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His final public performance took place in a century-old barn on his property in May with a band made up of fellow Order of Canada recipients. (Peter Grimaldi)
His final public performance took place in a century-old barn on his property in May with a band made up of fellow Order of Canada recipients. (Peter Grimaldi)

Obituary

Peter Appleyard, ‘one of the giants’ of jazz Add to ...

After an invitation to play with clarinetist Benny Goodman, a demanding musician known as the King of Swing, Mr. Appleyard toured with the Goodman sextet through the 1970s in Europe, Australia and the United States, including appearances at Carnegie Hall in New York. After Mr. Goodman’s death in 1986, he formed a tribute band in his memory.

In the eighties, Mr. Appleyard formed his All Star Swing Band. This ensemble, which toured throughout the world, made a specialty of old jazz and pop favourites. Swing Fever, their 1982 release, sold more than 50,000 copies in Canada and was nominated for a Juno award.

A supporter of the military, Mr. Appleyard toured NATO bases, mostly at his own expense, and flew with his band to the North Pole to give a Christmas concert for Canadian and U.S. service members.

His marriage ended in the 1980s. He met Elfriede Lechner at one of his performances and she became his partner for the rest of his life. The two lived on a verdant farm in Eden Mills, Ont., where Mr. Appleyard kept horses and sheep. He excelled as an equestrian and rode to hounds with the Eglinton Hunt Club, though he never killed a fox. His son treasures a photo of him fearlessly jumping a six-foot high stone fence.

As Mr. Appleyard’s long hair grew white, many honours came his way: the Order of Canada in 1992, the Oscar Peterson award given by the Montreal International Jazz Festival, an honorary degree from the University of Guelph, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.

Meanwhile, he continued to perform and delight audiences. According to his manager John Cripton, he had bookings well into next year. “I will play as long as audiences want to hear me,” he told Mr. Cripton.

His last recording was Sophisticated Ladies, released in 2012, on which he played for some of Canada’s finest female jazz vocalists. His final public performance took place in a century-old barn on his property in May before a sold-out audience of 200.

He was joined by Jane Bunnett on sax, Guido Basso on flugelhorn, Dave Young on bass, pianist Joe Sealy and drummer Terry Clarke, all of whom happen to be fellow Order of Canada recipients.

Mr. Appleyard by then suffered from back pain and had trouble walking. He died at home two months later of undisclosed causes, leaving his son Peter, daughter Susan, partner Elfriede and first wife JoAnne.

Mr. Basso recalls that despite being ill, his friend retained his sense of showmanship at his last concert: “Peter did that thing where he leaves his vibraphone, in the middle of Sweet Georgia Brown, goes to the piano, plays with two fingers at lightning speed, then goes to the drums and challenges the drummer. The audience loved it.”

His daughter, Susan Appleyard, said her father made people feel good. “He always ended each show by saying, ‘Good night everyone. Thank you for coming. Keep swinging and have a great life.’”

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