By Don Heckman
Ashland, Oregon. In a fast happening program Wednesday night, a full collection of jazz perspectives were showcased in an entertaining evening of music reaching from small groups to the Rogue Valley All-Star Big Band. Topping it off, there was the stellar presence of veteran, award-winning clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Ken Peplowski and the briskly swinging playing of the Ed Dunsavage Trio (guitarist Dunsavage, basist Joe Cohoon and drummer Gary Hirsch).
The Rogue Valley All-Star Big Band was all that and more, alternating their hard-driving big band sounds with various smaller groupings in groove-driven, solo-filled selections reaching from Count Basie to Cannonball Adderley.
The young, student-level players were mostly at the stage of finding themselves as improvisers. But they were doing so with high-spirited enthusiasm, eager to find their way in fascinating offerings articulately played under the adept guidance of the group’s conductor, Martin Behnke.
The evening’s musical high point began with the arrival of Peplowski and the Dunsavage Trio. In an era in which the clarinet has not been
one of the primary jazz wind instruments, Peplowski is one of the few clarinetists working to keep the instrument’s remarkable creative potential alive and well. And he kept its roots vividly alive in this set by playing “Let’s Dance,” the Benny Goodman theme song and Artie Shaw’s “Moon Ray.”
Peplowski was backed superbly by the Dunsavage Trio, dynamically driving Peplowski’s finger-busting up-tempos, and finding the lyricism in a set of Billy Strayhorn/Duke Ellington tunes climaxing with a romp through “A-Train.”
And Peplowski didn’t stop there. On a few numbers he displayed his warm engaging adeptness as a tenor saxophonist.
Add in the whimsical, wry sense of humor in his between tunes commentaries. And equally important for the evening’s young jazz players, there were Peplowski’s warm, supportive efforts to personally interact with various collections of players. Simultaneously an inspiration, a mentor and a fatherly leader, he gave the young players an evening of musical memories that will be with them for many years.
For the numerous players’ parents who were in the audience, as well as the dedicated jazz fans, it was the best sort of musical evening – one which underscored the timelessness of America’s improvisational art.
All best to Ed Dunsavage for having created another memorable Siskiyou Music Project. The Summer Series 2015 begins June 6 & 7. Click HERE for more information.