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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Two Legends of Jazz

Arbors Jazz ARCD 19303



  1. My Baby Just Cares for Me
  2. The Touch of Your Lips
  3. Menina Flor
  4. After I Say I'm Sorry (What Can I Say)
  5. It's Easy to Remember
  6. A Smooth One
  7. Bluesette
  8. You're a Sweetheart
  9. Secret Love
  10. Out of Nowhere
  11. Love Locked Out
  12. I Love You
  13. Someday, You'll Be Sorry
  14. Blues on 57th Street
  15. The Way You Look Tonight

Johnny Varro - Piano
Ken Peplowski - Clarinet
Frank Tate - Bass
Joe Ascione - Drums

Johnny Varro came to fame with the Bobby Hackett Band in 1953 and, like his leader of that time; he has always been a consistent performer. His playing has been likened to that of Teddy Wilson, because he never plays a note that is anything but 100% correct and he always seems to have plenty of time, nothing is ever rushed.

Ken Peplowski arrived on the scene much later in the 1980's - in fact, a little after Scott Hamilton had proved that many people preferred swing to the mega-note assaults of John Coltrane. Along with others such as Harry Allen he liked to play melodic jazz, but unlike the other two he is also a master of the clarinet, which he plays throughout this record.
Together they make beautiful music, ably supported by Frank Tate on bass and Joe Ascione on drums. Varro is not only an excellent soloist, but he is a master of supporting other soloists. Oscar Peterson was also excellent in that role; it seems to be something only the best pianists can do well.

The tune selection is excellent. My Baby Just Cares gets us off to a swinging start and The Touch of Your Lips is so suited to this kind of playing. Luiz Bonfa's Menina Flor is a tune well worthy of more exposure!

A Smooth One is not treated à la Goodman, but is nevertheless an excellent version. Bluesette is a great tune, but not the easiest to play because it has four themes, but Peplowski and Varro romp through it in a surefooted way and there is a fine bass solo from Frank Tate. Varro solos on You're a Sweetheart and, as you would expect by this far into the record, his interpretation of the tune is always interesting and melodic. It is strongly influenced by the stride piano style, but not overly so.

The full band returns to the scene for Secret Love which despite its history as a Doris Day hit, makes a fine swinger. In any case Doris was a class singer. This version really cooks: Peplowski plays immaculate swinging clarinet, with technique to spare! Varro plays some fine choruses in his usual neat but swinging way; Peplowski trades eights with Ascione, and Varro with Tate, into a Basie-like ending.

Out of Nowhere is a tune I have always liked. Varro and Peplowski take it slightly faster than the normal tempo, but do this interesting tune great justice. Love Locked Out was Peplowski's suggestion but Varro does not give any impression that the tune is new to him, indeed he seems to relish the challenge. This is a Ray Noble ballad that I was not familiar with, but it is one of his best.

I Love You, a Cole Porter Song has always been a jazzers' favourite and that's how it sounds as Varro and Peplowski tear into it. Louis Armstrong wrote Someday, You'll Be Sorry. Varro claims it was taught to him by Bobby Hackett. Louis was a great admirer of Hackett.

Blues on 57th was improvised by Varro and Peplowski for the occasion and is a thing musicians like to do. Few jazzmen tire of the blues, it is so fundamental to jazz. The record finishes with a barnstorming The Way You Look Tonight.

Johnny Varro is heard in solo, duo, trio and quartet mode here and never fails to impress and what a partner he has in Ken Peplowski, terrific improvisation, lovely tone, magnificent technique, swings like mad! This is a very impressive album.

Don Mather

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