Downbeat: "Oscar Peterson To Be Honored with New Box Set" Posted on 23 Dec 08:55

Oscar Peterson To Be Honored with New Box Set, Concert, Reproducing Piano
Posted 12/7/2015

To mark the 90th birthday (last August) of Oscar Peterson, the pianist’s widow, Kelly, is preparing to release the recording Oscar, With Love (Two Lions), which features world-class jazz pianists performing never-before-heard compositions by the master—on his own piano.

Oscar, With Love showcases Peterson (1925–2007) as a composer and includes the world premiere of numerous pieces he wrote but never recorded. The compositions were retrieved from Peterson’s library for the project. While the majority of the music on the recording was written by Peterson, a handful of tracks are songs written for him by some of his closest musical friends.

Pianists Ramsey Lewis, Michel Legrand, Chick Corea, Monty Alexander, Oliver Jones, Makoto Ozone, Renee Rosnes, Bill Charlap, Kenny Barron, Gerald Clayton, Benny Green, Hiromi, Justin Kauflin and Robi Botos made the recordings on Peterson’s personal Bösendorfer Imperial grand in his home studio in Mississauga, Ontario. Although primarily a solo piano recording, two of the performances feature the accompaniment of bassist Dave Young, Peterson’s longtime associate (Young also contributes a solo-bass performance). Other contributors to the project include pianist/vocalist Audrey Morris and pianist/producer Lance Anderson.

Oscar, With Love contains 36 tracks and includes about 180 minutes of music. It is set to be released on Dec. 11 in four distinct versions: a three-CD boxed set, a Deluxe Edition CD with a 100-page commemorative book, a five-LP Limited Edition Vinyl set (only 1,925 units made, in honor of the year of Peterson’s birth) and a Collector’s Edition that includes the commemorative book, a print of music in Peterson’s hand and an LP from Peterson’s personal library.

Its release will be celebrated that night with a sold-out “Oscar @ 90” concert at The Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall in Toronto at which Barron, Green, Clayton, Jones (accompanied by Young), Botos, Charlap and Rosnes will perform once again on Peterson’s prized Imperial Bösendorfer piano—which is being transported to the stage from the Peterson home for the occasion. It will be the first time the piano will be seen and heard publicly. Céline Peterson, daughter of Oscar and Kelly, will serve as host for the evening. The concert will be livestreamed (rcmusic.ca/livestream) for free starting at 8 p.m. EST on Dec. 11.

In addition, Bösendorfer will release a limited-run Oscar Peterson Signature Edition Piano equipped with Yamaha Disklavier E3 technology. Note-for-note, the instrument faithfully reproduces 13 Peterson piano performances originally captured during the ’70s using the Pianocorder Recording System from Superscope/Marantz. With the touch of a button, the piano’s keys and pedals come alive, moving up and down to recreate Peterson’s performances of “Tenderly,” “Take The ‘A’ Train,” “Lush Life,” “Back Home Again In Indiana,” “Who Can I Turn To,” “Falling In Love With Love,” “Body And Soul,” “Blues Of The Prairies,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Misty,” “A Time For Love,” “Old Folks” and “Someone To Watch Over Me.”

Only 12 of the reproducing pianos will be available for sale worldwide through official Bösendorfer dealers (at a list price of $189,999). The Oscar Peterson Signature Edition Piano will make its North American debut on Dec. 11 prior to the “Oscar @ 90” concert at Koerner Hall, where it will be on display in the lobby. The instrument’s U.S. release will take place during the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, in late January.

This fall, DownBeat spoke by phone with Kelly Peterson, who served as executive producer on theOscar, With Love project.

When did the recording sessions for Oscar, With Love take place?

Recording began in October of 2014. But I had begun speaking to the pianists a year-and-a-half before that. The whole point was they were all done here on Oscar’s piano in Oscar’s studio. I asked each pianist to record two songs. A couple of people recorded three songs because they included something that they had written for him. Chick Corea recorded just one that he wrote specifically for this project and specifically for Oscar. There are six tracks in the set that are not Oscar’s compositions.

