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Johnny Varro: Two Legends of Jazz

Joel Roberts By

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Though they're separated by nearly 30 years in age, veteran pianist Johnny Varro and clarinetist Ken Peplowski are a perfectly matched pair. Varro, born in Brooklyn in 1930, has been a leading proponent of small-group swing since the '50s, appearing over his long career with the likes of Pee Wee Russell, Buck Clayton and Eddie Condon. Nearing 80, he remains active on the festival and club circuit, still playing in the elegant, Teddy Wilson-inspired style that's been his hallmark for decades. The 50 year-old Peplowski, meanwhile, is one of his generation's top swing revivalists, helping keep that tradition alive with his dynamic clarinet (and tenor sax) performances.

Two Legends of Jazz brings the two swing stalwarts together for the first time (along with the like-minded rhythm section of Frank Tate on bass and Joe Ascione on drums) for a thoroughly enjoyable set of well-chosen standards. Peplowski showcases his gorgeous, almost saxophone-like tone on clarinet on "The Touch of Your Lips" and the bossa nova number "Menina Flor." Varro is especially effective on a duet version of "It's Easy to Remember" and a solo take on "You're a Sweetheart," both of which highlight his light touch and considerable stride piano skills. While this is mostly a relaxed, low-key affair, the full quartet swings hard on a handful of selections, notably "Secret Love" and "Out of Nowhere."

If swing is your thing, Varro and Peplowski are about as good as it gets.

Track Listing: My Baby Just Cares For Me; The Touch of Your Lips; Menina Flor; After I Say I'm Sorry (What Can I Say?); It's Easy to Remember; A Smooth One; Bluesette; You're a Sweetheart; Secret Love; Out of Nowhere; Love Locked Out; I Love You; Someday You

Personnel: Johnny Varro: piano; Ken Peplowski: clarinet; Frank Tate: bass; Joe Ascione: drums.

Title: Two Legends of Jazz | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Arbors Records


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