CD Review: 'Ain't That Right!' by Adrian Cunningham

Ain’t That Right! The Music of Neal Hefti
Arbors Records © 2014

hefti-coverThere’s a saying, “Any book is new until you’ve read it.” This could apply to recordings as well.

Here’s a CD from 2014 from Arbors Records featuring multi-instrumentalist Adrian Cunningham playing the music of Neal Hefti. It’s a small-group recording with Australian native Adrian Cunningham on clarinet, tenor saxophone and flute. Wycliffe Gordon plays trombone on four of the thirteen numbers. The rest of the ensemble includes pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer Chuck Redd.

Pensacola area residents had opportunity to see Cunningham and Wycliffe Gordon live performing with Pensacola Symphony this New Year’s Eve. Gordon was the featured attraction and he brought his small group, which included Cunningham, pianist and drummer. Our own area bassist, Steve Gilmore, filled in for the scheduled bassist, who was unable to attend. Gilmore reported a superb overall performance both from the symphony as well as the Gordon ensemble. He indicated that Gordon had written all the symphony charts as well.

Back to the description of the CD. Gordon performs on these numbers: The Odd Couple; Shanghaied; Lil’ Darlin’ and Zankie. Other numbers are Scoot, Girl Talk, Barefoot in the Park, It’s Awfully Nice to Be With You, Ain’t That Right, How to Murder Your Wife, Suspicion, I’ve Got Love and Cute.

I’m pleased to report that Rachel Domber, head of Arbors Records, tells me that she intends to record Mr. Cunningham again this year! We’ll let you know when that CD becomes available.

Book/CD Review: '12 Preludes for Solo Guitar'

12 Preludes for Solo Guitar
By Ken Hatfield
Music Book and CD
Arthur Circle Music

hatfieldWhile Ken Hatfield’s 12 preludes aren’t exactly in the jazz category, they are lovely pieces in themselves as well as a didactic exercise for guitar student at intermediate or advanced level.

Personal disclosure, Hatfield has been a performer at Pensacola’s Songwriters Festival in previous years. We had opportunity to meet and hear him when he gave a guest appearance at one of Jazz Pensacola events. Yes, he is a personable artist and skilled performer.

Interestingly, the 12 preludes are arranged to progress around the circle of fifths. If the reader is not familiar, don’t worry, it’s clearly explained. And, it takes 12 steps (different key signatures) to complete that circle. The intermediate or advanced student should have, at maximum, only moderate difficulty. These etudes are not recommended for the rank beginner. But, even for the non-guitarist, listening to Hatfield perform these is most pleasant and should inspire us all to become more musical. The book and CD normally are sold together, but the CD may be purchased separately, exclusively at

Hatfield’s background is eclectic. He’s written jazz pieces, choral and ballet scores and has written scores for TV and film. In 2006 the ASCAP Foundation honored him with the Vanguard Award in recognition of his “innovative and distinctive music that is charting new directions in jazz.” At age 19, after completing studies at Berklee School of Music in Boston, he joined the faculty.

Hatfield’s book and CD will be part of the collection in our Jazz Room at the West Florida Public Library downtown for check-out by interested patrons.

Book Review: 'Anatomy of a Song'

Anatomy of A Song:
The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed, Rock, R&B and Pop
By Marc Myers
Grove Press, New York © 2016, pp.223

anatomyofasongFor those who aren’t previously acquainted with this writer, Marc Myers is a trained historian who writes about jazz for the Wall Street Journal and also posts daily to his blog He has been honored twice by the Jazz Journalists Association with its Blog of the Year Award.

Whereas this book doesn’t review jazz tunes, Myers has selected forty-five songs — popular, R&B and rock — to relate the reader to the performers and to examine the song’s effects on the individual listener and also popular culture. He indicates that some have been selected from his previous WSJ columns and that many have been expanded to include additional information and anecdotes.

To give a few examples, In the chapter called Suspicious Minds, Myers interviews songwriter Mark James and producer Chips Mohan. They give the background of how the song was written and circumstances of how it was produced in the recording studio with Elvis Presley on vocals. In addition, there are a couple of photos of Elvis.

For the Proud Mary chapter, Creedence Clearwater Revival singer-songwriter-lead guitarist John Fogarty is interviewed. He related the circumstances of how the song was written — he’s just gotten his honorable discharge from the service, 1967, and was therefore not likely to have to serve in the Vietnam war. He was fascinated by riverboats, though he’d never previously seen one. And he used Beethoven’s introductory chord changes for Fifth Symphony.

Other artists and songs covered include The Dixie Cups, The Temptations, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Pink Floyd.

This is a book with self-contained chapters — 45 in all — so one can read at random or straight through as desired. It’s also an ideal gift for a musical friend. And, with the availability of YouTube and similar features, one may review the song while reading its background. This book will go in the jazz collection at the downtown West Florida Public Library and be available for check-out by library patrons.

Myers’ previous book is entitled Why Jazz Happened. He takes a unique point of view and tells how technology had influenced the music — first came recorded sound, then radio followed by television. Seventy-eight rpm recordings then to 45 rpm and LPs transitioned to CDs and now streaming sound and video. Also, sound amplification contributed to rock & roll. This was all told with a historian’s interesting view-point.

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.”

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.

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