East Penn Press

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Simon Mulligan in ‘Jazz Upstairs’ series for fifth time

Thursday, February 15, 2018 by GEORGE VANDOREN Special to The Press in Focus

The fifth time is the charm.

Pianist Simon Mulligan returns to Miller Symphony Hall’s “Jazz Upstairs” series for the fifth time at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16, accompanied by Gene Perla, bass, and Dave Willard, drums.

Mulligan has classical and jazz chops. He studied music at St Paul’s School and the Royal Academy of Music, both London, and the International Piano Academy, Lake Como, Italy.

He has performed and-or recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, English Symphony Orchestra, Warsaw Sinfonia, Hong Kong Philharmonic, and Royal National Scottish Orchestra, among others.

He has collaborated with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, cellist Lynn Harrell and violinist Joshua Bell, and has done numerous classical recordings.

On the jazz and pop music side, he’s performed with Dame Shirley Bassey, Branford Marsalis, Liza Minnelli, Van Morrison, and Sting.

Mulligan says his roots in jazz go back to his very early days: “It began with a lady next door in England. She had a Great Aunt, who had an antique shop, and she would bring around piles of sheet music.

“I discovered Scott Joplin, James Johnston, and others. I noodled around with ragtime and blues.

“Around age 10, I started a little Dixieland band. I loved harmony and arranging things for the six of us.”

Mulligan cites his dad’s influence, as well: “He used to play amateur tenor sax in a dance band.” Simon would listen to records in his family’s house and developed, as he puts it, “a real passion for luscious harmonies. I didn’t really like bebop.”

He received a scholarship to a jazz course where he learned from some of United Kingdom’s best players. Then, Mulligan says, “Jamming with different bands woke me up to a more modern style. I started a little trio at about age 14. We played bar mitzvahs, weddings, and so forth. And I was in the school jazz group at St. Paul’s.”

Mulligan does the bulk of his jazz playing in Great Britain at places like the prestigious 606 Club in London’s Chelsea district. Mulligan notes, “I’ve been playing there for 15 years. I have a passion for all the different jazz styles.”

Of the “Jazz Upstairs” concert at Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown, Mulligan says, “I like to make everything accessible to the audience. I like to write easy-to-deal-with melodies.

“Of course, there will be some standards and some requests. I’ll probably throw in the odd Stevie Wonder or Simon and Garfunkel tune. I like a good tune. I don’t necessarily care where it comes from.” The trio will probably play some Bernstein in honor of centennial of the composer-conductor’s birth.

Mulligan is working with Steinway & Sons on “The Spirio Project.”

“Spirio is a high-end, ridiculously accurate playback piano. It’s not electronic. Inside the action is all this clever circuitry. It can play back any recording that’s been made. I’ve been playing everything from Baroque to Eminem to Christmas music. So far, I’ve done about 60 tunes.”

Mulligan has two CDs set for release: “The American Songbook, Volume 2,” and one focusing on the music of Noel Coward and Ivor Novello.

Joining Mulligan for “Jazz Upstairs” are bassist Gene Perla and drummer Dave Willard. Perla is a fixture on bass. He studied at the University of Toledo and Berklee School of Music. He’s performed with Nina Simone, Woody Herman, Sarah Vaughan, Elvin Jones, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Band, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, and Frank Sinatra. He teaches at Lehigh University and previously taught at William Paterson University, New School University, and the Center for the Media Arts.

Willard is not only a seasoned drummer, but a member of the Allentown Symphony Jazz Committee, which runs the “Jazz Upstairs” series and is chaired by Dr. Ethel Drayton-Craig, emcee for series performances in the Rodale Community Room located on the hall’s third floor.

Willard has played all music genres, from jazz to country to rock. He played in Peripheral Vision, a rock cover band formed at Olympus, his former employer. He’s joining Mulligan for the fifth time for “Jazz Upstairs.”

If it’s your fifth time, or your first time, can catch the Simon Mulligan Trio.

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715