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Oscar Peterson
biography, concert and CD reviews

Sheet music by Oscar Peterson. Oscar Peterson CDs at Amazon.com.

Added on December 25, 2007
My favorite jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson, died on Sunday, December 24, 2007. He died at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. He was 82. When Norman Granz made him perform at the Carnegie Hall in 1949, jazz found its place on the same level as classical music. With his legendary Oscar Peterson Trio, Oscar accompanied Ella Fitzgerald for many years. Unfortunately, during a concert in 1993, he suffered a stroke and lost the full use of his left hand. Nevertheless, he successfully continued to perform.

Article added in June 2000
Concert at the Théâtre de Beaulieu, Lausanne, May 4, 2000
 
Oscar Peterson is known as the jazz pianist with a crystal clear touch and exact phrasing. He is one of the last living legends of jazz. At the age of 75, the Canadian still knows how to enchant his public - despite suffering from a stroke in May 1993. After two years of hard work, he had recovered to the point of being to give concerts again on a regular basis. Unfortunately, his left hand, at first paralysed, has not completely regained its former virtuosity.
 
The concert at the Théâtre de Beaulieu in Lausanne on May 4 took place in front of a loyal fan colony. It is a shame that not a single journalist from a big Swiss French speaking newspaper found his way to the concert hall. It had no effect on the quartets performance: Ulf Wakenius from Sweden on guitar, Martin Drew from England on drums and Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen from Denmark on bass created, together with pianist Oscar Peterson, a full and swinging sound.
 
First, drummer Marin Drew came on stage and started playing, soon afterwards he was joined by the bassist, then by the guitarist and finally by Oscar Peterson. It was painful to see this great old jazz musician to move with difficulty to the piano. But once sat down behind his instrument, he rejuvenated instantly and became (almost) the old perfect player. The quartet played the melodic, easy sounding but refined, light and lively jazz Peterson is known for. Among the songs played were Night Time, The Cakewalk, Evening Song and You Look Good To Me. A moving moment came when the quartet played When Summer Comes - relaxing like a mild and gentle summer night - since everybody sensed that this might be the last time one got the chance to see the legendary pianist in Lausanne.
 
In the second part of the concert, Oscar Peterson offered a duet with guitarist Ulf Wakenius. The two musicians imitated and encouraged each other in a friendly duel, before they were rejoined by the other two in the quartet, later also giving space for a solo by drummer Martin Drew. As an encore, the musicians played the regional anthem Oscar Peterson had composed on the request of the Canadian government for the newly created province of the native inhabitants of Canada. Although the pianist needed the help of the guitar and the bass to support his weak left hand during the concert and despite the fact that Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen's bass playing remained astonishingly pale, the quartet enchanted with the classical and elegant Oscar Peterson style, unsurpassed in its genre. A standing ovation was the publics reward for an outstanding evening.

Two interesting re-releases of albums by Oscar Peterson:
 

Oscar Peterson Plays The Duke Ellington Song Book: Oscar Peterson is for piano what Ella Fitzgerald means to singing: classic, timeless and unmatched elegance. Therefore, it was no accident that Ella and Peterson celebrated triumphs together on scene and in studios. The Ellington Song Book is of course an instrumental recording without the master of scat. Oscar Peterson plays on tracks 1 to 12 with Barney Kessel, Guitar, and Ray Brown, bass. The titles were recorded in December 1952. The pianists plays on the tracks 13 to 24 with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, drums. These tracks were recorded in July and August 1959. The CD is a document of Oscar Peterson's best years (which, of course, lasted more or less until his stroke in 1993). The idea of the 1952 and 1959 recordings came from Norman Granz who wanted the best songs written by the best American composers banned on vinyl. In the 50s, Oscar Peterson also recorded the highlights of the Berlin, Gershwin and Porter songbooks. The Duke Ellington Song Book, especially the tunes from 1959, may be too much easy-listening for some jazz fans. So what? It is a CD for marvelous summer dreams. Re-released in 1999: Get the album from Amazon.com.
 

