Put together an ensemble of talented jazz musicians, give them some classic tunes to work with, let them get at it and you’ve got the makings of some very fine listening. Canadian vibraphonist Peter Appleyard did exactly that and the result is Peter Appleyard and the Jazz Giants’ The Lost 1974 Sessions. As Appleyard tells it, he was touring the world with the Benny Goodman orchestra, and one night, for a Carnegie Hall concert, the clarinetist put together a septet of all stars: Zoot Sims, Hank Jones, Slam Stewart, Bobby Hackett, Urbie Green, Grady Tate and, of course, Appleyard. It was a group that had not played together and more than likely, Appleyard says, never would again.
Except that the next night he was playing a concert in Toronto and the crew, other than drummer Tate was available to join him. Replacing Tate with Mel Lewis, the septet played the concert and after the show, with all of them staying over in Toronto, they saw a recording opportunity not to be missed. They went over to the RCA studios, which happened to be free, “ordered some Chinese food and a few bottles of wine and recorded this album, starting at 11 and finishing at 3 am.” He doesn’t explain why it took so long for the album to be released; I would imagine “lost” has something to do with it. If it was lost, now it’s found—and it’s a good thing, too.
This is jazz as it was meant to be. The “giants” may not have played together often, but they took care of any potential problem by focusing on one or two of the ensembles in each song. Each musician chose a tune on which to be featured and that formed the spine of the album. “Indiana,” for example, features bassist Slam Stewart doing three minutes of scat. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is a feast for Bobby Hackett’s cornet with some sweet piano from Hank Jones. Urbie Green’s trombone is front and center on “But Beautiful.” Rogers and Hart’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” is a Jones piano solo and Zoot Sims takes stage on “You Go to My Head.” Everyone gets a chance to shine. Soulful ballad or uptempo swinger, they bring it home.
The set opens with a Duke Ellington medley which includes “Sophisticated Lady,” “I’ve Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” and “Mood Indigo.” It begins with Appleyard’s vibes; Sims takes over for the second song. Then the brass moves in, first the cornet, then the sax, and they come together at the end. “After You’ve Gone” focuses on the ensemble, with some nice solo work by Appleyard and Sims. “Tangerine” and “A Smooth One” round out the set. When they play together, it’s like they’ve been doing so for years.
The album includes a short introductory bit of what they call “Studio Dialogue” to each track; it usually amounts to announcing the take. It ends with a 25-minute bonus track of outtakes, for the most part little snippets of music broken off very quickly. There is a longer take on “Tangerine,” but that’s about all. I guess you shouldn’t look a bonus in mouth, but I could have done without it and the “Studio Dialogues” as well. The music, on the other hand, is another thing.