Live at Smalls
Release Date: July 5, 2024
Label: Cellar/SmallsLIVE

Live at Mezzrow is renowned jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Ken Peplowski's newest album and it features live performances from the man himself, alongside a stellar rhythm section at New York City’s famed Mezzrow Jazz Club. Live At Mezzrow is a testament to resilience, friendship, and the enduring power of jazz. Peplowski is celebrated for his work with a diverse array of artists including Charlie Byrd, Mel Torme, Hank Jones, Peggy Lee, Woody Allen, Benny Goodman, and Madonna.  Nearly 50 years into his fruitful career, the prodigious Mr. Peplowski has released over 70 recordings as a soloist and close to 400 releases as a sideman. The bandleader is joined on this release by Ted Rosenthal on piano, Martin Wind on bass, and Willie Jones III on drums, delivering a captivating performance captured over two one-hour sets. 

In his own words, Peplowski shares the journey behind the album: "Just like most musicians, when the dreaded Covid, along with the accompanying lockdown, hit in 2020, that was it as far as work was concerned. Like some very dark cosmic joke, I not only had a bad case of Covid in March of 2020, but my beloved dog Honeypie had to be put to sleep in April of 2021. In June of that year, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma."

Facing financial, emotional, and physical challenges, Peplowski found solace in music. He started a successful weekly streaming show and recorded dozens of episodes, many of them featuring the ensemble presented on Live at Mezzrow. Peplowski eventually adopted a new dog, Corky, and found the hope and strength to fight through his illness. "I realized what a real family we have in the jazz world, and I had so much love and support (and also from the larger community of fans), I managed to get through the worst of everything and come out actually feeling better and stronger as a musician and as a person." Peplowski is now in full remission.

SmallsLIVE owner and pianist Spike Wilner presented the idea of this live album to Peplowski, who jumped at the idea. The acclaimed multi-reedist indicates, "This is my favorite way to record - I like to work on song material for a year or two, find some interesting tunes that are not so often played, revive some tunes that I haven't played in years, and just go in with friends and record in a set up like a band on stage and play through the music, warts and all, and that's exactly what we did."

Ken Peplowski Live at Mezzrow includes unique renditions of jazz classics as well as lesser-known gems, all delivered with an authority and nuance of which only Peplowski and his cohort are capable. Each selection tells a tale of Peplowski’s fruitful musical adventures with architects of the art form. The live performance is a master class in interplay, Peplowski’s melodic refrains soaring over Rosenthal’s chordal musings, and well supported by the rhythm section of Willie Jones III and Martin Wind, melodic players in their own right. The band leader reflects, “Vignette" is a great song by Hank Jones, who I was thrilled to both record and tour with, although we never played this song together, which is based on the changes of an old tune called "Sweet Sue, Just You". 

"Prisoner Of Love" was actually inspired by James Brown's great rendition of the classic song originally popularized by Billy Eckstine. Peplowski remarks, “I wanted to take "All The Things You Are" and kind of bring it back to its original intent, which was one of the most sublime ballads ever written (including the words, which are pure poetry).”

Peplowski recalls,"The Shadow Of Your Smile" was written by a man I got to know a bit, Johnny Mandel, who confirmed for me that he wrote it with Jack Sheldon's gorgeous trumpet sound in his head. “Here's To Life" was written by my friends Artie Butler and Phyliss Molinary - it means more to me now than ever before.” Particularly poignant are the last three lines of the song which read: "Here's to life, here's to love, here's to you..." The album concludes with Duke Ellington's "Who Knows", a fitting tribute to the jazz legends who inspire Peplowski's music.

"Ken Peplowski is not only one of the most complete musicians I know but also one of the bravest.  Ken has faced daunting health issues that would stop others in their tracks,” reflects Spike Wilner. “For Ken, music is always the imperative, and creating it is the number one priority.  We are so proud to award Ken Peplowski this SmallsLIVE grant to document his work as one of the true jazz masters and virtuosos.”