Oscar Peterson

I have said, and will say again, that Oscar is in MY top ten, actually, top 5. In terms of evolution of the piano, and the trio, I think that Ahmad, however, cannot be ignored. For sheer brilliance of piano playing, I hearby award Oscar an honorary tie for the tenth position. Ellington, as I have said, would have easily made it if he had made more piano records as opposed to his orchestra.


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8 responses to “Oscar Peterson

  1. JayZeeBee

    IMO, Peterson is great for the notes that he plays. Ahmad is great for the notes he doesn’t play (same goes for Brubeck & Monk). Love his use of space. He is the guy I give people who say they don’t like jazz.

    • Cubop 54

      Good point Monk’s timing and lovely eccentricities seem to just click for some people. For others, he is far too dissonant, stripped down or abstract.

  2. ADB

    Peterson has gotten a bad rap in some quarters. There are those who say he played too many notes, recorded too much, repeated himself too much, etc. No one, though, denies that in terms of technique he was at the pinnacle, along with Tatum and perhaps just a few others. But he excelled Tatum in a few respects: he swung harder and was a better accompanist and team player within a small comb. That’s not to say he was “better” than Tatum, just had a few different arrows in his quiver. You could honestly say he was more versatile. And people forget how beautifully Peterson could play when he wanted to, what a great ballad player he was. Listen to his “Georgia on My Mind,” for instance, or “Little Girl Blue,” which has an impressionistic coda at least as beautiful as anything Hank Jones or Bill Evans ever recorded. If anyone wants to hear what a great and complete and expressive player Peterson was, I suggest listening especially to these albums: “The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson,” “Night Train,” “West Side Story,” “Canadiana Suite” (which shows how he also became a very good composer), and, above all, “My Favorite Instrument,” perhaps the most astonishing and varied solo piano album in jazz history. Peterson was bigger than his critics, a giant in fact.

  3. Cubop 54

    I agree about Oscar Peterson. Overall, he was significantly more versatile of a classically-trained jazz pianist than Art Tatum. However, Art was substantially more sophisticated and a little more unpredictable as a solo pianist. Also, Oscar’s style seemingly changed slightly and very gradually over his long career whereas Art’s style evolved to a noticeably different sound over his much shorter career span. Listen to Tatum’s early 1930’s recordings and then listen to him in the mid 1950’s. Huge difference as his left hand playing becomes highly diverse rhythmically and he strides in a more complex fashion and less often at that. The biggest difference to me is how harmonically advanced he became, greatly surpassing his contemporaries and almost everyone else after him in his tonal imagination. In his early years, he would play more dazzling runs or arpeggios as his left hand was simpler in keeping a solid rhythm. As he matured, his left hand increasingly involved a bebop approach (generally accenting changes with syncopating chords or assisting in whatever epic endeavors his right hand was on). Eventually his dazzling runs were not as predictable (being less frequent and more intricate). You can hear him grow progressively in each of his recordings of tunes like “Sweet Lorraine”, “Tea For Two”, and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. He truly was a genius. Oscar really perfected the guitar-bass-piano trio that Art and Nat King Cole pioneered though.

    • Thanks! really appreciate these insights. Tatum grew harmonically, too. The 50’s Pablo recordings indicate this… and they are better fidelity, so you can hear the inner parts more. In regards to Cole, I feel that he completely perfected the orchestrated jazz trio, (listen again to What is This Thing Called Love) and Oscar and Ahmad and others came up with their own spins on it, which were their own.. and completely compelling.

  4. Many rate Oscar above Tatum, which I don’t necessarily agree with (Tatum and Evans would be my top 2 as well). But what’s all too easily overlooked with Oscar is the degree to which he elevated “swing” to yet a whole new level. The jazz history books usually devote an entire chapter to the emergence and subsequent influence of the Basie band’s rhythm section and its “free floating” time-flow. But Jimmy Blanton let alone Ray Brown were yet to come, and when the latter met up with Oscar, the effect was an explosion of global proportions. Rhythmically, Tatum’s roots remained firmly planted in the “stride” tradition he had grown up with. He remained–always–the complete “self-contained” rhythm section: the difference between the basic rhythm feels of Tatum and Oscar is unmistakable upon hearing the two in the context of bass and drums on their early ’50s recordings made for impresario Norman Granz.

    Out of Peterson’s hard-swinging-to-the-max, walking 4/4-on-the-floor came a whole succession of pianists who would retain Oscar’s swing while reducing the number of notes (not difficult, since few pianists can, even in their sleep, dream that many notes played that fast) and, in the process, make Oscar’s visceral, infectious swing more “accessible.” Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Monty Alexander, Gene Harris (in the ’50s The 3 Sounds were especially prized as an exemplary tight rhythm section)–all of them epitomized a time feel which, sadly, is disappearing from jazz in the present millennium (in 2014, I’ve heard Kurt Elling’s group as well as Newport 60–the traveling advance-edition of the Newport Jazz Festival–use 4/4 walking-bass swing no more than 20% of the time during their respective concerts). The only artist who refuses to give an inch (in concert) is Tony Bennett who, lest it go unnoticed due to his popular, profitable Duets albums, still can swing out the house. With pianist Mike Renzi and drummer Harold Jones, Bennett at 88 proclaims that he will not compromise–and then shows how it’s done. Perhaps what’s most critical is the firm, unfailing clap of the hi-hat on 2 and 4. Unfortunately but not surprisingly (the word “swing” itself is disappearing from the jazz vocabulary, whether as a noun or verb!), many younger drummers have inconsistent or “lazy” hi-hats (besides the addiction to walking 4/4, it helps to have a left ankle made of steel and ball-bearings).

