Trumpeter / arranger Peter Welker has dedicated this album to his mother, Elisabeth, a remarkable woman who, in spite of having been born blind, became a band singer who performed on the coast–to–coast radio program Camel Caravan
in the ’30s, later taught at the Berklee School of Music and developed a Braille course that changed completely the way Jazz was taught to blind musicians, making it more focused and accessible. All of the musicians on Paradise Is Awfully Nice
are personal friends of the younger Welker, and most of them were acquainted with his mother including trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, Peter Welker’s teacher at Berklee in the ’50s. Most selections feature an eleven–piece group with Welker (piano) dueting with Norton Buffalo (harmonica) on Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” and pairing with flugel Michael Whitwell, French hornist Gus Klein, trombonist René Jenkins and bass trombonist Floyd Reinhart on the brief (55–second) title track, whose words were the last spoken by Elisabeth Welker before her passing on January 21, 1999, at age eighty–five. Pomeroy solos on five numbers, ace saxophonist Ernie Watts on three. Other prominent phrase–makers include mandolin virtuoso David Grisman (“Chelsea Bridge”), guitarist Randy Vincent, pianist Smith Dobson, alto saxophonist / clarinetist Jim Rothermel and tenor saxophonist Barry Ulman. The veteran Pomeroy is superb whether playing open (“Just Friends,” “Nica’s Dream,” “Born to Be Blue”), muted (“A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing”) or using a plunger (“Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You”) while Watts quickly takes charge on his three appearances (“Sweet George,” “Detour Ahead,” “In Your Own Sweet Way”). Welker solos on “Flower” and “Sweet Way,” both open. The CD, says Welker, was recorded “live in the studio” with everyone playing at the same time, giving it “a passion and immediacy often missing on multi–track, overdubbed recordings.” Even so, there’s a rather conspicuous edit at the 5:02 mark preceding Rothermel’s clarinet solo on “Just Friends.” Aside from that, everything seems ship–shape and spontaneous. This may not be, in the strictest sense of the phrase, a “big–band album” (two or three trumpets, three or four saxophones, trombone and rhythm), but thanks to Welker’s well–crafted charts and earnest blowing by his teammates, it’s close enough. And from whatever corner of paradise she may be listening, Elisabeth Welker must be glowing with pride.