Oscar Peterson - piano; Ray Brown - bass; Ed Thigpen - drums
An extremely gifted pianist with astonishing technique and an elegant touch on ballads, Canadian jazz musician Oscar Peterson burst on the scene in the 1940s as the heir apparent to the great Art Tatum. A gentle man from Montreal, Peterson was a favorite on the Jazz at the Philharmonic circuit during the late '40s and later established an exquisite chemistry with the world-class rhythm tandem of bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen. This was Peterson's working trio from 1959 through 1966, and together they made several classy recordings for the Verve label, including successful Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers & Hart songbooks. Their appearance at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival came on the heels of their collaboration with arranger Nelson Riddle, renowned for his gorgeous, easy-listening collaborations with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
The Peterson trio makes a big impression coming out of the gate with a hip arrangement of "Fly Me to the Moon" that is brimming over with clever re-harmonizations, tightly executed unison lines at the top between pianist and bassist, and an irrepressible, interactive sense of swing from Thigpen. Peterson's frenetic, swinging lines are his calling card here, steeped in the tradition of his piano heroes Teddy Wilson, Nat Cole, and Art Tatum. The trio's inventive 4/4 take on "Someday My Prince Will Come," the gentle waltz tune introduced in the 1939 Disney animated feature Snow White and later covered by the Miles Davis Quintet in their 1961 recording of the same name, has Peterson swinging nonchalantly while extrapolating on the familiar theme with some dazzling right hand lines. Brown anchors this jaunty four-on-the-floor number with his resounding tones and inimitable walking groove while Thigpen again plays it interactively and intuitively on the kit, responding to Peterson's accents and phrasing while simultaneously keeping the momentum moving forward with his unerring time feel.
Peterson's melancholy ballad "Nightingale," which appeared on the Oscar Peterson Trio & Nelson Riddle album released on Verve earlier that year, is underscored by Brown's bowed bass work at the outset and Thigpen's sensitive brushes and mallets playing throughout. By the 2:30 mark they are cooking on a low flame, swinging lightly and politely with Thigpen's brushes and hi-hat setting the tone. The dynamic gradually builds and by the 4:30 mark, with Thigpen now switched over to sticks on the kit, they are grooving hard in a Count Basie tradition. Peterson and crew close out with the up-tempo, blues-tinged swinger "Squeaky's Blues," which opens with a full 2:22 of unaccompanied virtuosity by the Canadian keyboard marvel before the rhythm section enters. Bassist Brown gets a significant solo taste at the four-minute mark against Thigpen's deftly swinging and sensitive brushwork and Peterson's sparse accompanied. Then Thigpen enters the fray with some masterfully melodic playing on the kit before the three bring this ebullient romp home in exhilarating fashion.
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 Orsted Pederson, and drummer Martin Drew. Peterson died of kidney failure on December 23, 2007.
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. This particular July day in 1964 at Newport captures the legendary pianist at the peak of his powers. (Milkowski)