    Of course, there are other ways of “swinging.” But the immediately accessible (to the neophyte) groove of not only rock but much latin, funk, disco, etc., produces bodies “bobbing” up and down on 1 and 3. Swing is far more subtle–and therefore most conducive to improvised solos that are melodic, structured and purposeful. Rock-jazz, funk and much latin, on the other hand, encourage solos consisting of “riffing,” or upper-register musical gymnastics–all of it taking a 2ndary place to the strong “on the beat” rhythmic insistency.

    Another exception would be Bill Evans, especially his final trio. There, he’s the master of anticipatory rhythm, “lunging” into the next measure and gradually “getting ahead” of the time, or where the chord would occur in its conventional sequence–a risky endeavor which, with the support of Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera, he made work. (Who would click their fingers on 2 and 4 during an Evans’ introduction to “Nardis”?)

    Finally, with all due respects to Herbie Hancock and Frank Morgan, Herbie as usual is too high on the list of piano immortals (some of us were playing Rhodes’ keyboards before “Watermelon Man”–and what’s wrong with remaining the supreme accompanist of “Maiden Voyage” or “Ceora”?). If Louis Armstrong belongs in 1st place on any list of greatest trumpet players, then Earl “Fatha” Hines definitely has to be 3rd on the list of pianists (don’t for a moment be deceived by those ear-to-ear shining pearls–he was the most adventurous, and perpetually surprising, of soloists).

    And Frank Morgan, I can’t help but sense, misjudged the perennially, scandalously overlooked Carl Perkins, who overcame enormous odds (his left arm almost too deformed by polio to qualify as a “limb”! ) while drawing upon Erroll’s orchestral approach and Bud’s Bird-inspired constructions to become a pianist whose gorgeous voicings always resist analysis and whose solo flights could touch upon the sublime. (Listen to “The Curtis Counce Group, Vol. 1” to understand why, upon learning of Perkins’ death at 29, the leader disbanded what was, for many of us, the West Coast’s most credible challenge yet to the top spot occupied by the Miles Davis Quintet.)

    • Samuel
      Frank told me that he had BOTH Sonny Clark and Carl Perkins in his group for a while, since Sonny was at the time a great soloist, but Carl was the better “comper.” They were both a bit bugged at this, since the bread was split up somehow. Sonny got the “comping” thing together eventually (!) and gained the solo spot by himself.
      to everyone: I’m delighted at the variety and sagacity of your opinions. I’m working on another top ten list of a slightly different nature. You’ll hear from me soon. I need to apologize for my absence over the last few months… getting married, and having a few writing projects that needed to be finished really took me away from this. I’m back. Thanks for all your contributions!

  5. Lawrence Brazier

    Did I send this already Bill? A book I reviewed years ago. LawrenceThe 88 Giants of Jazz Piano
    Robert L. Doerschuk
    Backbeat Books

    After The Lives of the Poets we are given the Lives of the Pianists – with some of the texts approaching poetry, too! Many of the 88 jazz pianists portrayed here are dismissed in a couple of pages, cut to the essentials, one might say, and Martial Solal has been forgotten. But the longer pieces given to Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett (who wrote the extremely pertinent introduction to the book), Cecil Taylor, Bud Powell, Art Tatum and, of course, Thelonious Monk are more than commendable. Mind you, by the end of the Monk piece the book could thereafter have been called The Book of Monk because the man crops up in so many of the portrayals of the musicians who followed him.
    Robert L. Doerschuk is a fine writer, and he is also a musician. He wastes no time on wordiness for the sake of it. His analysis of pianism devices (sounds rather brutal, that) is always to the point and often revelatory. Moreover, the author occasionally gets into the minds of his subjects, which is a welcome bonus to enjoying the recordings and surely of interest to everyone. Cecil Taylor and Keith Jarrett emerge as spiritual soul mates, as such. Taylor is searching for the single note of the universe (perhaps echoing Schopenhauer’s einzigen Gedanken). The philosopher also noted that “…before we think, we live.” Maybe it’s a tip for Jarrett who wishes to take the reduction further to the point where, presumably, his fingers run off the end of the keyboard. If he ever does stop playing, let it be said that yours truly is still grateful for his Too Young To Go Steady (okay, okay, I’m a throwback). Whatever the philosophy, however, we listeners still have the privilege of enjoying if a rendition hits us right. The two guys discussed may be interested to hear that John Coleman’s book The Quiet Mind has been republished after a lapse of 30 years (Pariyatti Press, Seattle). It’s the story of a man who sought enlightenment systematically (until that special point, of course).
    The enigma that was Monk continues to elude expert analysis. I recently reran Jazz On A Summer’s Day and if I’m not mistaken (it was a rear shot), while the rest of the musicians backing Chuck Berry are breaking up, there was Monk doing his shuffling dance. It suddenly hit me that what Monk was all about was straightforward, from-the-gut funkiness. Although he could be almost as fleet-fingered as Bud Powell, on occasion, you hear the dogged attack in the solo albums as he digs at a melody, wrenching it into a rendition from the gut. When Monk stopped playing and started dreaming, as Doerschuk notes, he produced the marvelous compositions that would impoverish jazz were they no longer here. Monk was an extremely funky guy, methinks, a man perhaps trying to express JAZZ from the bottom end, and the raucous Charlie Rouse was his true soul mate.
    Evans, Powell, Tatum, and Monk are otherwise given fairly routine treatments, with the occasional piece of gossip previously withheld from us. These are beautifully written essays and should interest anyone with a leaning to jazz piano, or jazz period. Thus, an essential collection of jazz writing. Buy and enjoy!
    Lawrence Brazier

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