Peterson considered and reconsidered

From a JBJ reader — and a surprise listening encounter:
Writes Paul Botts, first quoting another commenter on my earlier posting: ” ‘He was a jazz pianist for those who don’t really like jazz.’
Oh for…is it really necessary to regurgitate now the same nonsense that Peterson heard for 50 years? His having a grudge against jazz writers seems completely unsurprising to me.
As a lifelong jazz lover and a semi-professional jazz pianist myself, I’ve always loved the passion and flair and above all the wit of Oscar’s playing. And it has long struck me that critics who gloss over his astounding driving rhythmic power (including but not limited to that infectious driving swing) were missing something really damned important to jazz in particular. . Given his late-career writing and solo recording, for people in 2008 to be repeating the same 1960s conventional wisdom about his supposed lack of lyricism and exploration is just silly. And the other thing he did so so well is accompany great jazz singers — some of the sexiest music in my whole collection is on the album he recorded with Sarah Vaughan in about 1978.”
OK, I (HM) say — if Oscar Peterson’s your fave, don’t be dissuaded. The remark quoted about him being a jazz pianist for those who don’t like jazz wasn’t mine, though I agree he’s a pianist for those who don’t cotton to jazz’s relentless (and I believe, fundimental) experimental/developmental drive, and that appeals to the “classical” quality of his technique beg a basic issue.
As for comments taking my criticisms more harshly to task: Writers like me strive to make distinctions, to analyze in context, yes indeed to advance our own tastes — but essentially to enhance musics’ pleasures and enjoyments, not to detract from them. And opinions have shadings.
Case in point: Two days ago I made a rare car trip into Manhattan, with the radio turned to WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s estimable student-run station. For about an hour, bluesy piano music was programmed with no announcements crediting the players, just track after brief track of an old-school trio session. I guessed at the pianist’s identity.
Busier than Count Basie but with relaxed swing like Jay McShann’s, block chords a la Milt Buckner, some catchy melodic ideas akin to Nat Cole’s, balance like Ray Bryant, perfectly articulated single note runs almost as Art Tatum could deliver (but without Tatum’s arpeggiations), nice use of space in phrasing that didn’t strive to overwhelm yet not as airy as Teddy Wilson, expert boogie-woogie bass and delightfully contrary right hand motion a distance from Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson or Jimmy Yancey, an upbeat but also wistful quality — in all quite warm of touch and soothing. Yes, it was Peterson, in his first recordings from Montreal, 1945-46. I dug it, pleased to hear him sound like this.
Then the deejay began a lengthy monolog, and I switched to WBGO-FM, Newark’s NPR jazz station. More piano trio music, this time negotiating the bebop-based composition “Opus de Funk” that requires some tricky close-fingerings. Ah, more Peterson, I thought. But the announcer afterwards credited Horace Silver (who composed the song, and many others) in a recording from 1953.
So there was a quite a bit of that bluesy, swinging piano style existant some 50 years ago, which doesn’t take a thing away from someone like OP, who mastered the style and lived by its underlying, undying concept. But that’s not what jazz beyond jazz is about.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on RedditEmail this to someone