Oscar Peterson - piano; Ray Brown - bass; Ed Thigpen - drums
The Oscar Peterson Trio's appearance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival coincided with a flood of Great American Songbook releases by the great pianist for the Verve label (produced by Norman Granz), covering classic material by such popular composers as Cole Porter, Jimmy McHugh, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Harry Warren. With longstanding collaborator Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums, Peterson unleashed his dazzling keyboard facility on his inspired Saturday night set at Freebody Park.
They opening with a swinging take on "Softly as in a Morning's Sunrise," an elegant Sigmund Romberg-Oscar Hammerstein II tune from the 1928 operetta The New Moon which subsequently became a jazz standard, recorded by everyone from Artie Shaw and John Coltrane to George Benson and the Modern Jazz Quartet. They next jump into a sprightly uptempo romp through "Billy Boy," the traditional American nursery rhyme popularized in the jazz world through separate 1958 recordings by Ahmad Jamal (At the Pershing Room) and Miles Davis (Milestones). Their effervescent, swinging chemistry and strong rapport are in evidence on this kinetic rendition, which is fueled by drummer Ed Thigpen's deftness with both brushes and sticks. Brown also turns in a resounding bass solo here while Peterson engages in some fiery call-and-response exchanges with Thigpen before dropping in a quote from Milt Jackson's "Spirit Feel" in the middle of his whirlwind solo.
Next up is Ray Brown's jaunty "Waltzing is Hip," which is underscored by Thigpen's elegant brushwork. It's easy to see from this tune how the drummer got his nickname, "Mr. Taste." Thigpen starts off the fiery "Cubano Chant" by playing on his drums with bare hands rather than sticks to affect a conga sound, engaging Peterson in some spirited call-and-response. Their crisp arrangement on the intricate head showcases the uncanny tightness that was a characteristic of the Peterson trio, then it's off to the races on a breakneck bop-informed blowout with Thigpen swinging frantically on the kit and Peterson flashing his unparalleled chops. They close out their set in dynamic fashion with Peterson's earthy "Blues for Big Scotia," which allows the great pianist to indulge his passion for playing a straight blues. (The familiar three-note signature at the very end of this piece reveals Peterson's life-long love of Count Basie).
He was called the "Maharaja of the keyboard" by Duke Ellington, "O.P." by his friends and was widely regarded a member of jazz royalty. In Canada -- where he received many honorary doctorate degrees, was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (the country's highest civilian order for talent and service), was a member of the Order of Ontario and had schools and concert halls named after him -- he was generally regarded as a distinguished public figure as well as a legendary figure in jazz history. Peterson released over 200 recordings, won seven Grammy Awards, received other numerous awards and honors, and played thousands of live concerts to audiences all over the world in a career lasting more than 65 years.
Born on August 15, 1925 in the poor, predominantly black neighborhood of Little Burgundy in Montreal, Peterson began playing piano at age five and by age nine had already mastered several classical pieces as well as ragtime and boogie woogie numbers. In 1940, at age 14, he won a national music competition organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and soon after dropped out of school to become a professional pianist, working for a weekly radio show while also playing at hotels and music halls around Montreal. In 1949, his career got a big boost when impresario Norman Granz introduced Peterson at a Jazz at the Philharmonic show at New York's Carnegie Hall. He subsequently recorded several brilliant duo and trio recordings for Granz's Clef, Norgran and Verve labels and through his many Jazz at the Philharmonic engagements was able to play with many major jazz artists of the day, including Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Buddy Rich, Milt Jackson, Barney Kessel, Louis Armstrong, Stéphane Grappelli, Ella Fitzgerald, Clark Terry, Joe Pass, Anita O'Day, Fred Astaire, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz.
In the 1970s, Peterson formed another landmark trio with virtuoso guitarist Joe Pass and Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (which emulated the success of Peterson's 1950s trio with guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown). Through the 1970s, he participated in several all-star sessions for Granz's new label, Pablo Records, with the likes of Count Basie, Roy Eldridge, Zoot Sims, Joe Pass, Clark Terry, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Harry "Sweets" Edison and Dizzy Gillespie. In the 1980s, he played successfully in a duo with pianist Herbie Hancock. Following a stroke in 1993, Peterson returned to pubic performances on a limited basis beginning in 1995 and also made several live trio recordings for the Telarc label. In 1997, he received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and an International Jazz Hall of Fame Award. In 1999, he joined forces with longtime friends and colleagues Ray Brown on bass and Milt Jackson on vibraphones for the Telarc recording The Very Tall Band: Live at the Blue Note. His last recording, 2004's A Night in Vienna, was released on Verve and featured guitarist Ulf Wakenius, bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pederson and drummer Martin Drew. Peterson died of kidney failure on December 23, 2007. (Milkowski)