[JPL] Oscar Peterson tribute highlights Jazz Port Townsend

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sun Jul 26 21:30:28 EDT 2009

  Festival review | Oscar Peterson tribute highlights Jazz Port Townsend

By Hugo Kugiya

Special to The Seattle Times

*Festival Review |*

PORT TOWNSEND --- Young faces and new names dominated Jazz Port Townsend 
this year, emerging talent that pressed audiences against the future of 
jazz. But as the three-day festival neared its peak Saturday afternoon, 
the audience was asked to look to the past.

The festival's artistic director John Clayton took the lead, recalling 
for those who packed McCurdy Pavilion in Fort Worden State Park, the 
first time, at age 16, that he ever listened to a recording of pianist 
Oscar Peterson. Like most, he was astounded and he never looked at jazz 
music the same way again. He remembered "every note," Clayton said.

And with that, Clayton introduced to the stage the pianist Peterson 
named as his protégé, Benny Green, who had agreed, for the first time 
since Peterson's death in 2007, to perform a set of Peterson's music as 
a tribute to his former mentor.

Clayton himself was mentored by Peterson's longtime bass player, Ray 
Brown, who also made Green part of his own trio in the early 1990s. 
Before Green sat down at the piano, Clayton made a phone call to 
Peterson's widow, Kelly Peterson, from the stage so she could hear the 
audience applaud.

Green, 46, who performed with Seattle bassist Doug Miller and drummer 
Alvester Garnett, is one of few --- if not the only pianist --- who not 
only understands Peterson but can play like him. Capturing Peterson's 
sound means taking command of the entire keyboard in a way few have 
done, doubling up his lines of improvisation with his right and left 
hand, filling songs with stout chords and bluesy turns, swallowing whale 
gulps of notes at a time but pronouncing each one meaningfully.

The trio took one departure from playing Peterson's original 
compositions, with a mercurial version of the theme from the television 
show "Bewitched," a song Green counted off at close to 400 beats per 
minute. Velocity was another Peterson trademark.

Between songs, Green spoke eloquently about his close friendship with 
Peterson and shared a particular personal observation: "He was the only 
musician I know who smiled when he listened to a recording of himself."

The Peterson tribute was the second of three Saturday-afternoon concerts 
on the main stage. The other sets represented attempts to go beyond 
traditional combinations of instruments to achieve a unique collective 
sound. A quintet of three guitars, dubbed "22 strings and skins," 
featured Dan Balmer Bruce Forman and Graham Dechter on guitar and Chuck 
Deardorf on bass. "Skins" referred to drummer Greg Williamson. The group 
led the audience on a sort of historical tour of jazz guitar, adapting 
songs made famous by Charlie Christian, Freddy Green, Barney Kessel and 
Wes Montgomery. Green's set was followed by the "brass attack," a 
trombone octet featuring trombonists Wycliffe Gordon, Andre Hayward, 
Roland Barber, Dave Marriott and Dan Marcus.

When it comes to combos, Clayton prefers the extremes, either small and 
intimate or large and powerful.

"I love the really big things and the really small things," he said 
before the show. The point of a large group is the spectacle of sound, 
full and impenetrable. The nakedness of the small group brings an 
audience exceptionally close to the improvisational process. The 
festival featured plenty of either.

But the story of festival was its youth; many of the performers are 
recent graduates of music conservatories and winners of prestigious 
awards. Headliners like Dechter, singer Gretchen Parlato, trumpeter 
Ambrose Akinmusire, drummer Obed Calvaire, bassist Joe Sanders and 
pianist Taylor Eigsti are all in their 20s. They played both with one 
another and with musicians old enough to be their parents.

Or with an actual parent, as in Saturday's closing concert at McCurdy, 
when 25-year-old pianist Gerald Clayton played with his father, John 
Clayton, and his uncle, Jeff Clayton. Gerald attended music school at 
USC, where his father is an instructor. The inclusion of the country's 
most talented young musicians in the festival is an imprint of the its 

Clayton, said Centrum's executive director John MacElwee, "has his hand 
on the pulse of young jazz talent."

/Hugo Kuguya: hkugiya at yahoo.com <mailto:hkugiya at yahoo.com>/

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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