Pianist Michael Wolff, Drummer Mike Clark and Bassist Leon Lee Dorsey take on the iconic Beatles’ classic, 'Sgt. Pepper'


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It was 53 years ago today, May 26, 1967, when the Beatles released the seminal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It has been hailed a milestone ("a joyful revelation," “the definitive Beatles album"), considered one of their best at the time of its release, and ranked “the greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone's list of the top 500 rock and roll recordings."

So, when bassist extraordinaire Leon Lee Dorsey and drum legend Mike Clark were tossing it back and forth one night, they got to musing about that incredible time period and what recordings represented the essence of the time and place, and the Beatles’ place in that time. It was the summer of love and Sgt. Pepper exhibited a profound optimism. “It's getting better all the time,” while recognizing the gravity, present and coming, “it can't get much worse."

They recruited Michael Wolff (Clark said “I know just the guy"), a piano stylist unrivaled in his uncanny interpretation of popular songs of the era, and he brought the concept home. In 3 days, this trio recorded 8 exuberant and swinging renditions of the
album's arguably finest tunes. Wolff's bluesy, singing, and always swinging lines have echoes here of Ahmad Jamal, Horace Silver and the soulful Bobby Timmons, and the fetching rhythm with Clark and Dorsey set the music on a joyful journey. At this time, we could all use respite from anything less inspired.

Kicking off “With a Little Help from My Friends"—and if that isn’t a song for the moment—they guarantee they'll raise a smile.

“Some of the songs spoke to me immediately,” Wolff notes, “and I tried to imagine how we could do a jazz version of it. ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ and ‘Rita’ instantly felt like swingers, while ‘A Day In The Life’ morphed into a beautiful, jazz ballad. We got ‘Sgt. Pepper’ to a more rock place. ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ felt like it could slow down and be wide open. So that’s what we did.” Clark knew some of the songs from when “Sgt. Pepper” was popular. “I always liked the album and just thought—why don’t we do these tunes, but play them the way we play. A jazz treatment, if you will. Instead of rock beats, let’s make them swing, add a kind of In a Silent Way or Nefertiti type-feel here and there, add some in the pocket swing grooves with a bit of loose, but smart and catchy arrangements and this is what we did. This is how I saw it.

Dorsey states, “it was absolutely a magical experience recording with two such extraordinary musicians like Michael Wolff and Mike Clark on such an iconic piece of music history from a legendary band like the Beatles.”

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