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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke

Oscar Peterson
Plays the
Harold Arlen
Song Book
VERVE 589 103-2

Tracks 1 to 12
Oscar Peterson – Piano
Herb Ellis – Guitar
Ray Brown – Bass
Tracks 13 to 24
Oscar Peterson – Piano
Ray Brown – Bass
Ed Thigpen – Drums


  1. As Long as I live
  2. I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues
  3. Come rain or Come Shine
  4. Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive
  5. Between the devil and the Deep Blue Sea
  6. I’ve Got the World on a String
  7. It’s Only a Paper Moon
  8. That Old Black Magic
  9. Let’s fall in love
  10. Stormy weather
  11. Blues in the Night
  12. Over the Rainbow
  13. Happiness is just a Thing Called Joe
  14. Stormy Weather
  15. Over the rainbow
  16. The Man that Got Away
  17. Ill wind
  18. Let’s Fall in Love
  19. As Long as I Live
  20. Come Rain or Come Shine
  21. Ac-cent- tchu-ate the Positive
  22. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
  23. I’ve Got the World on a String
  24. That Old black Magic

This re-release combines all the tracks from two earlier albums recorded in 1954 & 1959 with two versions of the trio. Oscar and Ray Brown are on both, but the later trio has Ed Thigpen on drums instead of Ray Ellis on guitar. Both sessions demonstrate Oscar Peterson’s complete mastery of the works of Harold Arlen. Although I feel certain it was not intended, the trio took over where Nat Cole left off. Nat was himself a great jazz pianist and he often performed in Jazz at the Philharmonic in its earlier forms. Oscar of course made that chair his own, when he took over from Nat and stayed to the end. Nat Cole didn’t do so bad either as No1 Male vocalist worldwide! It may be of interest for readers to know that on the very few vocal recordings Oscar has made, he sounds just like Nat ‘King’ Cole.

For my money, Oscar is without any doubt the greatest pianist that jazz has produced. There are people like Art Tatum, who had perhaps a better sense of harmonics and many players have maybe pushed the frontiers harder, but there has never been anyone to swing at the drop of a hat on every session, the way Oscar has always done. Genius is an overused word these days, but Oscar truly merits it

The 1954 tracks, 1 to 12 have a certain amount of surface noise, as they have been re-mastered from the original disc, but it doesn’t detract in any way from the enjoyment, fortunately the masters were available for the later recordings.

The sound is obviously different between the two trios and despite my being a big fan of Herb Ellis, I prefer the trio with Ed Thigpen on the drums. Oscar is such a monster piano player that he does not need anyone to ‘comp’ whilst he is soloing, he does that as well. It seems a little curious to me that the tracks on the second part of the album are so short, on most we get the melody, one improvised chorus and then out.

Many of the tunes are played in both halves of the record and as you would expect with a jazz performance, if you visit the same tune five years later, it has developed and changed. This of course is the essence of the jazz performance as opposed to other musical forms and it is what makes jazz such interesting music.

An earlier reference to Nat Cole reminded me that ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ was a tune he regularly featured with his trio. Oscar’s technique and ideas are well illustrated in this track, it is a simple tune, but he makes it into something special and Herb Ellis also has a fine if short solo. Most of all it swings all the way through.

This re-release will be very welcome by all the Peterson fans and let us hope that anyone not familiar with his past work will take the opportunity to catch up.

Don Mather




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