Big swinging sounds

Clairdee and Ken Peplowski with the SJW 50/50 Jazz Orchestra

Saturday, July 1

7:30 p.m.

Dinkelspiel Auditorium

SJW MEMBER: $35 premium | $25 reserved |  Child (17 and under) & Student (present valid student ID card) $10

NON-MEMBER: $43 premium | $33 reserved |  Child (17 and under) & Student (present valid student ID card) $18

Ticket prices include all fees; what you see is what you pay.

Programs, personnel, venues, and pricing subject to change without notice.

Personnel

Clairdee, vocals
Ken Peplowski, clarinet
Fred Berry, director

SJW 50/50 Jazz Orchestra 

Alto sax: Kasey Knudsen, Amelia Timbang Catalano
Tenor sax: Kris Strom, Tommy Occhiuto
Bari sax: Raffi Garabedian
Trumpet: Louis Fasman, John Worley, Skylar Tang, Neil Levonius
Trombone: Jeanne Geiger, Lori Stotko, Sarah Cline, Jonathan Seiberlich
Piano: Glen Pearson
Bass: Ruth Davies
Drums: David Rokeach

Sponsored by Claudia and Michele Miller.

Ken Peplowski’s appearance is supported by Debra DeMartini and Jim Harris and Lisa Friedman.

In memory of George and Luisa Miller whose first date at a jazz club in the 1960s led to a lifetime of love.

About Clairdee & the SJW 50/50 Jazz Orchestra

“In sassy, solidly assured, crowd-pleasing form, a whole lot of interpretive brilliance.” —JazzTimes

When a celebration is called for, Clairdee often gets the call. The vivacious Bay Area jazz vocalist inaugurated the beautiful new North Beach nightspot Keys Jazz Bistro last November, turning an anticipated event into a glorious consecration. In a career spanning some four decades, she’s performed similar benedictions around the world as an internationally touring artist who’s collaborated with some of America’s most celebrated jazz masters, including Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Houston Person, Cyrus Chestnut, and Ken Peplowski. Deeply informed by the music’s departed masters, Clairdee puts a personal stamp on whatever she sings, a gift aptly described by the inimitable Nancy Wilson, who declared that “in the tradition of all great vocalists she infuses each song with her own unique style while always remaining true to the song itself.” Equally at home singing various idioms in an array of settings, Clairdee has worked with symphony orchestras, big bands, small jazz combos, and intimate duos, though she’s never performed with an ensemble quite like the SJW 50/50 Jazz Orchestra. Directed by trumpeter Fred Berry, an eminent educator and Jazz Journalists Association 2023 Jazz Hero, the 16-piece band features a stellar cast divided equally between men and women. In many ways the ensemble marks the culmination of a struggle for inclusion that has shaped jazz since its birth, a fight embodied by players like 50/50 altoist Mary Fettig, who in 1973 became the first woman to join the Stan Kenton Orchestra. A multi-generational aggregation powered by a top-shelf rhythm section with Basie Orchestra pianist Glen Pearson, bassist Ruth Davies, and drummer David Rokeach, the orchestra boasts heavyweight players from top to bottom. The horn players include trombonist Sarah Cline, the director of Berkeley High’s award-winning jazz band, and 17-year-old trumpeter Skylar Tang, whose original big band piece “Kaleidoscope” won Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington festival Dr. J. Douglas White Composition and Arranging Contest last year.

PROGRAM NOTES

When a celebration is called for, Clairdee often gets the call. The vivacious Bay Area jazz vocalist inaugurated the beautiful new North Beach nightspot Keys Jazz Bistro last November, turning an anticipated event into a glorious consecration. In a career spanning some four decades, she’s performed similar benedictions around the world as an internationally touring artist who’s collaborated with some of America’s most celebrated jazz masters, including Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Houston Person, and Cyrus Chestnut. Deeply informed by the music’s departed masters, Clairdee puts a personal stamp on whatever she sings, a gift aptly described by the inimitable Nancy Wilson, who declared that “in the tradition of all great vocalists she infuses each song with her own unique style while always remaining true to the song itself.”

