Over the last 12 or so years, whenever Ken Peplowski (clarinet & tenor sax) and Marty Grosz (guitar & vocals) have been teamed together at a jazz festival or party, there has been as much mirth as music on the bandstand.
With their hilarious repartee, these two are like the Matthau and Lemmon of the jazz world; they love nothing better than to trade often surreal, and always very funny, insults with each other. And they clearly also relish the chance to play together.
Grosz wasn’t at last year’s party, and the last time I was supposed to hear him and Peplowski – in Nairn in 2007 – the gig was cancelled at the last minute due to travel problems. So it was a treat to be able to hear them several times over the weekend.
I missed the sextet set they performed in on Saturday afternoon, but was glued to my seat for their eagerly anticipated duo session on Sunday night. As off-the-wall experiences go, it was right up there. Where else in the world could you hear references to Horace Gerlach, Some Like It Hot (the Bob Hope movie), Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, Red Allen and Fats Waller compressed into a 30-minute period?
And the music was pretty bloody good too, from the dynamic take on You with which they opened their set, to the jaunty swing of The Lady’s In Love With You, this was a vintage Ken ‘n’ Marty set; both players apparently energised by the other’s playing. Grosz may have had not one but two bouts of pneumonia – one on each side of his recent 80th birthday – but there was no evidence of him flagging even as he and Peplowski powered through their closing number, the hot and fiercely swinging Nagasaki.
“I didn’t get my joke book this month,” quipped Grosz, but it certainly didn’t seem to do the double act any harm. “It’s a big tradition in Norwich to go to the local Italian restaurant on a Sunday, but it was closed today. Someone stole their table cloth,” announced Peplowski, giving Grosz’s vivid checkedshirt a sideways glance. “The funny thing is, Bucky [Pizzarelli] ate off him today..”
The joshing continued on Monday night during Grosz’s solo set. He was halfway through a typically convoluted explanation of the background to his next song, when Peplowski appeared with a large brush and began sweeping the stage. “Marty, just turn the lights out when you’re done,” he told an unruffled Grosz.
All good fun, and for their grand finale, they shared the results of their “judge the audience” deliberations. “The audience got nine marks out of ten for punctuality,” said Peplowski, “and one out of ten for hygiene…” Which begged just one last question from Grosz: “And how’re they doing on hair loss?’