting was to hear his view of things. For example, I'll never forget when he told me that Gorbachev was a CIA agent dispatched by the CIA, or recruited by the CIA, to destroy the Soviet Union.

GROSS: He believed that?

HERRINGTON: He believed that right down to the very fiber of his existence. And that the whole fall of the Soviet Union was essentially a massively successful and orchestrated CIA plot.

GROSS: Now do you think that that's a symptom of the kind of paranoia that spies experience that you were describing before?

HERRINGTON: More than that, Terry. What I saw in that was, and again it wasn't just this officer I got to talk to, I spent a lot of time talking to a lot of them. It was the institutional paranoia of the security services playing, you know, the mirror image of us although far more amplified I would say.

Plus the tremendous paranoia that tends to characterize the Russians, particularly now in the days when their superpower status is gone. There's a tremendous amount of paranoia and wound licking going on over there. And I had a chance to experience it firsthand.

GROSS: Now, you're in private practice, I suppose I could say now. You're the manager of investigations for a major sporting goods company. I don't know the name of the country, and I'm not sure you'd want to name it yourself. But I think your presence there is really part of a trend in which former spies and detectives and FBI agents and CIA agents are going to work in private industry.

And I'm wondering what you think that says.

HERRINGTON: Well, first of all, my skills are a pretty low-density skill. Meaning that the average person out there doesn't really have a need to hire a spy catcher. Yet the investigative discipline itself, there are fields such as protecting the intellectual property of a sporting goods company, which is what I do, where protecting intellectual property, in this case, trademarks, patents, trade dress; there's an analogy there.

You know, in my former life I protected national security information from those who would take it in order to use it against us strategically. In my new life I essentially work for a very fine sporting goods company that is famous for its intellectual property protection.

And the targets are no longer spies who would steal the information in order to give it to some hostile military power, but rather those who would steal the information in order to counterfeit products. To make knock-offs of products or otherwise to disadvantage the public corporation for which I work and impact negatively on its stockholders and ultimately in a macro sense, our national economy.

GROSS: The atmosphere must be pretty different when you're trying to protect information from getting into the hands of opponent -- of competing businesses compared to trying to protect information state secrets from getting into the hands of, you know, enemy countries.

HERRINGTON: Well, in many cases the countries are out there. It's actually a transnational thing, the people who are trying to get the information are in foreign countries and they have very healthy, well-developed industries based on counterfeiting and the lack of respect for intellectual property.

In other cases its unscrupulous people who, I must say, these people are more unscrupulous and far more dangerous, and cause me for greater worry, than the spies we caught.

GROSS: In what way are they more unscrupulous?

HERRINGTON: Well, what they will do in order to obtain the information and the kinds of attitude they take toward people who rain on their parade.

GROSS: Do your people -- did your people every use James Bond kind of gizmos to help them find spies, find traitors?

HERRINGTON: Well, we had quite an array of electronic aides at our disposal. A lot of, which to this very day, you know, we don't talk about for smart reasons. You know, things like tracking beepers, installed in a hidden place on Clyde Conrad's car so that our surveillance aircraft could keep track of him when he headed out of the village and he got on the Autobahn. That short stuff.

Wiretaps and that sort of stuff was all apart of it. And again, you can't do that sort of electronic intrusion, or those sorts of gee whiz type devices without some kind of approval. Or you've got probable cause to suspect someone's loyalty. But we had a fair share of those arrows in our quiver.

GROSS: I'm wondering if there were any gizmos that originated in the spy world that you've now seen filter down to, you know, like the Sharper Image catalog or, you know, just like consumer products?

HERRINGTON: Spy mania is alive and well in the United States. And you can go online now and you can buy a wide array -- a wide array of stuff, which in the case of my agents if one of us were to have gone out and bought that stuff for our own private use we would have been in trouble.

There are things that as a government agent, you know, you can't mess with, and you're forbidden. An example is what you would call commonly burglar tools. We have our own lock-picking specialists in the government, but those tools, and the possession of those tools, are a special thing. And he's not allowed to take them out and keep them in the trunk of his car once he's trained in that specialty.

