Oscar Peterson is the last person you'd expect to show up on this blog of forgotten musical gems. Peterson was Canada's foremost jazz pianist, with a career spanning five decades, a performing résumé that looks like an extensive list of jazz nobility (my personal favorite is his record with Stan Getz, which is an absolute gem), and dozens of records. So, why am I featuring him here today? Well, a few months ago, I came across a fascinating video on YouTube, titled simply "Oscar Peterson Synth". In it, a jovial Oscar plays fascinating jazz melodies on his Synclavier II, and talks about the wonderful experience he has had experimenting with electronic instruments, and how it had expanded his horizons in both how he can expand what he can do with his sounds, but also in him recording his backing band exactly as he wished it. As he said, "I wish I could make people hear things, the way [Picasso] makes them see things".
Oscar Peterson Synth - the start of this post
In this recording, he seemed excited to share these new horizons he was finding with his Synclavier with everyone, but as far as I could see from the comments on that video and my own searches, it never did get recorded. That is, until I saw a small blurb on a minor release in Oscar's discography for a 1992 album for "Vocal Vision Productions, Inc." titled In the Key of Oscar. It simply said, "5 tracks recorded live at the Bermuda Onion, Toronto, 11 June 1991 + 7 electronic selections". Further complicating matters, In the Key of Oscar is also the name of a documentary on his life, which made it very difficult to find this recording. Nevertheless, with a lot of patience, I finally tracked down someone selling it and I am happy to confirm to you today that yes - this is in fact the first release of Oscar Peterson's Synclavier compositions, and if his liner notes are any indication, he is just as happy to share his work here as he was in that video, though it took him quite a long time to put them down on a record.
As that little blurb I found when I started my research on this many months ago said, this is in fact a two-part record. The first half is five selections from the Oscar Peterson Quartet, recorded at the Bermuda Onion, a famed jazz club in Toronto, on June 11th, 1991 (a club which would close around a year later). The quartet is in top form here, performing both standards and Oscar's own compositions with virtuosity and an infectious groove. In Oscar's own words, the selections "represent an honest portrait of my involvement as the leader of what, I believe, is the world's best quartet". Quite a boast, though nevertheless the performance is excellent and comes highly recommended. The second half of the record is all forays into electronic music from Oscar, some of which are more traditional jazz selections (J.G.P., Duke of the Bayou, On the Mall), and some more experimental (Simba, Meadowlands). Right in the middle of all this is a three-track suite titled Uranus Bound, which Oscar says was "done years ago as a salute to America's gallant astronauts on their varied journeys into space", a good description of how he uses the Synclavier to its fullest potential to go into the cosmos, while still keeping the wondrous groove that Oscar fits into all his compositions. All in all, a wondrous piece both for Oscar Peterson enthusiasts and jazz fans as a whole, and a real show of the versatility of the Synclavier. My personal favorite is Should I Ever Dream of Being Without You.
These are a good show into the mind of Oscar at the time, and I hope they're enlightening to those who wonder why it was so hard to find this recording.
Oscar Peterson - The Performer, The Composer, The Man
Bermuda Onion Performance:
Oscar Peterson - Piano
Herb Ellis - Guitar
Ray Brown - Bass
Jeff Hamilton - Drums
Music recorded by: Comfort Sound Audio Mobile Toronto
Recording Engineer: Doug McClement
Audio Assistant: Bob Rogers
Bermuda Onion Mix: Andy Hermant
Graphic Design: Richard Whyte
Sleeve Cover Concept: Scott Thornley
Concept Coordinators: Gary Fishbein, Aline Robichaud
All electronic selections:
Produced, Performed, Mixed by Oscar Peterson
Special thanks to the National Film Board of Canada/Office national du film du Canada
© Vocal Vision Productions Inc.
Executive Producers: Sylvia Sweeney, Sara Levinson
Printed in Canada
The live selections performed by the quartet at the Bermuda Onion in Toronto, certainly in my opinion represent an honest portrait of my involvement as the leader of what, I believe, is the world's best quartet. It would be almost impossible to go wrong musically with the availability of talents such as Herbie Ellis, Ray Brown, and Jeff Hamilton. To my way of thinking, the twenty year gap in our musical relationship has served to help us mature musically rather than deteriorating from our separation. To me, it has been a musical honour being able to revive and relive these marvelous musical moments.
The electronic side of the album hopefully gives my listeners a peek into another side of my musical personality. These are selected musical views of my more recent involvement in the world of high tech keyboard invention. These again are merely snippets from the larger electronic work that I intend to unveil in the near future. (Sorry to disappoint you, Herbie.)*
I would like to make special mention of the piece entitled "Uranus Bound", which was done years ago as a salute to America's gallant astronauts on their varied journeys into space. The first segment, "Blast Off", is obviously dedicated to their departure, as the name implies. The second segment, "Settling In", is a retrospective look-in on the astronauts as they settle down to make themselves comfortable in their capsule. The final segment hopefully typifies their journey through limitless space as the ship wends its way through various starfields, occasionally passing the odd huge planet as they move deeper and deeper into the unknown galactic night.
I hope that these views of me wearing the assorted musical hats will help to broaden my listeners' understanding of the ongoing curiosity that I'm sure most artists suffer from in our search to broaden and diversify our musical world.
* Referring to Herbie Hancock, who didn't believe Oscar would ever release his electronic music.
Track List and Rip
I went in on this with no expectations, thinking I might end up writing a relatively boring post as the "electronic selections" shown on the back may not have been what I thought. But instead I got Oscar Peterson and his Quartet in peak performance, and a view into the expanded musical horizons he found through the Synclavier. I'm very happy to share this with you, and I hope you too find this as much of a musical treasure as I did.
Recorded live at the Bermuda Onion in Toronto, Canada, on June 11th, 1991.
1 - Anything Goes [7:02] (Cole Porter/Warner/Chappell Music)
2 - Old Folks [7:02] (Dedette Lee Hill/Willard Robison/Remick Music Corp.) [Editor's Note: This is a typo in the back cover, the actual duration is 4:41.]
3 - Nighttime [8:30] (Oscar Peterson/Tomi Music Company)
4 - Medley: Sweet Lady/Better Luck Next Time/Waltz for Debby [4:18] (Monty Alexander/Irving Berlin/Bill Evans & Gene Lees)
5 - Kelly's Blues [4:53] (Oscar Peterson/Tomi Music Company)
All electronic selections Produced, Performed, Mixed [and composed] by Oscar Peterson
- J.G.P [4:18]
- Duke of the Bayou [5:26]
- On the Mall [5:26] [Editor's note: Another typo, this one is 3:11]
- Should I Ever Dream of Being Without You [3:11] [Editor's note: Again, a typo, this one is 2:22]
- Simba [1:54]
Suite: Uranus Bound
11. Blast Off [2:14]
12. Settling In [5:12]
13. Into Deep Space [5:07]
- Meadowlands [2:22]
Get the album: HERE