Ken Peplowski jazz CD is charming

Capri Records, Ltd.

Ken Peplowski assembled his teammates for this charming CD and chose a variety of tunes, some of which are outside the usual jazz repertoire. His musical associates were pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Martin Wind and drummer/percussionist Matt Wilson. Of course, likely all who read this column already know that Ken is clarinetist/saxophonist of great talent and renown.

enraptureIn order for the reader to appreciate the diversity of music on this CD, the titles and composer/lyricist are listed.

The Flaming Sword (Duke Ellington)
An Affair to Remember (Harry Warren/Leon McCarey/ Harold Adamson)
Oh, My Love (John Lennon/Yoko Ono)
Cheer Up, Charlie (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley)
I’ll Follow My Secret Heart (Noel Coward)
Enrapture (Herbie Nichols)
Twelve (Peter Erskine)
Vertigo Scene D’Amour (Bernard Hermann)/Madeline (Love Music from “Vertigo”)
When October Goes (Barry Manilow/Johnny Mercer)
Willow Tree (Thomas “Fats” Waller/ Andy Razaf)

Peplowski explained, “A year or so of sifting through material, a year or so of playing with these great musicians and very little time in the studio; we really wanted to approximate what we do in the clubs. This is us, in as close to a live setting as one could ask for in a recording environment —every song is pretty much one take — we just like to capture the spontaneity and interplay of four people who enjoy making music together.”

For the musical cognoscenti, Peter Erskine’s “Twelve” is explained by Peplowski: “… a twelve-tone row based on the standard ‘Easy to Love.” This is an example of us doing a kind of collective improvisation, something this quartet has become quite adept at — this was not even rehearsed, just talked through by me — one take and that’s that!”

I was intrigued about the background of “When October Goes” credited to Barry Manilow and Johnny Mercer. With some research I learned that toward the end of Mercer’s life, he and Manilow became close. After Johnny’s death, his widow Ginger offered some of Johnny’s unpublished lyrics to Manilow, who composed the tune to fit Mercer’s lyrics.

One other item that intrigued me: The photo on the cover shows an unusual bridge taken at the level of a pedestrian with skyscrapers in the distance. I puzzled over the significance of the cover photo and the title of the CD. I inquired of Tom Burns of Capri Records and learned that the significance was only tangential. It’s a photo of the Brooklyn Bridge taken by Des McMahon, a friend of Pep’s.

Jazz writer Will Friedwald has described the musician as such: “Peplowski sounds the way (Benny) Goodman might if he had kept evolving, kept on listening to new music, kept refining his sound, polishing his craft, and expanding his musical purview into the 21st century.”

An unusual CD and an interview with the artist, Delfeayo Marsalis

Delfeayo Marsalis presents the
Uptown Jazz Orchestra
Troubadour Jazz Records

This unusual CD came for review. I was immediately intrigued by the title as I doubted it to be a campaign item for a current presidential candidate. Listed in liner notes were 23 regular musicians, four guest musicians, four special guests including a narrator and eight members of a vocal theatre music group. There is a photo of the big band on the cover, 15 male musicians and one woman, presumably the vocalist.

marsalis_cd_frontThe intrigue continues as the music develops. The first selection is the Star Spangled Banner, a melodic arrangement. The last selection is Aaron Coplandís Fanfare for the Common Man, a beautiful arrangement by D. Marsalis. Of the total 14 numbers it’s a mix of big band, smaller group material, some vocal numbers and spoken commentary. Some of the numbers suggested a studio version of a New Orleans jazz marching group. Included are familiar numbers, Skylark and Java, both featuring Mr. Marsalis as trombone soloist. One might be reminded of some of Tommy Dorsey’s lush solos.

No, this was not a plug for a certain presidential candidate. But, it was an intriguing mix of varying kinds of music, executed with care and precision. Liner notes include words to Make America Great Again and Living Free (And Running Wild.)

What follows is a conversation between this reviewer and Delfeayo Marsalis. Words to Make America Great Again are below. I am grateful to Mr. Marsalis for contributions to the music and for a clear explanation of how this CD came to be produced.

The title phrase was used by Presidents Reagan and Clinton before being used by the Trump Campaign. How/why/ when did you choose this as title?