So, there's a lot of that spy stuff out there. Wild stuff, electronic stuff; mugs of every shape size and description. Pinhole cameras, you name it, it's all out there.

GROSS: Well, Stuart Herrington, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

HERRINGTON: Well, thank you. I enjoyed it a lot.

GROSS: Stuart Herrington's new book is called "Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher's World."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Stuart Herrington
High: Retired U.S. Army Colonel Stuart A. Herrington. He spent 30 years as a military intelligence officer, serving in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. He was the Army's authority on counterintelligence and on the interrogation and debriefing of defectors and prisoners of war. He's written the new book "Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher's World"
Spec: Military; World Affairs; Lifestyle; Culture; Stuart Herrington

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Spy Catcher

Date: JULY 07, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 070702NP.217
Head: Ken Peplowski
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We often play music by clarinetist Ken Peplowski in between segments on FRESH AIR. The 40-year-old musician is considered one of the best clarinetists of his generation. In addition to leading his own bands, he's played with Susannah McCorkle (ph), Mel Torme, Hank Jones and Ruby Braff.

After spending much of his career trying to avoid comparisons with Benny Goodman, he's just released a new CD featuring songs and arrangements associated with the Goodman orchestra. It's Peplowski's 16th CD for Concord Records. It's called "Last Swing of the Century," and it presents the final concert of a two week tour of Japan by Peplowski and a 13-piece big band.

The CD opens with the song that Goodman often opened with, "Let's Dance."


GROSS: Ken Peplowski, welcome to FRESH AIR.

KEN PEPLOWSKI, CLARINETIST: Thank you. Nice to be here.

GROSS: Well, you actually played with Benny Goodman in the last part of Goodman's life. How old were each of you at the time?

PEPLOWSKI: This was about 1986, and I would have been 26 at the time. And Benny was around 80 years old. And he -- I was frightened to death, frankly, working with him because I'd heard all these stories about him. And most of them weren't very good stories.

I mean, he was known as kind of a terror on the bandstand, a very tough bandleader. You know, I heard all these things about his personality, that he was very arbitrary in his dealings with musicians. He could just on a whim fire people and things like that.

But I have to say my experience with him, I saw a little bit of that but I saw mostly a guy who was so obsessed with music that that took up about 98 percent of his life. And that was probably the sole cause of a lot of the complexities of his personality.

You know, I think he really loved to play music and he loved to play those old arrangements, and he was always thinking of new ways of playing them. And the image of him as the absent minded professor type was kind of true. And I think he did a lot of things, sometimes to the detriment of people's personal feelings, without really meaning to. He was just, you know, thinking about the music and what I can do to make it better. And that kind of explains a lot of him.

I've never been with a bandleader before or since who was so great at getting results from a band. He really made it sound like a Benny Goodman in an amazingly short period of time.

GROSS: Did he hurt you ever on the way to making good music?

PEPLOWSKI: No, he didn't. No, that last band he had, and I regret that -- we did one studio record that has yet to come out. And I wish people could hear it. But that band was a lot of younger guys that really loved him and respected him. And I think he felt that from us.

He did make a lot of changes in the band, but I think if you showed up on the bandstand ready to play Benny Goodman music for him, and also showed him that you respected him but you weren't intimidated by him, that was a big help to yourself.

And I've got to say, he actually was very kind to me. I found out after he passed on that he tried to get a record contract for me with the label he was on at the time and offered to produce a record of mine. This was before I had any contract with Concord or anything. And they weren't interested, but the producer told me a few years later, he said, "jeez, I wish we would have taken him up on it now."

So, he was really nice to me. You know, we got along pretty well. We talked almost every day on the phone. In fact, I wound up being his -- after Lauren Schoenberg (ph) left the band, I wound up being his kind of contractor for -- because he went through a drummer week. Every rehearsal, he just wasn't satisfied with the rhythm section. He kept changing the drummers.

And then hiring Louis Belson (ph) at great expense to come in at the last minute and do the gigs. But I just wound up going through almost every name in the Manhattan union book to try to find somebody that he would like. But he was very picky about what he wanted.

But then again, after you listen to him play you kind of think to yourself, well, maybe he's got a right to do this, you know, because he really was the greatest at what he did, I think.

