Home » ALBUM NOTES » Oscar Peterson, 1957,1958,1961

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "oscar peterson"

The Three Musketeers

« One for all, all for one. Its’ the three musketeers. That kind of a group. » Pianist Oscar Peterson is being interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting System. The network is producing a documentary about one of the better known canadian artist, « Music in the Key of Oscar ». It’s in 1995, and the « chubby baby » of grand piano (6ft2, 265 lbs, 70 years old) is touring once more after reuniting his 1950s trio –« the best trio in the world » according to the musician – with Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar. More than 45 years on the road or in the recording studios, essentially with « the man with the junglesque eyebrows », promoter Norman Granz, the creator of the Top School of Jazz, Jazz at the Philharmic, JATP.

Right from the beginning, Peterson actually was the cornerstone of  JATP. As early as 1952 he was part of the European leg of the tour. The set up was always the same : Norman Granz would gather all the artists for a few rehearsals in early autumn, then, after touring America, he would embark the whole gang for the rest of the world, spring being reserved as a rule to Europe. For Oscar, this was a way to discover a new continent, with a very different attitude from the US state of mind at that time: « One day, just after the war, we were in Paris with Norman Granz, and we went into a bar.We were drinking at the counter,and there were a couple of marines sitting in a corner .They started sneering,calling me a nigger and so on… The other people in the bar became aware of what they were doing, so everybody got up and stood at the counter beside us. Those marines that we ran into served as a reminder that things hadn’t changed in the US. »[1]

For Peterson, JATP had become a true school of life. « You can’t travel with JATP without learning something. Roy Eldridge,  Dizzy, Ellla and the gang taught me many things. Not only about playing music, but about living life. To me this was serious business, but to them, this was just another gig. » This annual voyage served a master plan for Granz : « We travelled around the world with Norman…And got what he always wanted : some respectability for jazz. We wanted to take it out of the back alley clubs and give it some dignity as an art form…And in Europe, genuine appreciation. »[2]

And thus the « stunning virtuoso » was thrown into the vortex of the great capitals of jazz. The man remained discreet and gracious, mingling at the same time with the jet set crowds,  in Paris for instance. In ’55, he is at the American Legion of France having his picture taken with the local jazz musicians of the time, Stéphane Grapelli and Sacha Distel. Maurice Chevalier comes up to him and aks for his autograph. In ’57, at the after-hours party at the Club Saint Germain, he persuaded a very exhausted Ella to grant him a feverish jitterbug dance.[3]

The anchor of the JATP team was back on the road in ’58 for the last lap with guitarist Herb Ellis – «A Texas lad who has learned to play the blues »[4] and cook up an ironclad swing. Two years later, in March 1960, there he was again opening the Paris  jam sessions with Stan Getz, Miles Davis and John Coltrane in  the second part of the concert. « Peterson doesn’t pretend he wants to revolutionize jazz, nor to shake the foundations of jazz piano like Monk does » writes Jazz Magazine after hearing Oscar play in February ’61. « He’s a fair and generous player, a hard-grunting performer, his head tilted on the instrument whose keys moan from the labour inflicted by his dynamite-loaded fingers. » French jazz lovers finally acknowledged the man’s talent. The year-end poll taken by the magazine placed him in fourth place behind Monk, Garner and John Lewis. Meanwhile, Ed Thigpen had taken over Herb Ellis’ spot, drums had replaced guitar, and the trio had acquired more percussive dynamics.

The 1962 JATP recordings probably mark the fullness of the new group. The trio runs like a well broken-in Ferrari generating  strong  jazz, a « full bodied » kind of music[5]. It’s a growing coherence that sends the sourpusses back to the shower… The March 62 set list of the trio turned the spotlight on the musical West Side Story, whose filmed version had just been released in France.Was this a special request choice from Peterson ? « Well, the numbers in  our repertoire are not selected by myself or anybody in particular. One of our main goals as a trio is to achieve a close cooperation. So it’s by mutual agreement that we decide to include such and such tune in our list. We have but one special criterion, and that’s our common taste. »[6] This perfect match was especially heard in the resounding note of Ray Brown’s bass. The man was a permanent partner of Peterson from ‘49 to ‘66. When the two reunited in the 90s, Ray Brown told how much he admired the pianist : « It’s a man who doesn’t know how really gifted he is…He’s able to get his emotions out, whatever they are…Tragedy, comedy, he gets them out. [7]» Ray and Oscar were like brothers in a music with an unforced and vibrant sense of swing.

