Legend has it that Norman Granz wanted to introduce Oscar Peterson to America through his Carnegie Hall concerts, but the Canadian citizen couldn't obtain a work visa to allow him to appear. So Granz planted him in the audience and asked him to appear on stage with bassist Ray Brown for a set. The pianist wowed the crowd and became the talk of the town immediately afterward.
Those performances from 1949 are captured at the beginning of Birth Of A Legend, where we hear a flashy, dynamic virtuoso bound and determined to wow the crowd. His is a performance determined to turn heads, but obviously it's also in need of some restraint and nuance to allow him to become a successful interpreter of tunes.
Flash forward to 1952 and 1953 to later appearances at Carnegie Hall, and we can see how far Peterson had come. Now he appears with two configurations of his trio, which made the best use of the Nat King Cole sound other than Cole himself. Peterson and Brown are present on all ten tracks, joined on half by Barney Kessel and half by Herb Ellis, both on guitar. Peterson needed the extroverted tendencies of both men to balance out his sound, and neither disappoints.
At heart the Carnegie Hall concerts were blowing sessions, and thus everyone is a little more dynamicfast tunes and not ballads are on the menu. Peterson's work with Kessel is in short supply currently, and it is a treat to hear him cut loose with his usual wit and pluck. For his part Ellis gets more breathing room (in the fold longer, the trio was able to refine the symbiotic relationship) and gets the spotlight on several tunes.
The crowd seemed to eat this stuff up, judging by its reaction to both groups. Audience members may have been whipped into a frenzy already by who came before, but no doubt Peterson was at least able to keep the fires burning. These Carnegie Hall concerts are a treat for those who like hot playingand a welcome addition to the Peterson catalog.
Personnel: Oscar Peterson: piano; Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis: guitar; Ray Brown: bass.