“When I was starting out, I never dreamed I would even see Benny Goodman, let alone play with him for eight years. How does something like that happen?”
At 83, vibraphonist Peter Appleyard looks back at his lengthy musical career, which has seen him sharing bandstands with the likes of Goodman, Frank Sinatra and Mel Tormé.
Born in a small community on England’s east coast, Appleyard became a professional musician as a drummer during World War II. After 18 months in Royal Air Force bands he left England in 1949 for a hotel gig in Bermuda. A missed connection in New York City allowed him to visit Bop City, where Lionel Hampton was sharing the bill with George Shearing. Seeing Hampton improvise 10 choruses of “Stardust” set Appleyard’s course. He acquired a set of vibes and spent every spare minute of the next 18 months practising.
In 1950, Appleyard emigrated to Toronto, and the early part of the decade found him attending jam sessions at the Baldwin Club, gigs at the Colonial Tavern and listening parties where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Duke Ellington and Clark Terry. A job with pianist Calvin Jackson brought television exposure and a high-profile gig at the Park Plaza Hotel. Jackson’s band also worked as far afield as New York City and Chicago.
Appleyard started his own band in 1956, and entered a busy period doing commercial work and appearing frequently on television and radio.
In 1972, his career took another dramatic turn. A casual conversation with Goodman backstage in Toronto led to him joining the renowned bandleader for almost a decade of globetrotting tours.
As Johnny Hodges had done when he was in Ellington’s orchestra, in 1974, Appleyard steered one particularly talented Goodman band, who he later named “The Jazz Giants”—Hank Jones, Zoot Sims, Urbie Green, Bobby Hackett, Slam Stewart and Mel Lewis—into a Toronto studio. The results display the kind of relaxed virtuosity that was usurped by the rise of bop and the dominance of free jazz in the 1950s and ‘60s respectively, and manifest themselves on The Lost 1974 Sessions.
On “But Beautiful,” for example, Green’s trombone slides through chorus after chorus with effortless grace, while Jones spins a web of harmony. Likewise, Sims is a model of rough-textured nonchalance, cruising through solos with finesse. Jones and Hackett trade fulsome statements on “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” both of them illustrating the art of storytelling through music.
Appleyard is similarly a master of restraint, often felt as much as heard, as on the “Mood Indigo” section of an Ellington medley, where he provides bright counterpoint to Green and Hackett. He steps out from
his supporting role on a bouncing “After You’ve Gone,” providing a chipper introductory solo and then returning for a hard-driving segment that is buoyed by Stewart and Lewis’s strong support.
It’s a dream band, and one more installment of Peter Appleyard’s dream career.
At 83, a consummate professional and performer for life, Appleyard continues to tour, playing internationally renowned festivals like the Montreal Jazz Festival where he will appear summer 2012. Appleyard is also planning to record a new album of traditional jazz standards for release later this year.