That’s a lot of music to program. What was the thinking behind the way you sequenced the tracks?

This is a very new venture for me. So, I thought I’ll do it the way I feel and the way Oscar would do it. On the first disc, I wanted to have tracks by each of the artists if possible, so 14 of them are represented on that disc. And I was also trying to put the songs in an order where they would flow one into the other and tell a story.

The second disc is all ballads, because we had so many ballads, and rather than have them spread out, I thought it would be nice to put them on one disc. And the third disc is the one where there are some songs that were written by the artists for Oscar, and that disc leads off with Chick’s composition [“One For Oscar”].

And then the last six songs I was very specific with, starting with a piece that Monty wrote called “Trust,” which was always one of our favorite songs—not written specifically for Oscar, but one that we loved. Robi Botos wrote a piece called “Emmanuel” for Oscar; that came next. And then Audrey Morris, whose connection to Oscar was made at the London House in Chicago. They were best friends. Oscar used to call her his landlady, and she needed to be on this. So she’s the only vocalist, performing the only standard, and it’s the song he used to always ask her to play for him, “Look What You’ve Done To Me,” because it was a Nat [Cole] song. And then Dave with the bass solo, a song that Oscar wrote called “Goodbye, Old Friend.” And then Gerald Clayton performing “Hymn To Freedom.” I’m so excited at the way he performed it. Oscar always played it as the last song of a concert or an encore. I think it’s different than any way Oscar would have played it, but it is a definitive version of that song.

And the very last piece is one that Oscar told me was the most beautiful song he’d ever written, called “When Summer Comes.” So I planned the end that way specifically. I wanted those songs right there so that when you listen to all of them and you get that, it’s to tell the story. They needed to be in an order that makes sense in a way that Oscar might have programmed a concert.

What can listeners expect at the “Oscar @ 90” concert at Toronto’s Koerner Hall on Dec. 11?

The concert will be basically what the recording is—primarily solo. Renee and Bill did four-hands/one-piano for one of the songs, so we’ll do that. Dave will play with Oliver, and he’ll also play his lovely solo bass piece from the recording. And Koerner Hall is just a magnificent concert hall. It’s not very big, but it’s wood, and it’s beautiful, and the acoustics are perfect. I can’t wait to hear Oscar’s piano played in that hall. When we announced the concert, it was fun to tell the audience that there would be one artist making a debut on the Koerner Hall stage that night, and that’s Oscar’s piano. It’s the only time it’s every been seen or heard outside of our home. It’s been here since 1981.

How important was that instrument to Oscar?

Oscar selected it himself in Vienna. He went there, and they had perhaps 18 or 20 different pianos in the room. And they wanted him to try all of them. This was about the third or fourth one that he arrived at, and he said, “This is it.” And they said, “No, no, no, you have to keep trying all of the rest.” But he kept going back to this one.

It was the one that he really liked how it felt and how it sounded—the tone, the touch, everything. He finally said to them, “This is the one I want.” They found that interesting because there was a new technology at that time that they had never used on any other piano—it was like putting a “truth machine” on the piano for how it was voiced. So, it was voiced differently than any other piano at that time, and everything was exactly perfect and even. I don’t know the technical part of it, all I know is that Oscar always said it was the “truth machine” to make sure that the notes were just right, and that it has beautiful overtones. Plus, it’s an Imperial [model], which means that it has 97 keys. Oscar did use the extra octave, at the bass end of the piano, so they’re very low notes.

Oscar would always play an Imperial in concert as long as they could get one. And with those low notes, even if you don’t use them, you still get the resonance that comes from them. So it gives a whole different set of overtones when you play. It’s an incredible instrument, and his is really special in the sound and the touch of it. It is different.

Talk about Oscar Peterson the composer.

