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



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A Jazz Odyssey

The life of OSCAR PETERSON

Continuum

ISBN 0-8264-5807-6

 

 

 

When I first heard that Oscar Peterson was writing an autobiography, I could not wait to get my hands on a copy. I first heard a live performance by him during my National service in Germany in 1955, it was a JATP concert and the Oscar Peterson Trio was the most exciting musical combination I have ever heard. Since that time I have watched the TV shows, been to as many concerts as I could get to and I own a lot of the albums, either on vinyl or CD (Sometimes both!). For my money he is the finest piano player that the jazz world has ever produced.

For most people that attribute alone would be enough, but when I first started to have an idea of the personality of the man, I realised that he was a giant of a man in every sense of the word. My first inkling of this came when his BBC series Piano Party started in 1976, two further series followed. (Would that the BBC today would support such quality work). Each of these shows were great entertainment, but the one dearest to my heart was the one in which he interviewed Count Basie, as they sat facing each other at two grand pianos. Bill Basie was not a well man at the time, but Oscar, as he mentions in his book, went out of his way to avoid any competitive attitude during the interview. The Count however was quite prepared to show what he could still do, to Oscar and the audience’s obvious enjoyment! Here we had a man who was modest in his demeanour despite his many accolades and concerned that Bill Basie should be offered the respect he deserved.

This respect was shown to everyone who appeared on the show, be they musicians, entertainers, politicians or statesmen. Oscar could bring out the best in all of them with an easy style that would improve the performance of most of today’s crop of overhyped hosts. (Parko excepted). It is not surprising therefore that a man with all these talents should produce such an interesting book about his life and times. He tells his story in a straightforward and honest way, sensitive to the feelings of the people he writes about. Where he feels the need to be critical of the lifestyles of some of his contemporaries, he does not name them. He does however create wonderful word pictures of many of the great men of jazz with whom he so obviously enjoyed working. Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis and many more are all subjects of various texts.

When he is writing of the lack of public appreciation for this wonderful music we call jazz, he is less circumspect and I found his thoughts on this unfortunate state of affairs, sound and well considered and written. He also tackles the problem of racism from a black persons perspective and here to I found his words thought provoking, have I unintentionally given offence in that way?

He has some kind remarks for our own sadly lamented Benny Green, who was an associate producer of the Piano Parties. He has a great deal of praise for many of his contemporaries among keyboard players. His current Quartet, which he calls his NATO Band, shows just how much the quality of non-US jazz musicians has improved in the jazz world. His current band of course includes British drummer Martin Drew for whom he is also full of praise.

On the same JATP tour in 1955, was Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar’s detailed descriptions of working with her are an insight into her greatness. There is also some nice poetry included; Oscar has even more talents than I thought would be possible for one man.

This is a book that everyone who has lived through the Peterson era so far should read. For those younger people just getting involved, it is an essential guide to the jazz masters of the last 50 years. This is a great book from a great musician.

Essential reading for the jazz devotee.

Don Mather

 

 



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