One of the unique aspects of playing with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra is that we create songs spontaneously. We ask the audience to pick two key signatures and the theme for the composition. One night three months ago, someone called out “Make America Great Again!” The tune was nice, so I decided we should record it and include it on the new CD. After hearing the studio version, I realized it needed a narration, so I wrote the lyric and contacted Wendell Pierce. Being the most comprehensive political statement of the songs we recorded, I felt the title best captured the tenor of our country today.

marsalis_cd_backAny apprehension that the casual viewer might think this is a support for Trump?

Yes. Today, in the social media age, people or less likely to peel through layers for discovery. That’s another challenge of jazz music, as well, because there is naturally an abstract quality of instrumental performance. And jazz requires patience, intellectual and emotional commitment from listeners. So, the title is challenging, but it best represents my sense of humor and political awareness.

Your own private joke?

I’m not sure how private it is, but it certainly puts the audience on notice that something is going on!

On first listening, this recording seems, to me, a mix of big band, New Orleans style marching band music, vocals suggest some musical theatre. Tell me your concept for this musical gumbo of styles?

Just like all humans can be traced back through the DNA strain to Africa, all music is related. I like to include as many styles of music as possible in every performance and recording, so that’s an accurate assessment. I’m sure there’s classical music, James Brown and others in there, too.

Who composed the lyrics to Back to Africa and Living Free (And Running Wild)? I see you’ve credited Brice Miller and Naydja Cojoe, respectively, for Rt. Foot Forward and Living Free.

I wrote the lyrics for BTA and LFRW. Naydja wrote the bridge to LFRW and Dee-1 wrote all of the rap (except for my “Hundreds of years ‘fore Columbus sailed there were native folks without tears on a trail.”)

There’s an impressive list of players and special guests. Riff a bit about how/why these players were chosen. Presumably your regulars are your local band plus the guests.

There is a uniqueness about New Orleans music that is rooted in joy and celebration with an understanding of pathos. I felt it was important to hire New Orleans musicians or individuals who have lived and performed there for many years. We couldn’t effectively play the brass band music without that indigenous New Orleans understanding. Branford, given his extensive history improvising in different genres, always makes good decisions as a soloist, so I always try to keep him involved. The cohesiveness of the band in collective improvisation is unique to New Orleans. There are a number of jazz orchestras that can play technically brilliant, read music and sound good, but no other that plays the New Orleans sound to perfection like our Uptown Jazz Orchestra.

Talk about the narrator, Wendell Pierce.

Wendell and I attended high school together and he’s one of three New Orleanians accepted into the Juilliard School of Drama. His main acting roles were on The Wire and Treme, but I knew he would accurately capture the frustration that all adult black males feel about Americans abusing or ignoring their responsibility to the nation. I originally wanted a white man to deliver it, but there is a certain irony and resolve that is unique to the Negro experience in the text. Wendell understood exactly what it was and how to accurately capture it.

Say a few words about the recording location, Trinity Church in New Orleans.

When Branford and Wynton made the shift from small studios to larger ones back in the ’80s, it was at my suggestion. Not long after that, more musicians were following suit. Without getting too technical, the unique nature of the sound Patrick Smith and I are known for capturing has to do with the acoustic nature of live instruments playing together in one space. The larger the space, the greater the potential to capture the full harmonic range instruments individually and collectively. Electronic instruments sound artificial because there are approximations of living things. They can sound good, but not like the real thing. That said, I knew that Trinity Church would allow us to capture the true instrument sounds with clarity and natural ambience. My one regret is recording digital instead of analog, which always gives the sound quality more of the needed fat rump!

Was this part of their Artist Series?


Was it a concert setting or dedicated recording session?

This was a dedicated recording session.

I note that you credit various persons for mixing and David Farrell for mastering. Why the different assignments?

Well, we submitted the credits before everything was finished, so it all changed. In the end, I had to mix more than I wanted to because the other engineers had other commitments. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to mix the way that I do, which is why I don’t record as much as I used to. We split up the songs so that whoever was available could work on them, they’d send me the mixes and I’d request certain changes, etc. In the end, we were all aiming to accomplish the same goal.

Lyrics to Make America Great Again by Delfeayo Marsalis

Make America Great Again

Ah, yes, Make America Great Again!

While this catchy slogan may serve as a poignantly potent political phrase is it, in practical terms, a pragmatic proposition in the real world today? I submit, if you please, Certainly not!

Now, there will always be those of us who long for “the good old days,” either because we weren’t there or we’ve simply forgotten what those days were actually like.

Times are steadily changing and we have adjusted since 1492 with aplomb! That’s right, here in America we accept the good with the bad, the happy with sad, the rain with the sun and the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green and Tea Parties all the same.

