Because I was running short on time, I decided write this review in reverse order of the way I normally do it. I wrote about the music first, leaving the artist’s biographical information to the end.
Now I find myself even more pressed for time. I’m beginning to think a part of my brain actually enjoys working under the pressure of an imminent deadline. A sick, twisted, idiotic part of my brain at that. ::sigh::
But enough of that. Let’s move along to what you’re really here to read.
Two of the greatest pianists in all of jazz came together in 1997 to create a masterpiece of jazz, just for you. They were, of course, Oscar Peterson and Benny Green.
Oscar Peterson was born August 15, 1925 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He died on December 23, 2007 in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
Benny Green, Peterson’s official protégé, was born April 4, 1963 in New York City.
Peterson began taking formal piano lessons at age 6. His early studies were classical, but by the time he was a teenager he abandoned that to play with Johnny Holmes’ Orchestra. Norman Granz discovered him around 1950, and his career took off. Some of the greats Peterson performed with include Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Joe Pass, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry “Sweets” Edison, and others. He suffered a stroke in 1993, but eventually recovered well enough to return to performing.
On April 19 of 2014 I wrote about Benny Green and his album “Testifyin’“. In that review I covered Green’s bio and accomplishments, and since I am rapidly running out of time, with all due respect to Green and his enormous talent, I am going to refer you to that previous post for details about him.
The album I want to tell you about this time is their 1998 release, “Oscar And Benny”.
A quick glance at the personnel for this one is enough to let you know you are in for a wild ride. They are:
Oscar Peterson, piano
Benny Green, piano
Ray Brown, bass
Gregory Hutchinson, drums
There are 11 songs on “Oscar And Benny”, each one an exercise in energy harnessed and released. The first song we hear is “For All We Know” from J. Fred Coots and Sam M. Lewis. This is a nice little song that seems to gather steam as it rolls along, driven by Brown’s bass and Hutchinson’s drums. The piano is magnificent, of course, although we have no idea which of the two principals we are hearing because the liner notes don’t mention that little item of interest.
“When Lights Are Low” is next. This was written by Benny Carter and Spencer Williams, and depending on whom you talk to is (or is not) probably Carter’s most popular composition. That aside, this is a great little song with an infectious melody that will grab you and not let go until the song ends.
Next we have a song I don’t believe I’ve ever heard before, “Yours Is My Heart Alone” from the combined pens of Ludwig Herzer, Franz Lehar and Beda Fritz Loehner. It opens with one of the pianists, probably Peterson, doing a little back and forth bit with bassist Brown. Before we’re two minutes in this song that had seemed at first to be a quiet little ballad takes off like a rocket, powered by hard bop-infused jet fuel. Hutchinson really goes to town on this one, beating the crap out of that ride symbol. Things calm down a little before the end, but not before the whole gang has taken you on a rollercoaster ride you’re not likely to soon forget.
Skipping ahead a bit, we come to one of the great classics of jazz, “Limehouse Blues”. This dynamo of a song, written by Phillip Braham and Douglas Furber, was first performed in 1922 but didn’t achieve any great popularity until it reached the U.S. (For more on the history of this important composition, see the “Limehouse Blues” page on jazzstandards.com.) Setting the group of musicians under discussion to the task of performing this song is kind of like throwing gasoline on a fire. Someone is gonna get burned! Safe to say, the boys do a wonderful job. Perhaps my only quibble is that the song, at just over four minutes, is too short. Another four or ten minutes would have been just fine with me.
The Charlie Parker classic “Scrapple From The Apple” has long been one of the most popular songs in jazz. The song’s melodic instrumentation finds acceptance even from many people who otherwise disdain jazz, and the clean, quick pace of the musicians gives you the sense of being driven to the finish.
“Jitterbug Waltz” is of course another jazz classic. It was written by Fats Waller in early 1942, just a little over a year before his death in December 1943. This quiet little melody gives us a wonderful change of pace from the frenetic pace of the preceding songs.
The final song on the album is Oscar Peterson’s only composition here, “Barbara’s Blues”. It was written for a woman who works for Telarc maintaining their pianos. Despite that rather pedestrian origin, “Barbara’s Blues” is a great little song. At a bit over eight minutes, it’s the perfect length to take this one out and wrap it up.
All in all, I’m pretty sure you will find “Oscar And Benny” to be a delightful addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
If you’d like to find out more about Oscar Peterson and his music, a good place to start might be his official web site.
Scott Yanow has a nice bio of him on the allmusic.com web site.
Benny Green also has a nice personal site with lots of information. The site doesn’t appear to have been updated in a while, but we can hope that will eventually be remedied.
In 2009, Benny Green wrote a touching piece about an incident that took place between he and Peterson. It was published in JazzTimes Magazine.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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