Oscar Peterson

652602-ed-thigpen-batterie-ray-brownOscar Peterson (1925-2007) grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Montreal, Canada. Peterson studied piano as a child with Hungarian-born pianist Paul de Marky, a student of Istvan Thomán who was himself a pupil of Franz Liszt. His training was predominantly classical, but he was always interested in jazz. In 1940 Peterson won the national music competition organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and became a professional pianist working for a weekly radio show and playing at local hotels. Peterson’s earliest jazz influences include Teddy Wilson, Nat “King” Cole, James P. Johnson, and Art Tatum. Tatum was a model for Peterson’s musicianship during the 1940s and 1950s and they eventually became good friends. An important step in his career was joining impresario Norman Granz’s “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concert series. In 1949, Granz introduced Peterson at a Carnegie Hall Jazz at the Philharmonic show in New York. The trio quickly became Oscar’s preferred setting and his 1st important trio featured bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Barney Kessel.

Oscar Peterson - Episode 1

CompositionArtistAlbumYear
Something’s ComingOscar PetersonWest Side Story1962
Carolina ShoutFats Waller1941
YesterdaysArt Tatumca. 1945
RosettaTeddy Wilson1934
This Side UpNat Cole1940
Get HappyOscar PetersonOscar Peterson Duo1950
Just Sittin’ and Rockin’Oscar PetersonPlays the Music of Duke1952

Oscar Peterson - Episode 2

Barney Kessel left the trio after a year, and was replaced guitarist by Herb Ellis. The addition of Ellis added a new dimension to the group. As Ellis was white, Peterson's trios were racially integrated, a controversial move at the time that was fraught with difficulties while touring. Peterson’s manager, Norman Granz, often had to intercede, standing up for Oscar and other black jazz musicians in the segregationist south of the 1950s and 1960s. Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival is widely regarded as the landmark album in Peterson's career. The arrangements are outstanding and the group sounds much larger than a trio. Check out the burning version of “52nd Street Theme” from this album; the intricate lines are executed flawlessly. Their last recording together, On the Town with the Oscar Peterson Trio, recorded live at the Town Tavern in Toronto, captured the group at its best. When Herb Ellis left the group in 1958, Peterson and Brown believed they could not adequately replace their guitarist. Ellis was eventually replaced by drummer Ed Thigpen in 1959. Brown and Thigpen worked with Peterson on many great albums including Night Train, Canadiana Suite, and The West Side Story.
CompositionArtistAlbumYear
Swinging on a StarOscar PetersonStratford Shakespearean Festival1956
How About YouOscar PetersonStratford Shakespearean Festival1956
Noreen’s NocturneOscar PetersonStratford Shakespearean Festival1956
52nd Street ThemeOscar PetersonStratford Shakespearean Festival1956
When the Lights are LowOscar Peterson.Live at the Civic Opera House1957

Oscar Peterson - Episode 3

When Ellis was replaced by drummer Ed Thigpen in 1959 it opened avenues for a new directions and sounds for the trio. Thigpen was an excellent choice for the group; he was a master of using brushes and could swing very hard at fast tempos. Brown and Thigpen worked with Peterson on his famous albums Night Train, The Trio Live From Chicago, and The West Side Story. The tracks on this podcast come from these classic recordings and chronicle some their best work from this period.
CompositionArtistAlbumYear
Something’s ComingOscar PetersonWest Side Story1962
Jet SongOscar PetersonWest Side Story1962
In the Wee Small HoursOscar PetersonThe Trio Live From Chicago1961
DahoudOscar PetersonThe Trio Live From Chicago1961
Honey DripperOscar PetersonNight Train1962

Oscar Peterson - Episode 4

Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen left the group in 1965 were replaced by bassist Sam Jones and drummer Bobby Durham. The trio performed together until 1970. Peterson played in a variety of settings: solo, duo, trio, quartet, small bands, and big bands. However, his solo piano recitals, as well as his solo piano recordings were rare, until he chose to make a series of solo albums titled "Exclusively for my friends." These outstanding solo piano sessions were made for the Musik Produktion Schwarzwald (MPS) label.

Many critics feel that Peterson's best recordings were made for MPS in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the 1970’s Peterson formed another landmark trio with guitarist Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass. This trio emulated the success of the 1950s trio with Brown and Ellis, gave acclaimed performances at numerous festivals, and made a number of best-selling recordings.
CompositionArtistAlbumYear
My RomanceOscar PetersonExclusively for My Friends1969
Dancing on the CeilingOscar PetersonTracks (solo piano)1970
Blues EtudeOscar PetersonThe Trio1973