Thursday, 10 January 2008

Remembering Oscar Peterson

The prodigiously gifted, supremely polished, and amazingly prolific (he made more than 200 albums) jazz maestro Oscar Peterson died in Totonto, Canada, at the ripe old age of 82. The man whom Duk Ellington described as the ‘maharaja of keyboard’ was not keeping good health in recent years. He was troubled by arthritis and allegedly also had a stroke a few years ago. According to a close friend, Peterson was going downhill in the past few months; when the end came it was due to kidney failure.

I got introduced to the intricate artistry of Oscar Peterson relatively late. It must be more than two decades ago that, at an evening party given by a then acquaintance, who was a jazz aficionado, I heard ‘Hymn to Freedom’. I never, alas!, saw him performing live—he was apparently very strict about the code of conduct and was known to have walked out of live performances when he felt that the audience was not paying attention—but have derived hours of pleasure listening to his inventive compositions, phrasing, and unique timing. There isn’t a mood that is not explored by Oscar Peterson and which will not be a perfect accompaniment to your frame of mind.

The man who became a legend in his lifetime for his ability to play at breakneck speed and swing at the same time started his training as a classical pianist apparently at the behest of his disciplinarian father who looked askance at his son’s jazz aspirations. But that was not to be. An admirer of Art Tatum—he later said that he was profoundly influenced by Tatum’s format—Peterson, according to many, went on to achieve the same level of virtuosity as his icon.

The pedants insinuated that the refulgent technical wizardry of Peterson was a patina, barely concealing lack of authenticity. His playing was contemptuously dismissed, at one stage, as ‘music for Pavlov’s dogs’. These views, allegedly shared by Miles Davis, have been strewn away with the passage of time as leaves in a gale. What has survived is the coruscant repertoire Peterson has left behind, which, I am sure of this, will be heard in hundred years’ time. May his soul rest in peace.

Here is a list of my some of my favourite Oscar Peterson compositions:

1. Hymn to Freedom
2. Night Train
3. Summertime
4. Georgia on My Mind
5. Someone to Watch Over Me
6. The Windmills of Your Mind
7. I Love Paris
8. It Ain’t Necessarily So
9. Diango
10. In the Still of the Night