Updated: Mar 20, 2022
Ken Ascher is a studio guy. Certain musicians’ names show up on albums, giving the project instant credibility: Larry Carlton, James Jamerson, Tom Scott, David Spinozza, and hundreds more.
Kenny Ascher: piano, keyboards, arranger, conductor, is one of those guys. A common sight for decades on the liner notes of an album. If you weren’t looking for the name, you wouldn’t see it, which has always been the case for musicians and songwriters who aren’t stars.
I mention players known most for their work in the 70s, 80s, and 90s because you don’t see players listed on current projects as frequently as you did. With the remote locations available to artists and the freedom to make music anywhere, they don’t have to record in LA, New York, and Nashville like they once did.
I continue to write about him because he crosses into so many songs, albums, and films that I enjoyed. He played on James Taylor’s Walking Man album in 1974, which is not only a fine collection of songs but an all-star team of talent.
Peter Asher, the Brecker brothers, Paul McCartney, Hugh McCracken, Ralph McDonald, Rick Marotta, Carly Simon, Spinozza, and many more played on the album. It must have been fun, and it must have been expensive. According to Ken, it is the project in which Taylor and keyboardist Don Grolnick began a long collaboration.
At the same time, Ken played on, arranged, and conducted the orchestra on John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges album. I’ve always been captivated by the sound of the strings on this album. They dominate most of the tracks with a dastardly sound echoed by the horns.
I haven’t yet asked Ken how he and John came up with the sound, but it’s on my list. I’m also curious what life was like on a Lennon session in 1974. Ken played keyboards on the album with Nicky Hopkins on piano.
“He just wanted to play piano on the album,” Ken said. “I played electric piano and some other things.”
At the same time, Ken played on albums by Dr. John, Gladys Knight, Harry Nilsson, Martha Reeves, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Frankie Valli, Leslie West, Paul Williams, Johnny Winter, and wrote songs with Carole Bayer Sager and Paul Williams.
I went to school and rode my bike.
What people accomplish in the music industry and how many talented people call them for help is miraculous. That’s not to mention other projects he contributed to in addition to raising a family.
He speaks of the work with reverence, always pointing the credit to others for his successes. A classically-trained pianist, he was prepared for anything thrown his way. He still practices every day, typically Chopin, or Mozart, as was the case when we talked last month.
He performs with the Birdland Big Band every Friday night, which he looks forward to every week. In the show, he takes solos, as do most of his bandmates, sitting in front, right next to the diners enjoying the show.
The Birdland show is worth the trip if you can make it. Check it out if you like a big band playing jazz and standards.
Ken has good things to say when you speak of music in 2022. He knows current artists and is quick to point out talent.
I haven’t heard the last of Ken Ascher. I write about him because I want people to know what other things go on to produce your favorite music. You may have leaned on music to take you to a different place when you were a kid, and probably still do, like me.
Thank you, Ken Ascher. I still want to know how you arranged those angry strings for John Lennon.