Sometimes the brothers could be mischevious. Norman Granz : « Oscar tries in every situation to find the humor of it. He’s a great practical joker. He fell right in with the attitude of Jazz at the Phil,  because my whole idea of music then was that it should be happy music. » It would be too fastidious to tell all the jokes Peterson played on Brown –loosening the G string of his bass several turns just before taking the stage – or Brown on Peterson – Putting  a handful of small steel balls into the piano. These produced an impressive cacophony when Peterson tried to play and he had to reach over with one hand to try and pick the balls out of the instrument … As Ella confided, « It was just such a happy thing all working together…There was no ‘I’m better than you’ thing…We would all go out for each other to make the show, and that’s why JATP has been so successful. [8]»

As for Oscar, it was a matter of perfect virtuosity. This exceptional talent took however a little while to be acknowledged. It is a tribute to Norman Granz who took upon himself to book the pianist from the first JATP tours : «I’m a promoter, I didn’t have to ask anody if they wanted Oscar… I would rent the hall, do the publicity, and in effect Oscar had another outlet for his talent. Because he maintained the standards of his music, never lowered it, it finally got across to the people…This was a permanent kind of an artist. »[9]

The master of the keyboard was also strongly admired by his peers. Three of them payed a somewhat malicious tribute to him. First of all, Nat King Cole, who invited him as a guest star in his 1957 TV special. The elegant-and-talented-jazzman-turned-crooner warned him right form the start : « I’ll make a deal with you, Oscar. You don’t sing and I won’t play the piano. »

Some years later, Quincy Jones related a somewhat similar situation : « I was at a tribute to Ella, and Benny Carter came up to me and said ‘Get up from the piano, Oscar is in the house ! Leave the piano !’…It’s true, who wants to be sitting at a piano when Oscar Peterson comes…Find something else to do ! This man is dangerous. »[10]

And finally Ray Charles. On Canadian TV in 1974, the two artists met again. Ray leaned towards Oscar and muttered : « I must say Oscar, I play a little piano, and all of us piano players share the same feeling on Oscar Peterson…

OP : What’s that ?

RC : Well, we just like to be left alone ! »

The four musketeers departed almost together : Ray Brown died in 2002, Herb Ellis  and Ed Thigpen in 2010. The « debonnaire giant who played faster than his shadow » in 2007.

Michel Brillié


Looking back at these few pages, I feel they shouldn’t end with a sad note. So I can’t resist slipping in this story which is, in a way, the best tribute to Oscar Peterson.

It happened in a plane, in first class, no doubt. Ahmet Etergun, President and co-founder of Atlantic Records (Ray Charles, Modern Jazz Quartet, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Mingus and a few dozens more…including Erroll Garner) found that the person sitting next to him was the composer of ‘Misty’. Here’s Ertegun to tell the story himself : « We were going to L.A., and so we hugged one another and started talking about this and that. There were these two guys dressed in business suits with briefcases – they looked like stockbrokers – sitting across the aisle from us.

So once we were up in the air one of these guys came over and said to Erroll, « Excuse me, sir, I don’t mean to interrupt your conversation, but if you don’t mind I would just like to shake your hand and thank you for all of the wonderful, wonderful hours of great pleasure you’ve given to so many people with your beautiful music. » So Erroll said, « Oh man, this is great, thank you. » Then the guy said, « Do you mind, my friend is also a great music lover and would love to comme over and say hello to you. Can I ask him ? » Erroll said, « Sure », so the guy said, « Jim, come over and shake hands with Oscar Peterson ! »

Erroll turned to me and said, « What should I do ? »

I said, « Shake the man’s hand, Oscar… »[11]


[1] Oscar Peterson, Music in the Key of Oscar, CBC 1995

[2] Oscar Peterson, Music in the Key of Oscar, CBC 1995

[3] Photo Stories in Jazz Magazine, March 1953 & May 1957

[4] Oscar Peterson, Music in the Key of Oscar, CBC 1995

[5] Jazz Magazine May 1957

[6] Jazz Magazine May1962

[7] Ray Brown, Music in the Key of Oscar, CBC 1995

[8] Ella Fitzgerald, Music in the Key of Oscar, CBC 1995

[9] Norman Granz, Music in the Key of Oscar, CBC 1995


[10] Quincy Jones, Music in the Key of Oscar, CBC 1995



[11] What’d I Say : The Atlantic Story, A Publishing Company Limited  &The Orion Publishing Group Limited, 2001