In a welcome reunion, Clairdee is once again joining forces with Ken Peplowski, a nonpareil clarinetist and tenor saxophonist with whom she celebrated the songs of Sammy Cahn at the Stanford Jazz Festival in 2013. He’s faced serious health challenges in recent years, and his return to performing is a welcome development, particularly for jazz fans who have admired his gorgeous sound, superlative technique, and huge heart.

A creative force since the early 1980s, Peps quickly established himself as an expert in pre-bop idioms, working in trad and swing settings with players like Max Kaminsky, Jimmy McPartland, and Ruby Braff. When Benny Goodman came out of retirement in 1984 and put together what turned out to be his last band, he hired Peps on tenor saxophone. Though fully versed in bebop and subsequent jazz styles, he gained widespread attention recording for Concord Jazz with a coterie of musicians who expanded the small group swing tradition, players like guitarist Howard Alden, trumpeter Warren Vaché, and tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton.

He’s recorded more than 30 albums under his own name, most recently 2019’s Counterpoint Lerner & Loewe (Arbors Records), a thrilling duo session with piano legend Dick Hyman (with whom Peplowski made his last Stanford appearance in 2016). Now 96, Hyman has jazz’s entire history at his fingertips, and with his similarly sweeping stylistic scope Peps is an ideal interlocutor. Idiomatic breadth is one factor that makes the pairing of Peps and Clairdee so effective.

Equally at home singing various idioms in an array of settings, Clairdee has worked with symphony orchestras, big bands, small jazz combos, and intimate duos, though she’s never performed with an ensemble quite like the SJW 50/50 Jazz Orchestra. Directed by trumpeter Fred Berry, an eminent educator and Jazz Journalists Association 2023 Jazz Hero, the 16-piece band features a stellar cast divided equally between men and women. In many ways the ensemble marks the culmination of a struggle for inclusion that has shaped jazz since its birth, a fight embodied by players like 50/50 altoist Mary Fettig, who in 1973 became the first woman to join the Stan Kenton Orchestra.

The orchestra boasts heavyweight players from top to bottom A multi-generational aggregation powered by a top-shelf rhythm section with Basie Orchestra pianist Glen Pearson, drummer David Rokeach, and bassist Ruth Davies (who returns to Dinkelspiel July 19 with her Blues Night featuring Ruthie Foster). The horn players include trombonist Sarah Cline, the director of Berkeley High’s award-winning jazz band, and 17-year-old trumpet star and SJW alumna Skylar Tang. In fact, one of Skylar’s compositions, “Kaleidoscope,” is on the program tonight, having received its debut by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for winning the Dr. J. Douglas White Composition and Arranging Contest at last year’s Essentially Ellington festival.

An emeritus faculty member at Stanford University, Berry has cut a singular swath across American music. He’s one of only a handful of active players who performed with the Count Basie Orchestra while Basie was leading the storied band (Berry’s position as musical director for former Basie Band vocalist Jaime Davis is part of that lineage). When the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians was being born in Chicago in 1965 Berry was in the room, helping the organization take shape. In fact, many of the first meetings took place in his basement. An original member of the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet (which evolved into the Art Ensemble of Chicago), he was in the thick of the action during a brief but intensely fertile period. He returned to the fold to help the Art Ensemble celebrate its golden anniversary in 2019 with the Pi Recordings double album We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration.

The affiliation with the AACM left a deep imprint on Berry but it wasn’t long before he traded the Windy City for the San Francisco Bay Area. He carried that experimental DIY ethos with him. A mainstay on the Northern California jazz scene since 1966 as a player, contractor, conductor, bandleader, and educator, Berry spent 35 years as a professor of music at the College of San Mateo and founded the College of San Mateo Jazz Festival. He also taught brass instruments at San Mateo’s Nueva Center for Gifted Children for a decade.

The Redwood City resident is probably best known for his manifold contributions to Stanford University, a perch from which he retired in 2017. As a longtime faculty member he taught jazz history and directed the Stanford Jazz Orchestra. He also launched the ensemble’s visiting artist program, which brings in world-renowned artists for mini-residencies that culminate in performances with the SJO. A buoyant spirit always ready to share his knowledge and invaluable experience, Berry has played an essential role in stoking jazz’s flame in the Bay Area.

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