We may not agree with what you have to say, but we let you voice your opinion anyway.

A Melting Pot of diversity fighting a juggernaut of adversity!


Now, you’ve got to admit, eight score and seven years ago, the Confederates had a strong business model. Guaranteed riches from an ill-got industry, mostly realized on the backs of African immigrants, the enslavement of whom has been designated, regulated and propagated as a natural birthright! Lo thus, arose our great nation’s preeminent dilemma; firmly lodged in that most peculiar of institutions. What to do, what to do?

Rather than uphold the basic tenets of our Constitution, these good old boys waged war against our United States of America without a good back-up plan!


To my eye, it’s a curious sight to see that Rebel flag raised proudly next to our Stars and Stripes, because that particular flag represents not only Southern pride, but also anti-American sentiment. It represents the longing for American freedom without the sacrifice of responsibility that accompanies it! Didn’t they know? Freedom ain’t free!

Good Old Southern Boy, Form a more perfect Union, blah, blah, blah. We got the right to this land of the free, it’s our manifest destiny. How? Man, we are making entirely too much money off this hustle to just let this thing go on principle. Who are you kidding?

Through the Middle Passage and Trail of Tears, 10 wars,
Eight Recessions, A Great Depression, Women’s Suffrage, Whites and Colored Only, South moving North and East moving West, landing on the moon, Lewis and Clark to our National Parks! I am American, protecting our American dream by any means necessary. United we stand.

Making America Great again! Ha-ha-ha!

CD Review: 'The Candy Men,' Harry Allen's All Star NY Saxophone Band

Harry Allen’s All Star New York Saxophone Band
Arbors Records ARCD 19450

Here’s another Harry Allen gem from Arbors Records. Harry has assembled an all-star team with fellow tenor saxophonists Grant Stewart and Eric Alexander and baritone sax player Gary Smulyan completes the quartet. The all-star rhythm section consists of pianist Rossano Sportiello, bassist Joel Forbes and Kevin Kanner, drums.

candymenAll the musical arrangements are Harry’s except for the lead-off number, the now-classic Four Brothers. However, instead of using the familiar Jimmy Giuffre arrangement, Harry uses the one by Al Cohn.

The musical numbers are a mix of upbeat and moderate tempo tunes, all with the lush four-sax sound. Pianist Sportiello also gets his chance to shine as well.

Liner notes by Wall Street Journal columnist, musical historian Marc Myers will enhance the enjoyment for the listener. He gives succinct background information about the history of similar groupings. In fact, this recording was the subject of Myers’ blog, on Oct. 11, 2016.

Personal bias explained: Harry was a performer at our first Pensacola Jazz Party, 1989, at age 20. He has performed for Jazz Pensacola on numerous occasions and he and Rossano Sportiello performed for Pensacola JazzFest a few years ago. I’ve had opportunity to see him also at other jazz events around the US.

For your interest, tunes and composers are:

  • Four Brothers (Jimmy Giuffre)
  • The One for You (Harry Allen, Judy Carmichael)
  • How Are Things in Glocca Morra? (E. Y. Harburg, Burton Lane)
  • After You’ve Gone (Henry Creamer, Turner Layton)
  • I Wished on the Moon (Dorothy Parker, Ralph Rainger)
  • Blues in the Morning (Harry Allen)
  • I Can See Forever (Harry Allen, Judy Carmichael)
  • The Red Door (Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims)
  • The Candy Man (Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newly)
  • So There (Harry Allen)
  • Nobody’s Heart (Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers)
  • The Party’s Over (Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jule Styne)

Remembering pianist Derek Smith

Pianist Derek Smith performing at the 1991 Pensacola Jazz Party.
Pianist Derek Smith performing at the 1991 Pensacola Jazz Party.

Derek Smith was guest pianist for two Pensacola JazzFests in the early 1990s. There was a trio with bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Bobby Rosengarden. Derek also was pianist for our 1991 Pensacola Jazz Party. Accompanying photos were from that event.

Also, Derek was also guest pianist for the first Pensacola ball—also early 90s. That ball was held at Naval Aviation Museum. He commented at the time that he was at home with all these airplanes. Growing up in England during WWII and not quite old enough for the military, all the youth were trained as aircraft spotters.

Our guest column is courtesy of Sanford Josephson, author, who also fondly remembers Derek. This appears courtesy of Jersey Jazz, newsletter of New Jersey Jazz Society.

