[JPL] Jazz legend Peterson wows fans at Yoshi's
drjazz at drjazz.com
Thu Sep 7 21:19:44 EDT 2006
Jazz legend Peterson wows fans at Yoshi's
Inside Bay Area
Whenever Oscar Peterson comes to town, which isn't nearly often enough,
it's truly the jazz event of the season.
The legendary pianist, who has performed with such all-time greats as Ella
Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, is arguably
our greatest living jazz musician. His closest competitors for that title
would include Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck and Ornette Coleman. Yet, close
doesn't get you the cigar.
That's because Peterson, having just turned 81 a few weeks back, is still
able to turn in smoking good performances like the one he delivered on
Tuesday at Yoshi's at Jack London Square.
Those who were able to score tickets for the pianist's sold-out six-night
run at the Oakland venue, which continues through Sunday, should definitely
pat themselves on the backs. You did good, folks. So get ready for some
true legend action.
The capacity crowd was certainly ready on opening night. There was a
definite buzz in the air as we waited for the main man to come out from
backstage. It felt like we were at the center of the jazz universe, which
is a very nice place to be, and the event even drew a handful of celebrities.
Pianist Butch Taylor and saxophonist LeRoi Moore of the Dave Matthews Band,
in town to perform a show last night in Sacramento and on Friday and
Saturday at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, were two very
exuberant guests. (During a brief chat during intermission, Taylor remarked
that he got a "lifetime" of inspiration from watching Peterson perform.)
The crowd immediately rose and gave Peterson a very heartfelt standing
ovation as he finally joined the other members of his quartet on the stage.
The foursome looked snazzy as can be, all decked out in formal black tuxedos.
Taking his seat at the grand piano, Peterson wasted no time as he led his
group right into a fair version of "Reunion Blues," the title track from
the 1971 album he made with vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown
and drummer Louis Hayes.
The pianist's playing was tentative to start and, in particular, his hand
speed wasn't really up to his standards. The first few songs, including a
version of the original "Wheatland," came across a bit like warm-up tunes.
It seems that even legends need a little time to get in the groove.
He was certainly there by the time the fourth tune rolled around, a great
take on the Duke Ellington classic "C-Jam Blues." Peterson worked the piano
with an amazing amount of both precision and power as he turned "C-Jam"
into a true toe-tapper that had the crowd members swaying in their seats.
What made Peterson's playing on that song as well as, really, nearly
every other selection of the night so amazing was that he did it with
basically just one hand. Due to a stroke he suffered in the early '90s,
Peterson has very limited use of his left hand.
Yet, if you closed your eyes and just listened to the music, you'd never
know he wasn't operating at 100 percent. There certainly isn't a lack of
notes being delivered by the pianist. (In fact, given that Peterson was
often chided early in his career for playing what many critics considered
to be too many notes, some might say that the pianist sounds better today
than ever before.)
Having finished the hectic "C-Jam," Peterson slowed it down for a lovely
waltz through the ballad "When Summer Comes." The Montreal-born pianist
introduced that tune by joking that "in Canada, we say `If Summer Comes."'
The second set was even better than the first as Peterson, having properly
warmed up, brought true fire to both his ballads and uptempo songs. Indeed,
he nearly melted his keys during the muscular piano workout of the original
"Kelly's Blues," a tune Peterson penned for his wife.
Peterson really seemed to be living in the moment as the second set
progressed. He was clearly having fun at times, chatting with the crowd
members seated near the stage as his band members took their leads. In
other moments, he was visibly moved, getting choked up as he talked about
old friends who have since gone on to the great jazz club in the sky.
That emotion and those memories the memories that have come during 60
years in the business deeply colored his playing. In particular, his
version of the stellar original "Hymn to Freedom" was full of heart and soul.
That's how a legend does it. And that's why jazz fans with tickets to see
Oscar Peterson at Yoshi's this week should consider themselves very lucky.
Oscar Peterson is in concert at 8 p.m. today through Sunday at Yoshi's at
Jack London Square, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. Tickets are currently
listed as sold out. For more information, call (510) 238-9200 or visit
Write jazz critic Jim Harrington at
<mailto:jharrington at angnewspapers.com>jharrington at angnewspapers.com. For
more jazz coverage, visit
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
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