All-Star Trio at Philly’s Hip Square on the Square

Gloria Krolak By

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Ever since Lennie Tristano recorded his landmark album Live at the Confucius Restaurant in 1955, Chinese food and jazz have teamed up. The All-Star Trio continues the tradition at Philadelphia's Square on the Square, a Chinese restaurant on 19th and Chestnut.

It's a regular Wednesday night gig for the spirited trio of pianist Andy Kahn, drummer Bruce Klauber and bassist Nicholas Krolak. Sometimes Peggy King shows up—the All-Stars brought her out of retirement—and the group backs her up on some of the tunes for which she is known, like "I'm Beginning to see the Light" and "Any Questions," once featured on an episode of TV's Dragnet.

King began as the "canary" for several big bands while in her teens in the late '50s. It was a jingle she sang for Hunt's Tomato Sauce that attracted the attention of Mitch Miller, then head of the singers division for Columbia Records. He signed her to a recording contract. She was a regular on the George Gobel Show—Gobel dubbed her "Pretty Perky Peggy" and it stuck—and with Mel Torme on his CBS TV program in 1951. She appeared in many movies as well. "I'm really an actress who sings," says King. Her first recording, When Boy Meets Girl with Jerry Vale, told a love story in song, an original concept album.

The two founders of the All-Star Trio have collected about 100 years of show business experience between them, which makes them sound ancient. But the oldest thing about them is the age of some tunes they play. "As Time Goes By" is from 1931 and "Dark Eyes," started life in 1843 as a Russian folk song. The key is that both men began in show biz as children, Kahn was a child star in summer stock, acting with the likes of Robert Preston. A guardian of the Great American Songbook, the pianist also wrote the disco mega-hit "Hot Stuff," when he was 26. The number is honored in Billboard's Disco Hall of Fame. He is currently Artist-in-Residence at Jacobs Music in Center City where the classical icon Vladimir Horowitz's piano was recently on display. Kahn was "awed and thrilled to play on it," he said, as he described the water-proof, bullet-proof shipping container that followed Horowitz around the world.

Klauber too started as a tyke. His mom was in vaudeville—she recorded "Apple Blossom Time" eight years before the Andrews Sisters. He is a journalist—"Backstage" is his column at jazzlegends.com—who plays saxophone and vibes, but Krupa-inspired drums rule. And like his counterpart, Klauber donates his time to great causes, the Jazz Bridge Project for one which raises funds for struggling musicians. Both were grounded early as entertainers, projecting their knowledge and joy to the audience.

Newcomer Krolak, who is also this writer's son, joined the trio last year as a sub for bassist Bruce Kaminsky. That was also about the time the attractive and spunky Peggy King started dropping by. Somehow Klauber knew it was Krolak's 30th birthday. After they had played "Happy Birthday" to him, Klauber announced they were "celebrating Krolak's... (pause), 17th year (another pause), of sobriety." Their clowning is good-natured and Krolak's a good sport, even when his solos were extended because Kahn and Klauber conspired not to come back in. "Play on, birthday boy," Andy teased.

As a trio they were a tightly woven cloth of nubby wool, expensive silk and utilitarian flannel on every song they played, from "Falling In Love With Love," to a rousing closer of "When You're Smiling," with Kahn's and Klauber's vocals. King added the golden threads with "Dearly Beloved" and "Little Girl Blue," in her soft soprano and reflective demeanor. Still, she's a trouper, relinquishing the microphone only once to Kevin Valentine who stopped by and sang a swinging "My Secret Love." It was a newly minted radiologist, Dr. Asher Stein, who added the fringe to this Joseph's coat when he played his tenor sax on "These Foolish Things" with the quartet, an unexpected pleasure.

Another highlight among many, was "Caravan" featuring Klauber's solo to make every drum god proud. Krolak requested the tune, knowing it's a favorite of our photographer. Later Andy broke up the audience by examining the oddity of a band member who requests his own tunes.

We had dinner too; food and service were perfection. Square on Square serves liquor. With parking the evening cost $85 for two. The All-Star Trio (plus friends) plays from 7:30 to 10:30 on the second floor. Street parking is free on Wednesday nights after 5:00, but finding a spot can be tough. There are two parking lots close by, $22 for the night.

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