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Larry Kart

Oscar Peterson -- further thoughts

106 posts in this topic

I know -- we all know how we think about OP. But I had a bit of an oblique wake-up call today, when I picked up (the price was right) a Verve compilation "Oscar Peterson Plays Broadway" and found myself responding with a a good deal of pleasure to the first eight (of fifteen) tracks. Busy they were at times but also quite harmonically adventurous in a sly/clever Nat Cole-like manner.  Pretty much of a piece, and, in contrast to what most of us think as OP's characteristic manner, quite unbluesy for the most part, the earliest of these eight tracks came from 1950, the latest from 1954. Then we jump in time to 1958 and a near comically funky reading of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" (a dog tune to improvise on I'll admit -- at least IMO), and we're into the OP that some of us have little time for and some of us can't get enough of. What struck me, though, was how different the OP of the early '50s was from the OP of later on. Everyone is entitled to change over time, but I was startled by how considerable the change in OP was. 

At that point I took a break, but I have high hopes that the album's final track -- a near 12-minute "Body and Soul" from 1952 -- might be quite special.

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I'm glad you're finally coming to your senses...:ph34r:

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42.   Wasn't that the stock answer we were all supposed to use when the topic of OP came up?!  (And for the record, I've always liked him.)

 

 

gregmo

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I can't listen to the stuff he did in the 80s till his passing. He suddenly turned into  some horrible type of jazz cocktail pianist, leaving the pedal down too much, playing flowery lines and chords, playing at tempos he couldn't cut anymore, and  losing the great rhythmic drive he once had.

But his earlier stuff, while not uniformly to my liking, had some playing that is the essence of rhythmic drive in jazz, and unlike many jazz pianists, he always completed his lines, rather than dropping off in the middle of a phrase like many boppers.

He never deserved the treatment Fred Hersch gave him in that 'Do The Math' interview. A musician I play with who went to NEC the same time FH went, said that FH would come out of his lessons with Jaki Byard making fun of Jb and putting him down!

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I find the song "If You Only Knew" from an album called Live (1980s) is damn near as good as it gets with jazz piano. 

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1 hour ago, sgcim said:

He suddenly turned into  some horrible type of jazz cocktail pianist, leaving the pedal down too much, playing flowery lines and chords, playing at tempos he couldn't cut anymore, and  losing the great rhythmic drive he once had.

Don't forget that Peterson suffered a debilitating stroke in 1993, affecting his left side (the powerful, driving hand), and that he had suffered from arthritis for many years.  I was once told that he had trouble buttoning his shirts his hands would hurt so much...

Peterson was very close to quitting completely after the stroke, and bassist Dave Young used to show up at Peterson's home, not leaving until they had played for a while, increasing the intensity until the pianist agreed to perform again.

When he returned to playing the focus naturally enough turned to the less-afftected right hand, and I suppose he over-compensated with 'flowery lines'. The trios became quartets, with guitarists and drummers supplying the power.

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For the record, OP said in a DownBeat interview that this record contained his favorite of his own playing:

OSCAR_PETERSON_%26_MILT_JACKSON_AINT%2BB

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How many hands did he have at his disposal for that Christmas record? That worked out well, however many it was.

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Yes, I think that's one of the finest jazz Christmas albums (single artist) out there.

 

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I can see Larry's point about Early OP, though personally I find his playing offensive. Will check out those early Verves.

And my favorite remark about OP's work (cannot remember from whom) said, basically: "What is notable about Oscar Peterson's playing is not how easy he makes everything sound, but how equally difficult."

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1 hour ago, AllenLowe said:

And my favorite remark about OP's work (cannot remember from whom) said, basically: "What is notable about Oscar Peterson's playing is not how easy he makes everything sound, but how equally difficult."

It took me a while, but I great to enjoy Peterson's playing from his first Verve recordings to the MPS years and in part also beyond (though from around 1970 on I don't know his discography nearly as well as for the two decades prior to that) ... however, that remark strikes me as pretty much on the money, nonetheless.

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I find his "Night Child" album on the Pablo label to be quite interesting. He plays mostly electric piano. The album sounds very different from every other Oscar Peterson album. I think that he should have done more recording in this approach, exploring other things other than his fast mainstream playing.

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his opinions on Monk are relevant I think; he remarked that Monk was a composer, not a pianist. Hence Monk's remark when Leonard Feather played an OP record on a Blindfold Test: "Where is the toilet?" (If I am remembering correctly) -

During the 1970s I always asked pianists I knew what they thought of OP; one in particular did not like his playing (well known bebopper, recorded for Xanadu.....)

Dick Katz also used to remark that there was a difference between technique and facility.  And think of Phineas Newborn, who had every bit as much facility AND technique, but was a much deeper pianist.

Edited by AllenLowe
constipated

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Either way, he quite certainly wasn't the only one with a relevantly off opinion o Monk, even at that time, I should assume? 

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yes, Martial Solal expressed similar things, in an interview with Martin Williams and Dick Katz. And others thought the same, I am sure.

Edited by AllenLowe
pregnant

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It is good to see you back here on this board, Allen.

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2 hours ago, AllenLowe said:

yes, Martial Solal expressed similar things, in an interview with Martin Williams and Dick Katz. And others thought the same, I am sure.

