Friday, October 5, 2012

Peter Appleyard: Sophisticated Ladies

Linus Entertainment
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Sophisticated Ladies

Only Canadians are likely to be familiar with most of the artists featured on this album, although everybody should know Peter Appleyard. He’s a world-famous jazz icon: an 84-year-old vibraphonist who still performs in clubs, concerts and on tours.

Appleyard, born in a small English town, became a professional musician as a drummer during World War II. He switched to vibraphone after seeing Lionel Hampton perform with George Shearing at New York’s Bop City; the rest is history. Appleyard emigrated to Toronto in 1950, where he settled and made his musical name. He worked with famous Canadian pianist Calvin Jackson, was a member of the posh Park Plaza Hotel house band for several years, became a standard on CBC Radio and toured extensively throughout North America with his own groups.

During the big band years, many great American jazz artists toured throughout Canada; Appleyard — who was as famous there as stars like Ellington, Basie and Goodman were in the States — got to know and perform with them. Lightning struck in 1972, when a casual conversation with Benny Goodman, backstage in Toronto, led to a job with his sextet. Appleyard toured with that group during the early ’70s and worked periodically with them throughout the rest of the decade. Concerts with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and other stars followed, and still continue.

Sophisticated Ladies is one of two albums Appleyard has released this year. His quintet — vibes, guitar, piano, bass and drums — provides support for 10 jazz vocalists: all well-known Canadians. The set comprises standards that were associated with the big band years, and (of course!) remain popular today. You’ll recognize and enjoy every one of them: from “After You’ve Gone” and “Georgia on My Mind” to Satin Doll” and “Mood Indigo,” with plenty of stops in between. The melodies and lyrics are still wonderful.

The format opens with a short instrumental intro, followed by a vocal chorus, then a reprise featuring choruses by Appleyard and various sidemen. Clearly, Canada doesn’t lack for swinging jazz vocalists and musicians. This release was a great idea. 

You can’t help marveling at Appleyard’s talent; he’s as good today as he was 60 years ago.

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