Oscar Peterson piano solo
Pianist Oscar Peterson is frequently astounding on this solo set. After nearly 20 years of mostly performing with trios, Peterson sounds quite liberated in this setting, throwing in some hot stride, unexpected changes in tempos and keys, and surprises whenever he thinks of them. "Give Me the Simple Life," "Honeysuckle Rose," and the ironically titled "A Little Jazz Exercise" are quite remarkable, yet Peterson also leaves space for some sensitive ballads.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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A Tax-Exempt Pianist
In the original liner notes for the recordings at hand, Oscar Peterson's biographer Gene Lees assessed that, at that time, there were "surprisingly few solo piano albums in jazz". A really astonishing fact, since ragtime, the immediate precursor of jazz, had been a style which was principally performed by solo pianists.
Therefore, the tradition of the unaccompanied piano in jazz is reaching back to its very beginning, and there have been exceptional solo artists ever since. In the 1920s, Harlem became the heart of the pianistic evolution. James P.Johnson - 'The King of Stride' -, Luckey Roberts, Willie The Lion' Smith, Duke Ellington, and Fats Waller stepped onto the scene and gained not least an excellent reputation as soloists.
Certainly, occasional solo recordings of the aforementioned pioneers were released, and in the following, with the advent of commercial sound-carriers, piano connoisseurs could now and again enjoy the recorded solitude of Art Tatum. Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Erroll Garner, or Bill Evans, to name just a few. But still, a lot of their solo efforts should - for whatever reason - occur on record only posthumously. The dozy recording industry did not wake up until the early 70s when they started to produce a whole string of solo albums by stellar pianists like Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor.
Today, there's nothing uncommon in recording a piano solo album. But being a kind of certificate of artistic maturity, it remains the perhaps greatest challenge to keyboard artists and would-be virtuosos. All too often an applicant gets lost in the mist of smugly squabbles or circus caprioles. The essence of an artistically appealing solo performance of lasting fascination lies probably somewhere in between. It's the result of a fine balancing of technical dexterity and musical sensitiveness.
At the time Oscar Peterson recorded Tracks, the Canadian pianist had supplied plenty evidence of his multifaceted skills. And yet the album, originally released in 1971, was only his second solo record. Its predecessor had been the highly-acclaimed My Favorite Instrument, which Peterson made in 1968 on special request of producer Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer.
"My primary interest has always been playing with a trio or quartet", explains Peterson his late debut as a solo pianist. "For a long time, Norman Granz had been asking me to do a solo album, and so did Duke Ellington. When I went with Hans Georg he asked me, if I'd like to do a very personal album by doing a solo record. I agreed because it was exactly what I wanted to do. I had been prepared for the albums, and I knew the tunes and things I wanted to do."
Unlike Peterson's former (and later) producer Norman Granz, who often offered his own clear ideas at recording sessions, Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer gave the artist, who's looking forward to do a new solo album in 1995, absolutely free rein.
"The difference between Norman Granz and Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer was that Norman had been producing records for years. He knew each player very intimately and knew what their likes and dislikes were. So he could negotiate more musically with them, in a way, because he had been with them so long."
On Tracks Peterson took the chance to reflect in his playing the formative influence of the stride piano aces James P.Johnson and Fats Waller, the inescapable Art Tatum and (in "Django") John Lewis, but also of his favorite classical composers Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, and Franz Liszt.
"Of course I've been classically influenced by these composers and players. And I think, when you talk of a solo album, you have to deal with a kind of harmonic approach which brings it into that category again. I have been originally trained as a classical pianist, and so it's only natural that I need the idiom to accomplish the album."
The repertoire Peterson chose for Tracks assembled some of his all-time favorites and older compositions, like Ja Da and Just A Gigolo, he'd been playing for years. "The album is fairly evenly divided between driving, powerful, up-tempo performances and ballad playing",Gene Lees remarked in 1971."One might say that it represents two sides of Oscar's psyche: one of them exuberant, joyous, witty, and utterly confident; the other pensive, brooding, exploratory, and touched with a melancholy to which he refuses to surrender."
The powerful virtuoso Oscar Peterson grips the listener with the amazing independence of his two hands, terrific parallel runs, and breathtaking whirring trills. Give Me The Simple Life and Honeysuckle Rose, for example, show Peterson's brilliant technique and his unique approach to the blues and the stride piano style.
On the other hand, there is the tremendously sensitive ballad player Oscar Peterson who caresses, embraces, hugs a melody like his sweetheart. Basin Street Blues, the at times almost hymnic Dancing On The Ceiling and If I Should Lose You are exemplary for the pianist's balladic expressiveness. One of the emotional climaxes is certainly his incredibly tender rendition of Thad Jones' beautiful compositional gem A Child Is Born which, mentions Peterson, is "a very gorgeous composition and a tune I wish I had written".
Actually, Oscar Peterson is hardly known for his own compositions. The reason for that, however, is by no means his compositional passivity. "I've done quite a few compositions - more than 500 - which are now just starting to become released. I hadn't recorded that many of them, but they are now coming out on albums." A Little Jazz Exercise, the only track on this album composed by the pianist himself, is a playful miniature which could not have been better entitled.
In 1993, Peterson was the first jazz musician who received the Glenn Gould Prize which since 1987 is awarded every three years to an artist "whose exceptional contribution to music and its communication has won international acclaim". And Tracks grants a rare opportunity to experience Peterson's exceptional talents in purest fashion.
There should be no doubt that, after listening to Tracks, even the late English poetess Edith Sitwell, who once wished "the Government would put a tax on pianos for the incompetent", wouldn't levy a piano tax on Oscar Peterson's playing. But more likely some entertainment tax on listening to it.