Norman Vickers, 10-5-2016

By Sanford Josephson

Derek Smith, 85, pianist, August 17, 1931, London — August 21, 2016, Township of Washington, NJ. Smith emigrated to New York City in 1957, and he quickly became active playing in the New York studios, helped greatly by his friendship with the bassist Milt Hinton. When I interviewed Smith in 2008 for my book, Jazz Notes: Interviews Across the Generations (Praeger/ABC-Clio), he recalled receiving a phone call from Hinton, who said, “Get yourself down to Columbia 30th (a legendary New York studio known for its natural acoustics).” Then, Hinton added, “By the way, you do play the organ?” Smith’s response was: “Of course. It has keys, doesn’t it?” The gig was for a recording by the New Christy Minstrels, and Smith said Hinton helped him get through it, even though he had never played the organ.

Pianist Derek Smith.
Pianist Derek Smith.

Smith also reminisced about the studio era, which lasted roughly from the mid-‘50s through the mid’60s. “There’s nothing like it anymore,” he said. “There was a need for musicians; we were all really busy. I was doing The Tonight Show, and then in the morning you’d do some recordings with some singers, and you’d do jingles. But nothing stays the same. The business changed, and all of a sudden there were rock ‘n roll bands, and all the entertainers went out to California.”

Bucky Pizzarelli described Smith to Jersey Jazz as “a fantastic piano player” and recalled playing with him on The Tonight Show. He also pointed out that Smith spent some time playing with Benny Goodman, an experience Smith also related to me. “I had a great friend, the drummer, Mousey Alexander,” he said, “who called me one day and said, ‘I’m going to get you with Benny.’ Before I knew it, there I am rehearsing with this big band, scared stiff, because Benny had this reputation. But I could read, and he put up Fats Waller’s ‘Stealin’ Apples’. The piano chorus was in the key of D, so I passed the test.

“I didn’t hear from Benny for years, but then, later on, when I’m really busy doing The Tonight Show and doing everybody’s record dates, he called me to do weekends. So I went out and played weekends with Benny all over the place. Then, he asked me to go to Australia, and The Tonight Show said they would get a sub for me so I could go. It was a beautiful band — Zoot Sims on tenor saxophone, Joe Pass on guitar, Peter Appleyard on vibes — and we started out in Sydney, and Zoot got a great big hand, and I got a great big hand; and Benny got pissed about the whole thing. So, we cursed each other out, finished out the tour, and never saw each other again. But everybody’s got a similar story about Benny.”

Smith was a fixture at the New Jersey Jazz Society festivals at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, NJ, during the 1980s. He usually performed in the “Piano Spectacular”. In 1986, for example, he was part of a group of pianists that also included Dick Hyman, Ray Bryant, Rio Clemente, Dick Wellstood, Joanne Brackeen, Art Hodes, and Jimmy Rowles. Hyman also remembers playing with Smith in duo piano settings. “He was my most frequent partner in duo-piano situations,” Hyman told Jersey Jazz. “We could read each other’s minds.”

At the 1988 Waterloo festival, Smith played in a trio consisting of Hinton on bass and Bobby Rosengarden on drums. That trio played together regularly in the ‘70s every summer at Disney World. “All year,” Smith told me, “Disney World would go with a regular trio, and then, for the hottest two weeks of the year, they would import Bobby, Milt, and myself, and we would play for two weeks. It was good for us. We would get away for awhile, and I was a hero to my kids because we got this nice big villa, and they got all the rides for free.” Smith, Hinton, and Rosengarden made one album together, The Trio (Chiaroscuro: 1994). “We played all the things we had practiced in Disney World,” Smith said, “bossa novas and straight ahead things . . . We should have done another album, but we all got busy and went in different directions.”

Concert producer Bruce Gast recalled to Jersey Jazz that Smith “was one of my early successes with the jazz series at the Watchung Arts Center. His exuberant playing style allowed me to use the term ‘keyboard pyrotechnics’ in publicity, and his personal magnetism helped to build the audience for his work and other solo pianists.” In later years, Gast said, Smith introduced “a piano version of ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ that was breathtaking, although he always showed humility, saying it lacked the fullness of the band version . . . I’m sorry I don’t have any funny Derek Smith stories to tell. He brought his own bag of humorous recollections to every outing, often reaching back to his time with the Goodman band. These tales spiced up each performance, leaving me and the audiences laughing.” Al Kuehn, producer of the annual Chicken Fat Ball in Maplewood, said Smith’s death, “hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew him well, and he played many times for various concerts I put on. Always cheerful, always pleasant, and always came to play. One of the greats.”