The split made between the composer and the pianist is weird, too, coming from pianists all the more. They should know how difficult much of his music is to play ... or at least to play it in style. After all pretty much no pianist ever offered his own valid take on Monk, so why even try and pretend and bother about his compositions if they turn out way too neat if played by anyone other than the man himself? 

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Carpenters aren't usually architects, although I don't know if there's a foundational reason for that.

Monk was both, swung some mean hammers and created some outstanding blueprints.

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I should listen to some more of Peterson's  stuff as a leader. I mostly know him as part of the rhythm section on old Verve albums, but he leaves so little breathing room in his comping that I've never really wanted to explore further. Maybe I'll check out some of his earlier work.

As to the comments about Monk, surely OP and Monk had such different goals, it makes sense to me that OP never got Monk as a pianist. Can't really blame him.

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1 hour ago, Jams_Runt said:

As to the comments about Monk, surely OP and Monk had such different goals, it makes sense to me that OP never got Monk as a pianist. Can't really blame him.

So up to a point I agree.  But as someone who isn't agnostic on Monk vs. Peterson, I feel quite comfortable blaming him :)

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just an instructive thing: compare the way in which OP makes double-time runs to Bud Powell. Op is like a typewriter; it's just speed. With Powell it is as though each individual note is a thing in itself, leading to the next; there is a hollow ring to Bud's sound; much more drum-like.

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1 hour ago, AllenLowe said:

just an instructive thing: compare the way in which OP makes double-time runs to Bud Powell. Op is like a typewriter; it's just speed. With Powell it is as though each individual note is a thing in itself, leading to the next; there is a hollow ring to Bud's sound; much more drum-like.

Regardless of what I think of Oscar Peterson's music personally, I am confident that Oscar played like Oscar wanted to play.  

We may not like it.  We may even think that it's "bad art."  But -- from my point of view at least -- trying to judge or rank any artist relative to any other artist -- in an objective sense -- is a nearly pointless exercise.  

On the other hand, talking about artists that we like or dislike from a subjective point of view is an entirely different kettle of fish.  As long as we recognize that our preferences are really just that -- preferences. Nothing more, nothing less.

My 2 cents.

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well, that's kinda like saying we can't say Trump is worse than Obama - because it is so subjective. Or is Van Gogh equal to Keane (those paintings with the big eyes)? We make these judgements daily, on music, television, films, theater. We rank people, places, politicians, and artists. And we should.

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1 hour ago, AllenLowe said:

well, that's kinda like saying we can't say Trump is worse than Obama - because it is so subjective. Or is Van Gogh equal to Keane (those paintings with the big eyes)? We make these judgements daily, on music, television, films, theater. We rank people, places, politicians, and artists. And we should.

Well, I think you're taking my point to its logical extreme.  I'm not saying that all things are subjective in an absolute sense. That would be silly.

Just because I believe in a largely subjectivist perspective in the arts doesn't mean that I don't believe in objectivity in other spheres.  For example, everyone judges politicians based on non-subjective factors -- things like the rate of unemployment, the condition of the economy, their ability to pass legislation that betters the lives of the citizens that they represent.  Similarly, we can easily argue about sports -- because sports are overflowing with statistics and data to prove (or disprove) our point.  In both of these cases, there are readily agreed upon sets of data that constitute success or non-success.

I would argue that art is different precisely because there are no pre-determined rules.  There are conventions and traditions.  But these are often overturned by revolutionary artists. Consider: the very things that we love about Van Gogh would never have been understood by the generations of artists who preceded him. They would have thought he was a charlatan or worse.  The same could be said about Ives or Schoenberg or ...  many, many artists.

Another reason that I think that the world of art is different -- and requires a more subjective point of view -- is that art doesn't serve an external, secondary purpose. We can judge a doctor's actions by asking ourselves, "How well does this doctor heal patients?"  We can judge an athlete's performance by how many wins she get, or a batting average, or how many tackles he makes.  As I mentioned above, we judge politicians based on many objective criteria that measures their success in governance.

But I think we have to evaluate art differently.  By what secondary or external criteria do we judge a piece of music?  Or a novel?  Or a film?  All of the objective stuff that we use is based on things within the world of art itself.  There's no secondary or external result.  The meaning of art comes from our experience of it; it's not the thing that matters, as much as our reaction to it.  And this sort of meaning is -- by definition -- subjective.  

Having studied Charles Ives and his music, I hear one thing when I listen to his music.  When my daughter hears the exact same music, she hears something very, very different -- much more dissonant, much more off-putting.  Even though we're hearing the exact the same music, our fundamental experience of the music couldn't be more different.  And it's factors inside my consciousness and inside her consciousness that make the experience of Ives' music so different for each of us. 

I know I'm running on and on -- but I think this is missed again and again when we talk about the music that we love so much.  We speak as if music were like chess or sports or other things with pre-determined rules and external measures.  But it isn't. 

So... to bring it all back around: For me, there's a HUGE difference between saying "Oscar Peterson's music is bad" and saying "Oscar Peterson's music doesn't do anything for me."

 

Then again, others may think that I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. ;) 

Edited by HutchFan

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