Peter Appleyard Wizard of the Vibraphone
by Murray Ginsberg
The career of legendary jazz artist Peter Appleyard spans
more than five decades. He has performed with some of the
world's greatest musicians, among them Benny Goodman, Frank
Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Duke Ellington and
Oscar Peterson. He was the most played artist on FM radio
in the 70s and 80s, while his award-winning TV jazz series,
'Peter Appleyard Presents' was broadcast across Canada from
1978 to 1981.
Peter Appleyard is an enthusiastic showstopper, all jazz
and mallet work, dazzling melodic improvisation and breath-taking
harmonic variations. Since Lionel Hampton, with few peers
in the vibraphone world, he's the greatest jazz vibraphonist
on the planet.
Born August 28, 1928, in Cleethorpes, England, he studied
piano at age 14 and began learning drums on his own. "At
16 I was playing with various dance bands. I had a bicycle
with a trailer behind it and would ride 10 to 15 miles just
to play a gig," he recalls. He began his performance career
with Felix Mendlessohn's Hawaiian Serenaders, the most popular
dance band in England and the first to appear on British
television. During this same period, he was conscripted
into the Royal Air Force where he played dozens of drumming
engagements with the RAF band.
After 18 months with the RAF, Appleyard performed with
various leading British orchestras. In December 1949 he
accepted an 18-month contract to play in Bermuda. Then in
1951 a vacation trip to Canada led him to move to Toronto.
Hearing Red Norvo's trio with Charles Mingus and Tal Farlow
inspired him to switch to vibes and form a trio that also
used bass and guitar. They played the Colonial Tavern, the
most important jazz mecca in Canada's largest city. At the
Colonial he also heard and met Artie Shaw, Errol Gamer,
Count Basie, Muggsy Spanier, and others. His Toronto reputation
grew as he was featured vibes soloist with the Calvin Jackson
Quartet at the Park Plaza Hotel, and eventually formed his
Somewhere along the way Peter took a trip to New York City,
which created a new musical focus for him. "I headed down
Broadway and heard George Shearing and his quintet and Lionel
Hampton's big band at Bop City. That was the thrill of a
lifetime," he says. The extraordinary influences of piano
great Shearing and vibraphone colossus Hampton changed his
By 1956 Appleyard was taking his quartet on tours and club
dates. He has also enjoyed a long standing association with
CBS Radio and Television which led to him winning the Arthur
Godfrey Show talent contest, and appearances on the
Andy Williams Show, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson
and the Today Show with David Garroway. His busy schedule
in New York in the late 1950s included months-long engagements
at the Embers and Round Table. The Dukes of Dixieland, Steve
AlIen and Andre Previn also played there and helped him
get a contract that resulted in three Audio Fidelity albums.
Throughout his long and prestigious career Peter has appeared
in virtually all jazz venues in the USA, Asia, Europe and
At the Embers Appleyard met Benny Goodman, who hired him
for a concert in Hackensack, New Jersey. In the sextet were
Hank Jones, piano; Milt Hinton, bass; Bobby Rosengarden,
drums, and Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar. A few months later,
Appleyard joined Goodman's group, which turned out to be
the beginning of an eight-year relationship and friendship.
The Goodman band, including Appleyard, was later formed
to open the Rainbow Grill in New York City.
Highlights of tours with Goodman from 1972 to 1980 included
a 1972 recording On Stage, Live at the Tivoli Gardens,
Copenhagen (Time Life Recordings); Benny Goodman
All Stars with Zoot Sims, George Benson, Hank Jones, Slam
Stewart, and Joe Venuti (Columbia Records).
In 1976, Frank Sinatra invited Peter Appleyard to appear
with him, Ella Fitzgerald and the Count Basie Orchestra
for a two-week engagement at the Uris Theatre in New York
City. In the '80s he appeared with Sinatra again in an Ottawa
fundraiser organised by Canadian comic Rich Little, which
raised over $500,000 for the Ottawa Civic Hospital.
On July 24, 2005, I was happy to meet Peter at the Robert
Farnon Memorial Tribute at St. Paul's (the Actors') Church
in Covent Garden, London, which was packed with friends
and colleagues who came to pay their respects to their late
hero. I knew that Peter had been a member of the Robert
Farnon Appreciation Society for years.
In early April of this year some friends and I travelled
to Rockwood, a pleasant village 50 miles west of Toronto
to hear Peter and Friends at La Vi//e Auberge, a
lovely restaurant that was sold out for the concert. Peter
lives on a 31-acre farm in Rockwood, from where he tours
the world. The concert included jazz pianist John Sherwood
and super bassist Neil Swainson. Although I've known and
worked alongside Peter on various TV shows and live concerts
for years, it wasn't until that Rockwood afternoon when
I was astonished to hear him play drums (while pianist Sherwood
soloed on various standards,) then actually play the piano
with his right hand while Sherwood backed him with his left.
On one ferociously high-speed tempo tune, Peter's million-note-per-bar
variations rivalled the great Oscar Peterson.
On 30 June 2006, Peter was invited to the UK by Guy Saint-Jacques,
acting Canadian High Commissioner in London to help celebrate
Canada Day (July 1), Canada's 139th birthday. The programme,
Canada On Stage, in Trafalgar Square, began at 5pm and presented
not only Peter Appleyard but also a diverse range of talent
from across the country that entertained a lively crowd
of listeners until 9pm.
At 9pm, my partner and I were fortunate to be invited to
Canada House where Peter and Friends entertained some 300
guests from 9 until 11pm. Peter brought pianist John Sherwood
from Canada and added two of Britain's finest musicians
to complete the group - bassist Paul Morgan and drummer
Bob Worth. To say the least, Peter and Friends had the audience
whistling and applauding until the show ended.
Peter Appleyard is considered, by fans everywhere, to be
one of the leading jazz percussionists in the world today,
and certainly a Canadian national treasure. He is the proud
recipient of the Scarborough, Ontario "Civic Award of Merit"
for his outstanding contributions to the international and
Canadian music scene. He has also been honoured to receive
The Order of Canada in recognition of his international
stature as a musician and "Good Will Ambassador".
He is undoubtedly the greatest jazz vibraphonist alive.