TO Jazz Review: Peter Appleyard & The Sophisticated Ladies, June 26, Koerner Hall

The Toronto Jazz Festival has no shortage of hip, young exciting acts playing around the city. While there’s a lot to be said for younger acts like Janelle Monae or Esperanza Spalding, it’s also a pleasure to see a veteran performer ply their craft onstage. And so it was that on this night (a night which also featured George Benson and Bill Frisell at other venues across the city) I found myself watching vibraphonist Peter Appleyard, certainly not young at 83, but still exciting in his own way, performing a special show along with his “sophisticated ladies” at Koerner Hall. How did this come to pass, you may ask? Well gather ’round, gentle readers, and I’ll tell you a tale.

I probably first became aware of Appleyard a few years ago when catching a late night rerun of his TV variety show that originally ran sometime in the early ’80s or so. This particular episode also featured Charlie Callas, Professor Futz and his Bag of Nuts, and Big “Tiny” Little, and was a classic example of how kind of weird all of those old variety shows were. You just won’t quite find anything like that on TV anymore. Sometime after that, I discovered one of Appleyard’s albums in a dollar bin somewhere and noticing it had “Mambo #5” on it, was intrigued enough to pick it up. There may have been some level of irony involved in my enjoyment of his music, but there was also something about that type of music that I identified with times spent listening to old records with my grandfather, so when I had the chance to check him out, I felt that this was a show I needed to see.

Appleyard may be getting up there in years ,but once he starts playing he gets as animated as a kid up there. Watching him play the vibraphone is pretty impressive. When he wasn’t playing, he was often content to watch his collaborators for the night, AKA The Sophisticated Ladies, do their thing. Appleyard was joined by a series of vocalists including Jill Barber, Lily Frost, Emily Claire Barlow, and Jazz FM host Heather Bambrick, who also acted as the night’s MC. Having Bambrick introduce each singer as they took to the stage freed Appleyard up to focus on the music. While I was impressed with his vocal collaborators, the moments that really stood out the most for me were when Appleyard and band focused on the instrumental numbers. What can I say, I guess I’m a vibraphone fan.

Posted on by Paul in Toronto Jazz Festival