'Here we go," Vic Stevens announces from behind his drum kit.
"One. Two. One-two-three."
Stevens and six other members of the Applejacks roll out a summery song called "Vera Cruz," and Roz Appell starts to tap her foot.
"It's thrilling," says the Cherry Hill resident, whose dad, Dave, wrote the tune. "I only heard it [on a recording] in his basement studio. Now it's coming to life."
That's the idea.
Family, friends, and fans of the late songwriter, producer, and trombone/guitar/keyboard player - whose Philly-centric popular music career spanned nearly a half-century - are eager to share some of Dave Appell's last songs with the world.
Hence a new CD, The Applejacks, featuring 14 original Appell tracks and recorded last summer at Stevens' Giant Steps studio in Sicklerville. A concert is set for Monday at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, and a foundation to promote music education is in the works.
"From the 1980s until 2012, Dave cataloged between 60 and 80 pieces, mostly smooth-jazz material," says Philly music veteran Billy Terrell, the production coordinator of the CD and a longtime admirer and friend of Appell's.
"His final body of work took him back to his jazz and big-band roots," says Terrell, 71, of Delran. "It's a joy and an honor for me to help keep Dave's musical legacy alive."
Appell, who grew up in Philadelphia but lived for decades in Cherry Hill, wrote early rock classics such as "South Street" and "Let's Twist Again." His own group, the Apple Jacks, had a 1958 hit called "Mexican Hat Rock."
Largely self-taught (he learned musical notation by reading books), Appell handled production or other duties on many hit singles released on Philadelphia's legendary Cameo-Parkway label. Later, he produced Tony Orlando and Dawn's smash "Tie a Yellow Ribbon."
When I interviewed Appell in 2012, two years before his death, he almost immediately steered the conversation away from his storied past.
"Want to hear something new?" he asked before cuing up a breezy instrumental called "Jazzioso" and telling me, "I hear music in my head 24 hours a day."
"He learned how to do arrangements in his head," explains Roz Appell. "And anyone who came to the house had to go down to the studio to listen to his latest stuff. He was known for his '60s and '70s songs, but what he really wanted was for his smooth jazz to be heard."
On Monday, I listened in to a rehearsal on the sixth floor of the University of the Arts' Merriam Theater building in Center City.
"I think Dave would be ecstatic to hear it live," notes Stevens, 56, of Sicklerville. "This music is organic. It evolves as we play it."
"We" are all UArts students or recent graduates, including bassist Jake Kaplan and trumpeter Jimmy Boyle, both of whom are 21 and from Marlton, and pianist Reed Bodenstein, 21, of Medford.
Also, saxophonist Phillip Hansen, 22, of Medford; trombonist Chris Mele, 21, of Ambler; and guitarist Sam Riessen, 20, from Larchmont, N.Y.
They're too young to remember Appell's hits. None of them has played much in the way of smooth jazz, a genre popular in the '80s.
But they're budding professionals, and they're nothing if not game for this unusual project.
"It's coming together real nice," Hansen says.
"We're making it groove," says Kaplan.
"It just sounds good," Bodenstein observes accurately. "And it's fun to play."
Adds Boyle: "The notes on the page are not necessarily a challenge. The special challenge is bringing emotion to it . . . bringing some of yourself to the music."
Roz Appell says her dad was attracted to smooth jazz - a genre sometimes criticized as formulaic - in part because of what he believed he could bring to the music.
"Some of it didn't have the kind of feel he thought it should have," she recalls. "It didn't seem to have melody. He heard melodies all the time in his mind, and I think what he heard was the excitement of live music."
So it was both "wonderful and difficult" to be in the room while her father's work was performed live, some of it for the first time.
"I was hearing it," she says, "the way he wanted to hear it."