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
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.