Monday, December 24, 2007

Oscar Peterson Is Dead at 82

Say It Isn't So
I had passed out in my loft bed just after returning from a fervid X-mas Eve night over at "my babe's" swanky million-buck apartment where I ate smoked ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, topped off with chocolate cake and sherbet and then I had a Yuenling's Pale Ale and a couple'a shots of high-powered eggnog. I cabbed home, came in, went to bed, watched a CSI-Miami, they get more and more unbelievable every one I watch now--getting superhypey, fantastic for me--jive ass surreal shit--but anyway, after that show, I passed out, BAM. Dead in the bed. Then, I woke up suddenly. The teevee was on and I'll be damn, it was one of those blonde talking heads doing a substitute sit-in for a big regular talking head star who was out in her 10-million-dollar condo celebrating big-time X-mas shindigging and phonying "peace on earth and good will toward men" up all to shit--anyway, this substitute talking head blonde woke my ass wide awake as the first story I awoke to was that Oscar Peterson, hell, I'll say, the world's greatest jazz pianist ever--sorry, I'm telling ya the gospel truth about this man--I awoke to this damn woman saying the greatest pianist who ever lived was DEAD! No! I shouted. Oscar, you can't leave us, man; come on back, man; you've got another set to play, man. And there is no answer. So it's true, Oscar Peterson is dead--at 82 this woman said, dead at 82 of kidney failure--oh shit, man, what's that, diabetes? shit, uremia? Oscar? Come on, man, say something in your defense against what this blonde talking head who doesn't know you're the greatest jazz pianist who ever lived is warbling--get her in key, Oscar--oh I know--Monk's a great pianist but he's more of a great original whole of a music; and Bud Powell, yes, ding dong great, but of a new school; Oscar came out of the old school, the classical trained prodigy from Montreal, Canada, discovered by Norman Granz who hired Oscar as his Jazz at the Philharmonic series as house pianist, organizing while within the JATP touring, the original Oscar Peterson Trio, of Ray Brown on bass, and Barney Kessell on guitar. Oscar made his debut with the JATP when he was 19, in 1944, and played with the JATP on into the 50s when he then began his fabulous career with his first trio issuing many Norman Granz-produced albums in the 50s with all the jazz giants of that era--Oscar recorded with Prez; with Diz; with Hamp; with Little Jazz; with Louis Armstrong; with Ella; with Benny Carter; with Buddy Rich--and then he started recording those unforgettable albums own his own--too many to list--and at the height of the progressive jazz era in the late fifties and early sixties on down to just a decade ago, Oscar P. and Ella Fitzgerald became the highest paid-ever jazz performers--both getting at one time, 15,000-bucks a gig--that's big-time in jazz, folks. Oscar had his career jeopardized in the late 90s when he had a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side and with limited use of his left hand--that wild left hand had been stilled a bit though he was still able to use his right hand with the same blistering degree he could before the stroke--so he adjusted and kept on concertizing up into the 2000s--I don't know, sorry Oscar, it was cool, but it just wasn't the same after that, which Oscar admitted and retired with his wife and kids to Toronto where his life ended. Oscar was a proud Canadian all his life; he was honored by the Canadian people with his own government-provided Website and he was honored by being admitted to the Canadian Hall of Fame along with ex-Prime Ministers and Industrialists.

I had several chances to see Oscar live, once when the JATP was doing a concert in Austin, Texas, when I was in college--I was going, but it was canceled at the last minute when Ella and some fellas were busted for shooting dice backstage at the first concert--then here in New York City, several times, though he was always at a high-end venue--his last gigs here were at the Carlyle Hotel, keiko-muckity-muck joint--75-buck cover charge, two-drink minimum, and forget it if you eat--and I just couldn't afford to go. So I never got to see Oscar in person, but I did hear him from--well, the first album of his I ever bought I had no idea who he was--it was an RCA-Victor 10" LP, recorded in Montreal, with a couple of bushleaguer sidemen (Montreal radio studio dudes), and Oscar playing all-out, amazin'-amazin'-amazin', virtuosic boogie-woogie. And on the cover of that LP was the doll-like (youthful) face of under-20 Oscar Peterson, the phenom from Montreal, classically trained until he heard Art Tatum and Nat "King" Cole, also the greatest piano players who ever lived--you understand? What a world Oscar got to perform in. And what a grand performer he was, tireless, a constant streaming of unbelievable weavings and unravelings and then swoopings and divings and then crashing thunders and hard-slamming right hand triple-stepping in 32nd-note gallops so fast sometimes they made you head spin. And then Herb Ellis joined the trio and one of the greatest jazz trios ever was formed--and my God listen to these three wizards on that phony At the Concertgebouw album--it was actually recorded in Los Angeles--Granz had planned an actual O.P. concert at the Concertgebouw but it was cancelled--but the album covers were already printed up, so, what the hell, let it go. It was years before anybody discovered the album really wasn't Oscar, Ray, and Herb live at the Concertgebouw. What did I care? I first heard that album one afternoon over at my hometown best pal's apartment--his family had released him to live on his own even though he was still under 18. He had a hi-fi and he started buying albums before I started buying albums and one afternoon he slipped that phony-titled LP on his hi-fi and from that afternoon for the rest of that summer, I would go over there and put that LP on the turntable and put my ear up against that big speaker box and then let Oscar, Ray, and Herb wail, and wail they do on that album. The energy. The flamboyance. The tightness. The ability to do note-for-note tricking--guitar and bass playing piano notes, piano notes that sometimes flurried or sometimes smeared down like a bolt of zigzag lightning out of a threatening sky--and Oscar Peterson's way of playing the piano stunned me and I was trying to be a piano player but after hearing Oscar, I wasn't for sure any more the rest of my life about my piano playing.

No, come on, Oscar, say you ain't dead, man--I have the DVD of you live as hell in Montreaux back in, Jesus, back in '81, and now on that DVD you're dead as well as your bass-playing, hard-drinking Nils Orstead-Pederson--another Peterson--and Little Jazz is now gone--Holy Jesus. I sometimes think I wish I hadn't lived this long myself to see all of my heroes dead and gone, so many of them--and like when my brother died it surprised me because I never thought he would die, same thing with Oscar P. I never thought he would die, but then I said that when Miles died...and when Diz died...and just a year ago when Jay McShann died...time rolls on and rolls right over us no matter how great while living we were. Damn you, DEATH, you killed Oscar, you bastard!
The great Oscar Peterson Trio--Ray Brown, Oscar, and Herb Ellis.
Young Oscar at home with his mother and his brother, Charles.
Oscar at Montreux in 2006.

I love ya, O.P. I still don't believe you're dead. I know damn well you ain't gone.

thegrowlingwolf (in humble respect)
for The Daily Growler

1 comment:

Marybeth said...

Yes, damn you death, you killed Miles and Oscar and my father too and I still can't imagine a world without him, my oh so funny, sweet, warm and loving father.
So Merry Christmas, old growly pants, you shy shadow of a shy wolf, you.