Thursday, December 27, 2007

RIP--Oscar Peterson

This is a little late now, but it saddens me to see that the great pianist Oscar Peterson died of kidney failure this past Monday. While he wasn’t the great jazz innovator that other pianists like Thelonious Monk or Herbie Hancock, he was a fantastic instrumentalist with a pounding fast style that often defied logic. Lauded in his native Canada, and well respected in this country, his skill behind the keys was an inspiration and a benchmark for many who came after him. A stroke fifteen years ago nearly ended his career, but he persevered and, while his hands (especially his left) was no longer at the same level it once was, his love of the music never died. With another legend down, and with nobody to take his place, it strikes me again how wrong the canonization of jazz music has been. Peterson once said, aptly, that jazz musicians were “instant composers,” and this is really the heart of what’s beautiful about the music. When particular recordings are placed in a pantheon, untouchable and unchangeable, we lose the aspect of instant composition and improvisation that makes the music great. For his 80th birthday celebration two years ago, Elvis Costello had written lyrics for a song that was performed by Diana Krall and Peterson on piano. This would prove to be one of Peterson’s last performances. Costello’s lyrics are below.

When Summer Comes

The land was white
While the winter moon as absent from the night
And the blackness only pierced by far off stars
But as every day still succeeds the darkest moments we have known
When season turn
Springtime colours will return
And the first pale flowers of the lengthening hours
Seem to brighten the twilight and that melancholy cloak
Then a fresh perfume just seems to burst from each bloom
Until the green shoots through each day
As it arrives in every shade of hope
When summer comes
There will be a dream of peace
And a breath that I’ve held so long that I can barely release
Then perhaps I may even find a room somewhere
Just a place I can still speak with you