The reason I started to do this recording is because I know that people are not as aware of how much music he wrote. And I think it’s important for that part of his legacy to be more widely known, because he wrote an incredible amount of music and quite a variety of things.

For instance, “Hymn To Freedom,” his most iconic and widely known composition, is performed around the globe all the time still. He wrote that on a dare from Norman Granz in the recording studio. Norman would always sort of instigate. When they recorded the [1963] album Night Train, Norman said to Oscar, “You’re so big and bad, well, just write something right now.” And that’s what Oscar wrote. He wrote songs sometimes on the bandstand; just the melody would come to him. In a nightclub, in a concert, he would just start playing something, it was just in his head, and he would play it and then he would come of the stage and I’d say, “What was that one?” He’d say, “Oh, I just wrote that,” and he’d give it a title. And then he would come home and write it down or record it so it could be sent for copyright registration.

But often, most of the work was done in his studio. Especially with synthesizers, he would be inspired by the different sounds that he could create or play. He could write the bass part and put the drum track in; he could put strings in; he could put voices in; he could use the Japanese shakuhachi sound. He wrote a jazz ballet. He talked in concert in the late ’80s and early ’90s about his Suite For Africa that he was writing, and he performed a couple of parts from that. “Nigerian Marketplace” is one, and the song called “Peace For South Africa” is another, but the rest he didn’t record. I have all of that; his rough compositions of that here. But everything that he wrote, it’s very clearly Oscar. It feels like him, it sounds like him.

As we were doing this recording, I told some of the pianists, “I don’t want you to try to pay like Oscar. The intent is to play his music but with your voice.” And some of them said it was very hard because there’s so much Oscar in the music. So it all has incredible swing, incredible sensitivity and heart.

Is there any significance to the label name Two Lions Records?

I created a record label called Two Lions Records because, yes, it’s my intent to honor Oscar with this, but also to honor Norman as a record producer. I’m hoping to sort of carry on the legacy that he started with integrity and quality. Oscar and Norman were both Leos—that’s why I called it Two Lions. From the moment Oscar and Norman met, they became the closest of friends.

Norman was not only the record producer, but he was the impresario and he was Oscar’s manager until he retired. Their friendship was the closest you could imagine. And they had such deep love and respect for each other. They were both men of incredible integrity and ethics. They were both brilliant. Norman was as much a genius as Oscar. So they could challenge each other and converse. We didn’t see Norman for the last two or three years of his life. But Oscar and Norman talked on the telephone daily, between here and Geneva [Switzerland].

What was it like to hear Oscar’s performances played on the Bösendorfer Oscar Peterson Signature Edition piano?

It brought tears to my eyes pretty quickly with just a few notes. It’s really something. And those are pieces that he recorded on an early version of that kind of technology called the Pianocorder Reproducing System. He actually played the piano, and it recorded all of the notes that he played and the pedal action. So you see the pedals move and you see the keys move, and it’s pretty overwhelming to actually hear the piano playing rather than a recording. It’s exciting and very moving. And I can listen for a little while sometimes, and then sometimes I have to walk away.

But the best part of it that I loved was actually being able to sit on the piano bench or stand right there at the keyboard and hear what Oscar would have heard when he played. Because it’s different. I could sit in the wings or in the audience when he played, but I never sat on the piano bench with him during a concert. To have that sensation and to feel like I could feel him right there, it was really wonderful.

I understand the Bösendorfer Oscar Peterson Signature Edition piano will be making its North American debut at the Dec. 11 concert.

The instrument will be on display in the lobby at Koerner Hall. There will be a brief media event prior to the concert to demonstrate the piano. But the piano will be there for the audience afterwards, with representatives from Bösendorfer and Yamaha there.

Ed Enright

For more info on the Oscar, With Love project, clickhere. To view updates on Facebook, click here. To see and hear free livestreaming of the Dec. 11 “Oscar @ 90” concert, click here.