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Oscar Peterson: Oscar Peterson Plays

Dan McClenaghan By

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Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) was just starting what turned out to be terrific career in 1951 when jazz impresario extraordinaire Norman Granz took him into the studio to record Plays Cole Porter (Clef Records, 1952). Granz had a grand plan: To have this then-promising jazz pianist record a number of albums under the Oscar Peterson Plays tag, each an immersion into a separate Great American Songbook tunesmith. It started with Cole Porter and ran through George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Vincent Youman, Harry Warren, Harold Arlen and Jimmy McHugh—ten albums in all, over a three year period. The idea was a marketing ploy that worked to perfection; it worked so well, in fact, that Granz started the same ball rolling in 1959 with another set—nine albums this time—embracing the same theme. This later series was called The Songbooks, released on his Granz' Verve Records label, covering mostly the same songwriters.

Oscar Peterson Plays collects the earlier series of ten albums—on five discs, two albums per—featuring the Oscar Peterson Trio: Peterson on piano, with bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Barney Kessel, with Herb Ellis taking over the guitar chair in the later sessions. This group—along with pianist Ahmad Jamal's trio of the early fifties—defined the piano/guitar/bass line-up.

Peterson, born in 1925, was in his mid-to-late twenties at the time these tracks were laid down. His sound was consistently classy and first rate here, as it was for his entire career. This three year, ten album project certainly brought his profile—at that early stage in the career game—up to the next level. Smart marketing combined with impeccable taste and technique and the best songs out there can do that.

A touchstone for Peterson's style can be found in the artistry of pianist Art Tatum (1909-1956)—the light, sparkling touch, the joyous swing, the uplifting ebullience. The rapid-fire notes, the unabashed elegance. It was an approach/style that was fully formed at the time of these recordings.

The trio is in consistently excellent form here, so picking of a favorite of these jewels will probably depend on personal preference for a favorite among the songwriters involved. Certainly the Cole Porter set will have its adherents—the disc starts with a peak on that most-covered of Great American Songbook tunes, "What Is This Thing Called Love?," that levels off in a high plateau with "Begin The Beguine" and "I've Got You Under My Skin." Others will go for the George Gershwin or the Duke Ellington sets, or any of the others. These featured songwriters are the greatest contributors to greatness of American music, their tunes interpreted by one of the finest pianists of all time.

Track Listing: CD1: What Is This Thing Called Love?; Begin The Beguine; I've Got You Under My Skin; Love For Sale; Let's Do It; I Love You; So Near And Yet So Far; Just One Of Those Things; In The Still Of The Night; Night And Day; Every Time We Say Goodbye; Anything Goes; I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; Isn't This A Lovely Day; Easter Parade; How Deep Is The Ocean (How High Is The Sky); Remember; The Song Is Ended; Blue Skies; If I Had You; Cheek To Cheek; Alexander's Ragtime Band; Always. CD2: The Man I Love; Fascinating Rhythm; It Ain't Necessarily So; Somebody Loves Me; Strike Up The Band; I've Got A Crush On You; I Was Doing All Right; 'S Wonderful; Oh Lady Be Good; I Got Rhythm; A Foggy Day; Love Walked In; John Hardy's Wife;. Sophisticated Lady; Things Ain't What They Used To Be; Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin’; In A Mellow Tone; I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good); Prelude To A Kiss; Cotton Tail; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Take The "A" Train; Rockin' In Rhythm; Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me. CD3: The Way You Look Tonight; Pick Yourself Up; Yesterdays; I Won't Dance; Long Ago And Far Away; Lovely To Look At; A Fine Romance; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Ol Man River; Bill; The Song Is You; Can't Help Loving That Man; This Can't Be Love; It Might As Well Be Spring; Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered; Johnny One Note; Surrey With The Fringe On Top; The Lady Is A Tramp; Blue Moon; Thou Swell; Isn't It Romantic; Manhattan; Lover. CD4: Tea For Two; Time On My Hands; I Know That You Know; Sometimes I'm Happy; Great Day; More Than You Know; Hallelujah!; Carioca; Without A Song; I Want To Be Happy; Nagasaki; Serenade In Blue; Lullaby Of Broadway; I Found A Million Dollar Baby In A Five And Ten Cent Store; Would You Like To Take A Walk; I'll String Along With You; I Only Have Eyes For You; You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby; You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me; Chattanooga Choo Choo; You're My Everything. CD5: As Long As I Live; I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Ac -cent-tchu-ate The Positive; Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea; I've Got The World On A String; It's Only A Paper Moon; That Old Black Magic; Let's Fall In Love; Stormy Weather; Blues In The Night; Over the Rainbow; When My Sugar Walks Down The Street; I Can't Believe You're In Love With Me; On The Sunny Side Of The Street; Don't Blame Me; I'm In The Mood For Love; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; I Couldn't Sleep A Wink Last Night;. Digga Digga Do; You're A Sweetheart.

Personnel: Oscar Peterson: piano; Barney Kessel: guitar; Ray Brown: bass, Herb Ellis: guitar (CD3: track 4 & 22; CD 4: tracks 5 & 10, and 11-21; CD 5: all tracks.

Title: Oscar Peterson Plays | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Verve Music Group

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