Vandoren Artist Profile: Ken Field

When did you decide you wanted to be a musician, and what drew you to that decision? 

I had played clarinet since 4th grade, but I really was only able to translate written notes on paper to a fingering on the instrument; I had no concept of creating music myself. I was encouraged as a clarinetist both at home and at school, and I had a very good teacher. I showed some aptitude for the instrument, and I liked to practice. I originally studied computer science in college. I didn't study music outside of a few basic survey and introductory theory classes. In college I managed to run into a door (don't ask...) and broke my front tooth. I could not play clarinet, so I borrowed my sister's flute and started improvising with folk and blues musicians. I think the combination of creating music myself improvisationally, and seeing the inner need I apparently had to continue to make music despite the physical setback, made it clear that I was a musician, though not a very good one at that point.

After many years playing flute, and then saxophone (which is much less stressful on my broken tooth than clarinet) in the context of a "sideman", I started improvising and composing music as soundtracks to my late wife Karen Aqua's animated films. One piece that I wrote for a Boston First Night animation/slide installation was very well received, and I even got requests from people I didn't know for copies of the music. This got me thinking, and I decided to try to put together a CD of my own music. A series of serendipitous events led to the recording of my first solo CD "Subterranea" in an underground room in Roswell, New Mexico. I submitted this CD to the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, and they awarded me a one-month Composer-in-Residence grant. It was only at this point that I started thinking of myself as a composer.

Somewhere in there, I studied saxophone performance for four semesters at Berklee College of Music, and improvisation privately with Charlie Banacos and Jerry Bergonzi.

I am currently a saxophonist, flautist, and composer. Since 1988 I have been a member of the internationally acclaimed electrified modern music ensemble Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, with whom I have recorded eight CDs. I lead the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, a New Orleans-inspired improvisational brass band that has released four CDs and performed internationally in venues including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Berklee Performance Center, the Redentore Festival in Venice, Italy, and Tipitina's in New Orleans. I was named a 2017 Finalist in Music Composition by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Who have been some of the most influential people in your life?

My saxophone teacher at Berklee College of Music was the legendary Joe Viola - an amazing and wonderful human who guided me through my early days with the instrument. I have been fortunate to have worked with a huge number of great musicians, almost all of whom have had a tremendous influence on my playing and composing.

Who are your musical inspirations? 

I'm inspired by musicians who go beyond the tried and true, who break new ground and make new sounds. There are many examples, and they are all important to me.

What are the greatest challenges you have faced as a musicians and how have you overcome them? 

The biggest challenge is to remain confident that what I am doing is valid, unique, and worthy of people's attention.  It's easy to get insecure about one's playing and writing.  It's important to keep true to one's own internal vision, and to focus on what you yourself think is interesting and creative, rather than focusing on how you suppose others might react to your work.

Do you have any particular memorable performances? 

It was certainly a great kick for my group Revolutionary Snake Ensemble to be invited  to march annually in the Krewe of Muses' Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, but I think that our recent performances with guest soloists including Trombone Shorty, Charles Neville, Godwin Louis, and Jason Palmer have been high points for sure! I also recently returned from Poland where I performed live soundtracks, which I arranged for four alto saxophones and drums, for a program of animated films by Karen Aqua. It was a huge success, and I hope to present this program elsewhere as well.

What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your life as a musician? 

I couldn't have dreamed of any better situation than what I now have, making music full-time, performing actively, having my music for Sesame Street heard by millions of kids, and getting very kind critical response to my solo and group work.

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