GROSS: Did you play clarinet or tenor?

PEPLOWSKI: No, I played tenor. And, there's little bit of clarinet doubling, but I gave him some tapes that I had done playing clarinet, and I guess that was the basis of him telling these people that they should record me. But he never said anything to me about my clarinet playing except, you know, you sound good or, you know, those kind of things.

But the first audition -- he auditioned Lauren Schoenberg's band, his big band, for -- because he wanted to take a big band back out on the road. So, he came to a rehearsal session we had and an hour went by and he didn't show up. So, we just started playing some charts, and I was playing the clarinet parts.

And we're in the middle of an arrangement, and I've got my eyes closed and playing the solo. And I could actually feel the band change, and kind of tense up and without even knowing that he was in the room, I knew he was there. And then of course everybody completely fell apart.

But, you know, he wound up hiring the whole band.

GROSS: Did Benny Goodman give you any advice about the clarinet or technique or your sound?

PEPLOWSKI: Not specifically to me, but he would say things to the band like -- he would stop us in the middle of solos and say things like, "I want you to sing the solo. I want you to sing it out." And I may have been too young then to realize what he was talking about, but now I know that -- you know, he always through everything had a sense of melody. A great sense of melody.

Which by that I mean even as he was improvising over a complicated set of chord changes he had a beautiful structure to a solo. You know, it had a beginning, a middle and an end. And he had such a great melodic sense, and I think he wanted us to do the same thing. To stop thinking about music as a mental exercise and to think about it as music, you know. And to play through a solo, you know, to construct another song in a way to what was going on.

GROSS: So, when he said sing it out, he meant with your voice?

PEPLOWSKI: No, he meant sing it out through your instrument as if you were using your voice. So, in other words, get that sense of phrasing and melody and breathing that singers have, you know. Instead of just, you know, you see these players come right out of college and they've got all this knowledge in the world, but they don't have any soul or real feeling behind the solos.

And I think that's what he wanted us to do. To forget about the technique and get more into the feel.

GROSS: Benny Goodman used a lot of great arrangements by Fletcher Henderson, and you use some of the Henderson arrangements on yours new CD. So, I thought we should listen to one of those. Why don't we hear "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." This is clarinetist Ken Peplowski from his new CD "Last Swing of the Century: Big Band Music of Benny Goodman."


GROSS: That's clarinetist Ken Peplowski from his new CD, "Last Swing of the Century: Big Band Music of Benny Goodman."

What's your attitude toward playing repertory music? Do you try to keep it true to the original recording, or do you use the original arrangement or recording as a jumping off point?

PEPLOWSKI: Actually, I take kind of a different attitude. I don't want anybody to recreate solos to try to play specifically in the style of the old records. I may be alone in this, because there is this big whole movement of, you know, everybody trying to sound like the old records.

But to me, the way to keep the music alive is play it in your own fashion and show the audience that you love this music. But do it in your own way. Otherwise you're treating the music like a dead music and treating it like a museum piece. And I don't want a concert to turn into a history lesson. I want the people to know that it's still alive.

So, all we did was use these arrangements as a jumping off point for us, and this is our way of playing these charts.

GROSS: My guest is clarinetist Ken Peplowski. His new CD is called "Last Swing of the Century." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is clarinetist Ken Peplowski. His new CD, "Last Swing of the Century," features songs and arrangements associated with the Benny Goodman band.

Were you exposed to Benny Goodman records from your father's collection when you were growing up?

PEPLOWSKI: Yeah, my father was an amateur musician and there was a lot of music around the house. And he was very surprisingly open musically, because he was a very conservative guy otherwise. But we all in the family listened to everything from Benny Goodman to the Beatles to classical music to polka music, which is my first professional job.

And it all kind of goes in and goes into the computer there. And so, it was nice. And I still like to listen to all kinds of music, and I wind up playing mostly jazz but I welcome some changes once in a while.

But, yeah, Benny was a big early influence.

GROSS: How did you end up playing clarinet?

PEPLOWSKI: It's a funny thing, he -- my father brought home a trumpet, tried to play gave it up in frustration, gave it to my mother. He became a trumpet player. He next brought home a clarinet, tried it, gave it up, gave it to me. I got stuck with the clarinet, and I actually loved it almost from the beginning.

