The legendary Oscar Peterson would have turned 90 this year. To commemorate, his wife Kerry decided to produce an album of his compositions on his old piano performed by his old friends. She launched it with a special concert last night at Koerner Hall. I was lucky enough to be there.
It was pure serendipity. Got the last tickets, high in the upper balcony looking far down to the stage. I felt like a voyeur at a wonderful private party. 8 artists played a mix of Peterson’s songs on his Bosendorfer Imperial piano that they had somehow moved from the basement studio of his house in Mississauga.
I am ashamed of how little I knew about Peterson. I had listened to Night Train and heard stories of his performances at the Purple Onion on Bloor Street. Turns out he played everything from Bach to Beatles, won a multitude of awards, including 8 Grammys and collaborated with everyone who was anyone in the jazz world. Duke Ellington called him the “Maharaja of the keyboard” while Ray Charles noted, “Oscar could play like a motherfucker”. He wrote thousands of hours of music.
His daughter Celine hosted the evening, introducing the songs and the performers with personal stories, occasionally forgetting her formal role; calling him Dad. So charming! My favorite anecdote was hearing about Uncle Olli (pianist Oliver Jones to the rest of us) and her father taking piano lessons from Peterson’s sister Daisy when they were kids together in Montreal. Jones played Celine’s Waltz. Peterson had played the song to her all her life but had never recorded it. I choked back tears.
When she introduced her mother, the crowd rose to their feet. Kelly spoke of the challenges of getting this labour of love produced. She has originally assumed a record label would leap at the chance…. A bunch of great (and famous) musicians interpreting a great man’s music… seemed like a slam-dunk. Not one was interested. She had to do it herself. The record (I’m old fashioned, plan to buy it on vinyl!) features never before released compositions as well as a few old favourites.
If Gerald Clayton’s recording of Hymn to Freedom is even half as good as his live rendition last night, it is worth buying the album for that alone. It may just be the perfect gift to find under the tree this year. http://www.oscarwithlove.com