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Peter Appleyard's good vibes

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Canadian jazz legend and CBC mainstay Peter Appleyard is a gifted percussionist and impeccable showman. The British-born musician began his career playing drums in English dance bands before switching to the instrument he would become famous for: the vibraphone. In this 1977 clip the affable Appleyard clowns around with Peter Gzowski as he struts his stuff on a variety of oddball instruments.

Though Appleyard can play dozens of instruments, from piano to the conga drum, he is best known for his proficiency on the vibraphone - a percussion instrument similar to the xylophone, but with metal keys and resonating tubes. Over the years his mastery of the mallets has led to him to play for the elite of the music world, including Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
• Peter Appleyard was born in Cleethorpes, England on Aug. 26, 1928. A natural musician, he studied the piano in his teens and played drums in his spare time.
• His first paying gig came when he was 12, when he was hired to play drums at local dances for 35 cents a night.
• Appleyard would often ride 15 miles on his bike, with his drum kit towed behind him on a wagon, to attend the shows.

• During the Second World War Appleyard worked as an apprentice compass adjuster for the Royal Navy, but he later admitted that his musical interests got in the way of his duties.
• Charged with delivering top secret navigation charts to departing ships, the 14-year-old would often stop to listen to jazz records at a local music store.
• His first big break came after a traveling musician noticed the drumsticks he was carrying in his jacket pocket.

• The man recruited Appleyard to play drums for Felix Mendelson's Hawaiian Serenaders, a popular British dance band at the time.
• Appleyard credited a 1950 vacation to New York City, during which he took in concerts by George Shearing and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, for his decision to switch to the vibraphone.
• "[At the time] I was still a frustrated vibe player making a living as a drummer," he said on his website. "That night did it, and I bought a new and larger vibraphone."

• Appleyard first encountered the vibes in 1946, after he bought a miniature set from a musician who he claimed was an actually an undercover British spy.
• Appleyard moved to Toronto in November 1951 when he was 21 years old. Immigration laws required professional musicians to wait one year before playing.
• He worked as an elevator operator, a hotel clerk, a menswear salesman, a grocery stock boy and a cigarette clerk at Eaton's, before launching his music career.

• The year off allowed him to take "a good look" at Canadians, which he said had discovered "the secret of being able to live together well" without prejudice.
• Appleyard's first job in Canada was in 1952. Shortly after he began a stint with the Calvin Jackson Quartet which included playing on the group's weekly CBC Radio series Jazz with Jackson.

• Appleyard would go on to play in CBC orchestras for a variety of shows including The Wayne & Shuster Show, Mr. Dressup, The Friendly Giant and Front Page Challenge, where he played the famous timpani introduction.
• In a 1980 article in the Toronto Star Appleyard estimated that he earned a third of his $100,000 annual income from the CBC.

• In the mid-1960s he began a lucrative side job writing and recording music for commercials. These included ads for Chargex credit cards, Dominion grocery stores and Hush Puppies.
• According to a 1970s review, Appleyard was known in Toronto music circles as "the effervescent guy in the scarlet dinner jacket, yellow hair flying and sunburst smile gleaming, banging away at the keyboard."

• Appleyard was well-known for his stage personality, which stood in contrast to the more reserved persona of many of his contemporaries.
• "Bounce and exuberance and fun are his principal musical trademarks," a Daily Star reviewer said in January 1970. "He radiates good cheer."
• Appleyard explained his brand of showmanship in the Toronto Star in 1978:"You must sell yourself and your music to the customers. You've got to prance and dance a little and deliver some of that old showbiz razzmatazz."

• In 1963, Appleyard married Jo-Anne Gent, a Chicago native, and settled in the Scarborough Bluffs neighbourhood. They had two children, Susie and Peter.
• He recorded more than a dozen albums, including The Lincolnshire Poacher, Polished Appleyard and Prelude To a Kiss.
• He became an officer of the Order of Canada in 1992.
• In his later years he moved to his farm in Rockwood, Ont. (just east of Guelph), where he raised and rode horses in between tours.

• Peter Appleyard died on July 17, 2013 at the age of 84.

Medium: Television
Program: 90 Minutes Live
Broadcast Date: Dec. 15, 1977
Guest(s): Peter Appleyard
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 5:48
Still image from Showtime (Oct. 23, 1959) courtesy of the CBC Design Library.

Last updated: July 22, 2013

Page consulted on November 13, 2014

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