Swinging jazz joy.
Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski
Swinging jazz joy.
Having played with the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and many other jazz legends, piano virtuoso Dick Hyman and woodwind master Ken Peplowski share an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and its history. Their partnership is anything but academic, however: For these two giants, a concert is all about the pure joy of spontaneous creation. Hyman’s stylistic palette is immense, covering stride, boogie-woogie, bebop, swing, and every other subgenre of jazz — no doubt this is one of the reasons that Woody Allen hired him to score many of his movies. Peplowski’s uncanny facility and gorgeous tone make every solo a memorable work of art. With a shared sense of humor that runs very deep, the pair is certain to serve up a performance that is as exhilarating as it is entertaining.
Dick Hyman, piano
Ken Peplowski, clarinet and saxophone
Adam & Rachel Paley
Lisa Friedman & Jim Harris
Some jazz musicians find a voice early on and blaze a brilliant trail applying their signature sound to whatever material they decide to investigate. And then there’s pianist Dick Hyman, a veritable chameleon with the entire history of jazz at his fingertips. It’s not that he lacks a core musical identity. Rather, the 89-year-old improviser has thrived on New York’s hothouse music scene since World War II by indulging his restless curiosity and taking on any interesting assignments that came his way.
His scope as an artist is staggering, from his authoritative recordings of Scott Joplin rags and the foundational jazz of Jelly Roll Morton to a seminal recording employing a Moog synthesizer. He even hit the pop charts with the Moog on 1969’s The Age of Electronicus (Command Records). “I was just open for anything,” Hyman says. “Somehow I got myself prepared for anything, and turned very little down.”
Born and raised in the New York City area, he came of age on the Gotham music scene when a musician could spend an entire career just playing in local clubs, working in studio bands for radio and television networks, or doing studio sessions for commercials and pop albums. Hyman did it all, tapping into New York’s “vast recording and broadcast industry,” he says. “The amount of work that was possible in those days was unbelievable. I didn’t go on the road much. It’s funny that I’m on the road much more now.”
He got an early boost as an undergrad at Columbia University when he won a piano competition. The first place prize was a dozen lessons with Teddy Wilson (the runner up had to settle for a dozen lessons with Mary Lou Williams!), and Hyman became life-long friends with the supremely elegant and versatile player. “He was very generous,” Hyman says. “Teddy showed me harmonic substitutions for standards, the way great songs in the past inevitably get rewritten. He contributed a fair amount to that. It wasn’t just about swinging and playing the tune fast, it was about rewriting the tune so they were improved harmonically.”
Hyman’s vast trove of knowledge about American popular music from 1890s forward has made him an invaluable collaborator on various musicals, revues, and films, particularly the movies of Woody Allen. Over the last three decades he’s contributed to the soundtracks for more than a dozen Allen films as a composer, arranger and performer, including Stardust Memories, Broadway Danny Rose, and the jazz-steeped Sweet and Lowdown. But he cites 1983’s mockumentary Zelig as a particular favorite, which feels apt as much like the film’s titular hero, Hyman seems to have popped up just about everywhere interesting music was going down.
Hyman came on the scene at a time when a generational divide pitted traditional New Orleans and swing-oriented players against the seemingly radical new modernists known as beboppers. Hyman was welcome in every camp. While holding down the piano chair at Birdland with trumpeter Max Kaminsky’s Dixielanders, he ended up accompanying Lester Young, the great tenor saxophonist who paved the way for the modernists. “Once or twice Bud Powell didn’t show up so I sat in with Bird,” Hyman recalls.
Tonight’s concert pairs the pianist with Ken Peplowski, one of the most gifted clarinetists to emerge in the 1980s. He’s also an excellent tenor saxophonist with a big breathy sound reminiscent of Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves. They’ve worked widely in various settings, while honing a particularly freewheeling duo, performing regularly at the popular Midtown Manhattan jazz spot Kitano.
“I’ve played duets with all kinds of people,” says Peplowski, 57, a Cleveland native known as “Peps.” “With Dick, it feels like we’re both open and trusting and whatever happens, happens. One person will make a left turn on the mountain road and you just see what happens. The best moments are not rehearsed. Honestly, playing duo with Dick is one of the best musical experiences I’ve ever had, if not the best.”
Peplowski moved to New York in 1980 and began working in trad and swing settings with old-time horn players like Max Kaminsky, Jimmy McPartland, and Ruby Braff, trumpeters with whom Hyman started performing years before Peps was born. Hired by Benny Goodman for what turned out to be his last band, Peplowski earned the swing seal of approval.
During the ’80s, he worked with George Shearing, Hank Jones, and Charlie Byrd, and recorded with Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, and Rosemary Clooney. Though fully versed in bebop and subsequent jazz styles he first gained attention as a recording artist with a group of musicians associated with Concord Jazz who expanded the small group swing tradition, including guitarist Howard Alden, trumpeter Warren Vaché, and tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. He’s recorded more than two dozen albums under his own name, most recently the gorgeous 2013 quartet session Maybe September (Capri), and last appeared at the festival in 2014 co-leading a concert with Bay Area jazz singer Clairdee.
He credits Hyman with helping pave his way when he arrived in town, and their friendship has deepened over the years. Keeping an ear out for talented young musicians might just be the secrets behind Hyman’s indefatigable creativity. “He started calling me and gave me a lot of nice work when I really needed it,” Peplowski says. “He did a lot to help establish me in New York. He always had a thing for keeping his antennae open, and he still does.”