The Sound of the Trio
was recorded at the London House in July and August of 1961, with Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. The London House was a distinguished Club in Chicago (until 1973) in which the Oscar Peterson Trio entertained the audience between 1957 and 1969 in regular guest performances of two to four weeks. The Sound of the Trio is another highlight in Peterson's career. The recording quality is better than on the The Duke Ellington Song Book. At the same time, the sound is harder and the play straighter. By the way, the three musicians also recorded the album The Trio at the London House. On The Sound of the Trio CD, it is difficult to highlight a song since all tracks are excellent. Among them is the Kadota's Blues (despite its name, pure jazz). Oscar Peterson wrote it as a tribute to his friend, George Kadota, a specialist on hi-fi systems in Toronto. Charlie Parkers Scrapple From the Apple and the ballad Jim, written by Petrillo, Samuels and Shawn, are other excellent songs on an album that represents Oscar Peterson's technically brilliant and elegant style. It is Night Club music in perfection - live. Originally released in 1961, re-released in 2000: Get the CD from Amazon.com. - Sheet music by Oscar Peterson. Oscar Peterson CDs at Amazon.com.


Added on December 15, 2003 (moved from Cosmopolis no. 1, December 1999):

Oscar Peterson: My Personal Choice. 1999 Universal Jazz
On My Personal Choice Oscar Peterson selected himself his favourite sixteen tracks recorded between 1968 and 1972 for the German Label MPS. For all who don't know Oscar Peterson yet: he surely is the greatest post war jazz pianist. His recordings with his trio or his historical tours with Ella Fitzgerald make him a living legend. Among his choices you find cassic tracks like Body And Soul by Johnnie Green. Oscar Peterson choose also Lulu's Back In Town, for it's "humorous candor", as he explains, but also because it gives him the chance "to play a type of piano hardly heard today, stride piano!" The last three tracks with Singers Unlimited (Sesame Street) and soloists Bonnie Herman (Once Upon A Summertime) and Gene Puerling  (The Shadow Of Your Smile) are less convincing. Nonetheless, this CD remains a must, not only for Oscar Peterson fans.

Added on July 23, 2005 (moved from Cosmopolis no. 3, February 2000):
Biography of Oscar Peterson
Canadian born Oscar Peterson is the greatest jazz pianist alive. He was first trained by his father, an amateur musician. His second instructor was his sister Daisy, later a prominent piano teacher. Together with his sister, Oscar studied with Paul de Marky, a Hungarian concert pianist trained by a student of Franz Liszt. Peterson's classical education was extensive and its result is his masterful technique. While attending Montreal HS, he played in a band. He won a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. amateur contest and was given his own regular 15-minute programm in 1939. The broadcast revealed a strong Teddy Wilson influence. In 1944 he began to play with Johnny Holmes's dance band. 1945-49 he made recordings for Canadian RCA Victor. Leading a trio at the Alberta Lounge, Peterson was heard by many American musicians, offered a job by Jimmie Lunceford and urged to move to the USA by Count Basie and others. Norman Granz, at first unimpressed by Peterson's (for him untypical) boogie-woogie recordings, heard a broadcast from the Alberta Lounge in 1949 and went to the club. He booked him for a surprise appearance with JATP at Carnegie Hall in September 1949. Peterson played with Ray Brown and Buddy Rich and became in 1950 a regular with JATP and toured with Ray Brown, then added Irving Ashby on guitar (replaced by barney Kessel, then by Herb Ellis). Peterson, Brown and Ellis fromed one of the great trios in jazz history. Ellis left in 1958 and was replaced by drummer Edmund Thigpen until 1965 when Thigpen left and Brown dropped out to settle in California. Peterson played on with various formations and in 1972, when Norman Granz formed the Pablo Label, he often recorded with Niels Pedersen and Joe Pass. In the 1980s Marin Drew became his regular drummer. Peterson also made reunion tours and recrdings with Brown and Ellis. In May 1993 while appearing at the Bluce Note, NYC, he suffered a stroke which cost him the use of his left hand. Atter two years of therapy he returned to active playing and continues to appear at festivals and in clubs. Peterson's clarity and brilliance are unique. The influences of classical music as well as of jazz greats like Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum can be heard in his play. Peterson embraces Swing as well as Bebop. He is also a noted composer.
 
From Verve Master Edition you can get the reissue of the 1961-album Very Tall. Oscar Peterson Trio With Milt Jackson, recorded in NYC. Oscar Peterson (piano), Ray Brown (bass), Ed Thigpen (drums) and Milt Jackson (vibraphone). The album is colourful, optimistic and entertaining, a lively document of the mood of the time of its recording. It is outstanding, artistically as well as technically (but of course not Peterson's best album). - Biographical source: Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler: Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. OUP, 1999, p. 718. Buy it at Amazon.com. - Sheet music by Oscar Peterson. Oscar Peterson CDs at Amazon.com.