And I always make a joke out of this and I tell people I'm very lucky, and this is true, because the next instrument he brought home was the accordion.


GROSS: Did he play that himself?

PEPLOWSKI: Yes, he did. You can get the letters from the accordion players.

GROSS: So, you started playing clarinet. Your brother was playing trumpet. And then you played in polka bands together when you were kids.

PEPLOWSKI: Yeah, we played -- we had a Polish polka band called the harmony kings. And I was, I think, around 10, and he was around 12. And we were like this little kids novelty act around Cleveland, Ohio. And we used to go on the local TV and radio shows.

There was a TV show called "Polka Varieties," and if you ever remember the SCTV show with the Schmenge (ph) Brothers, it was so close to the show it's frightening. But that -- it's like learning how to swim by being thrown into the water, that's how I learned how to play.

You know, there we were having to play these long weddings and learn a lot of old standards in addition to the polkas. And the clarinet's function in that music is to improvise. So, I kind of learned just by doing it on the job.

GROSS: Well, I imagine playing clarinet excluded you from playing in a lot of rock and roll bands.

PEPLOWSKI: Yeah. Although we did do our version of "Proud Mary" with accordion and drums and clarinet. That was a killer with the audience.


But, yeah, it did exclude mean from that. But I took up saxophone a few years after the clarinet because of that actually. Because it fit in more with rock music and with more of the old standards. So, I did my share of different kinds of jobs around Cleveland when I was coming up.

GROSS: My guest is clarinetist Ken Peplowski. He records were Concord Records and has a new CD of the music of Benny Goodman called "Last Swing of the Century."

Ken Peplowski, you've studied classical music, and before we talk about studying classical music I want to feature you playing a classical piece. So, let's listen to something from your CD, "The Other Portrait." And this features you with the Bulgaria National Symphony.

We'll hear you playing the first movement of "Dance Preludes" by the composer of Vital Lutoslawski (ph).


GROSS: Clarinetist Ken Peplowski, from his CD "The Other Portrait."

Ken, did you study classical music because you planned on playing classical music, or did you do it just for help with your technique?

PEPLOWSKI: A little bit of both. I had a Greek teacher early on in Cleveland, a man named Al Blazer (ph), who really impressed upon me the need to learn a lot of the classical approach to playing and how it would help everything I did. And it does, it helps with the breathing, with the phrasing, with the articulation of notes.

And I always admired -- even the jazz players I admired had that classical side to them. Benny did, Jimmy Hamilton from the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Buster Bailey, people like that. So, I started studying all of that, the supposed legit stuff.

And because I was studying that I decided to go on into college and go for a degree on the clarinet with the classical thing. Even though I knew - I always knew I would just play jazz. But I mainly went to college just to keep studying with the same man, because he was teaching at Cleveland State. And I wound up going there for a year and a half and then I got a job on the road with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and then that was it.

And then it all went to pot.

GROSS: How do you think studying classical technique helped you playing jazz?

PEPLOWSKI: Because, again, to -- it comes back to what I said before about Benny impressing upon us that sense of melodicism. You have to do the same thing -- if you're playing a piece that is all written out, that somebody wrote a long time ago, you have to put your personality into that piece of music.

And you have to first learn the technique and then the trick is to forget about the technique and just put some music into it. And if you can do that with classical music that's a big stepping stone to doing it with jazz.

And I love that kind of a classical dark round sound of the clarinet. It's such a beautiful sound that for me that's what I strive to get. Even if I'm playing something that's not classical.

GROSS: There's a piece of yours I want to play from an earlier CD called "The Natural Touch." And this is a clarinet-bass duet, and the song is "How Deep is the Ocean." And I want to play this because I suspect that it really shows off some of the things that you learned with the help of studying classical technique like the beautiful tone that you have.

And also some of the embellishments in your improvisation here sound like they might be inspired in part by some of the classical technique that you learned.

Do you want to say anything about this before we hear it?

PEPLOWSKI: Just that -- well, you're absolutely right. Even now when I practice it's mostly A tunes (ph), classical A tunes. And it all is information that goes into everything you do, so those little embellishments that you're speaking of do come right out of classical technique.