Smith started playing piano professionally at the age of 14. While still in London, he joined a band led by saxophonist John Dankworth. He also recorded for the British Broadcasting Corporation before deciding to leave London for the United States. In New York, he met trumpeter Doc Severinsen at a society gig, and that led to his becoming a regular on The Tonight Show when Severinsen was named leader of the NBC Orchestra. His Progressive Records album, Love For Sale, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1989.

His death notice, posted in The New York Times on August 21, 2016, said Smith’s “immense talent earned the respect and admiration of everyone who knew him.” That is borne out by some of the comments made to Jersey Jazz by those who played with him. “One thing you could say about Derek Smith — he always came to play and play 100 per cent, no matter what the circumstances were,” said clarinetist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski. “My greatest joy,” he added, “was introducing his playing to younger musicians who were soon in awe of his astonishing virtuosity, energy and musicality. He could lift an entire band with his playing and good humor, and he certainly did that for me countless times. Derek was a great inspiration to be with, and I’ll miss him terribly.” Trumpeter Randy Sandke pointed out that, “Derek always had a smile on his face and gave his all. He was a total musician, extremely versatile, but he shined most in small group and solo settings. A ferocious swinger, he was the spark plug of any band he graced. He’ll be dearly missed.”

Survivors include his wife, Shirley; daughter, Valerie Anderson, her husband, Brad, and grandchildren, Jared and Ryan of Emerson, NJ; and daughter, Helen Collins and husband, Matt, and grandchildren, Samantha and Trevor, of the Boston area.

(c) Reprinted from Jersey Jazz Journal, the New Jersey Jazz Society. All rights reserved.

Students, download your application for 2017 Jazz Competition

Student Jazz Competition
Student Jazz Competition

Plans for the 2017 Student Jazz Competition have begun, and applications will be accepted through Feb. 17, 2017. This will be the seventh year for the competition – showcasing the region’s talented student jazz performers and contributing much needed financial support.

To download a flyer with more information on the competition, click here (PDF, 250K).

To download the application form, click here (PDF, 350K).

For more information on the competition, see our 2017 Student Jazz Competition page.

CD Review: "Algorithmic Society," The Girshevich Trio

Algorithmic Society
The Girshevich Trio
Tapestry Records

The Girshevich Trio
The Girshevich Trio

Here’s an intriguing recording for the adventurous jazz listener. It features then-12 year old drummer, Aleks Girsevich, father and pianist Vlad Girshevich and virtuoso, elder-statesman bassist Eddie Gomez.
The title is sort of a double-entendre—Algorithmic Society. The real definition can be stated as a formula for solving a problem. The second portion of this entendre relates to the third and fourth syllable.

All compositions are by father-pianist Vlad, an Uzbekistani by birth and now resident of Colorado. Vlad has a long history of collaboration with jazz greats such as Arturo Sandoval, Jerry Gonzalez and drummer Horacio “el Negro” Hernandez.

This is not drummer Aleks’ first CD release as the first was recorded at age 11 and entitled Tomorrow. It was favorably reviewed by Critical Jazz and All about Jazz. The current CD was made in 2014, so now Aleks is 14. On some numbers the music is augmented by a string group and on the first number, Healing the Chaos, percussionist Rony Barrak joins the trio.

Of the nine pieces, which total one hour, my two favorites were Unborn Tales played at a moderate tempo and shows talents of Alex, Vlad and Eddie Gomez to best advantage. The most complex number is Algorithmic Society an upbeat tune with tricky rhythms, again showcasing the talents of all three.

Reviewing a CD of all-new music is a challenge. I understand that there are some reviewers who will refuse to review such. However, to supplement what I was able to glean from listening, reading the liner notes and the news release which came with the CD, I called record producer Tom Burns. Tom gave me some details and referred me to father-pianist Vlad Girshevich. A summary of supplemental information was that Eddie Gomez was a visiting performer at Dazzle Club in Denver. He graciously agreed to record with Vlad and Aleks. Rehearsal with Eddie was merely a talk-through of the numbers. Roy Barrak, middle-Eastern percussionist, was a friend and agreed to sit in on the first number. A string section was added later. I learned from Vlad that Aleks is now 14 and active with his school musical activities as well.

I look forward to a glowing career from young Aleks.

Tapestry Records, PO Box 892, 60615 U. S. Highway 285, Bailey, Colorado 80421-0982