GROSS: Let's hear it. This is clarinetist Ken Peplowski.


GROSS: That's my guest Ken Peplowski on clarinet with Murray Wall (ph) on bass from Peplowski's 1992 CD "The Natural Touch." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is clarinetist Ken Peplowski. His new CD, "Last Swing of the Century," features songs and arrangements associated with the Benny Goodman band.

Now, with your own band a lot of the repertoire that you play is songs, you know, old standards and it's almost wrong to call them standards because there's -- a lot of them are songs that not that many people know. But they're real songs, they're not just like riff-based things or heads that people play just to improvise on.

And I'm wondering what attracts you to song.

PEPLOWSKI: Well, I have a very -- a very low boredom threshold.



GROSS: Yeah.

PEPLOWSKI: And for me, if I'm bored standing up there playing the audience has got to be asleep. So, I want -- the kind of records I like, you know, its - there's something about -- all those old writers, they constructed these beautiful pieces of music that told the whole story in 32 bars. And they're very interesting harmonically, they go to all these different places and there's so much material out there to draw on. And I'm not a composer, you know, so what I do is interpret other people's material.

So, I love to dig up old songs, you're absolutely right. And I do think about the lyrics, and I think about what the song is trying to say. There's nothing worse than somebody's record of all original tunes, and there would be nothing worse than my record of all original tunes.

You know, not everybody is a Gershwin or an Ellington or Thelonious Monk. So, why not - there's so much to draw from out there that hasn't been explored you might as well take advantage of it.

GROSS: Where do you go digging for new tunes?

PEPLOWSKI: Well, I've got some mutual musical friends like Greg and Harold Alden (ph) Ben Aranoff (ph), my piano player, who are all kind of archeologists. You know, we're all looking for -- through old song folios, songbooks, or you hear somebody play something.

I've stolen a lot of my best material from Frank Sinatra, actually. I'm a big fan of some of the great singers. So, it's not hard to find material. You know, just a little bit of listening, a little bit of research in a music store or a library and there you go.

GROSS: Do you think you've learned a lot about phrasing by listening to singers like Sinatra?

PEPLOWSKI: Absolutely, yes. You know, he always said he learned a lot from Tommy Dorsey. And I got to tell him this once because we did a gig with him with Benny. We weren't together, but he was us on the act and Benny was on the act.

And I told him, I said, you know, you learned from Tommy and now all of us are learning from you. Which is true, a lot of instrumentalists will now tell you that -- cite Sinatra as a big influence. His phrasing was unbelievable. His way of putting feeling into a song is just unmatchable. To me, he was the best male singer in jazz.

And then I worked with Mel Torme, and he was also a big influence. He was just such a great musician and so flawless technically. He was unbelievable. So, yeah, I try to learn from everybody really.

GROSS: Do you like to learn the lyrics of a song when you're going to play it so you can think about that?

PEPLOWSKI: Yes, I really do. You know, it doesn't mean you have to memorize every word but I think it's important to learn what was meant when they wrote the song. And then you can take what you want from it, but if you're playing a ballad it's nice to know what kind of a ballad it is. If it's a really haunting ballad or if it's, you know, just a song to try to woo some young lady, you know.

And my goal -- ultimate goal is to accomplish, without words, what the great singers accomplished using words.

GROSS: Well, Ken Peplowski, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

PEPLOWSKI: Oh, it's been a pleasure.

GROSS: Ken Peplowski's new CD is called "Last Swing of the Century."

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Ken Peplowski
High: Clarinetist Ken Peplowski. The 40-year-old jazz musician, has been playing the instrument since the age of 7, and went on to play in Benny Goodman's last band, and in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (led by Buddy Morrow). Peplowski's influences include Goodman, saxophonist Sonny Stitt, the Beatles, and Ornette Coleman. He launched a successful solo career in the early 1980s, and now has 16 albums to his credit. His latest is "Ken Peplowski: Last Swing of the Century-Big Band Music of Benny Goodman"
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Lifestyle; Culture; Ken Peplowski

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Ken Peplowski
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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