Oscar Peterson tribute live in London
- By Sam Herbert -
- Nov 20, 2012
“Even he managed to smile at that one,” quips James Pearson pointing up to the solemn bust of Johann Sebastian Bach, the imitable German composer a surprising guest presiding over a tribute to the imitable jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson, as part of the London Jazz Festival. Pearson and fellow pianist, Tom Cawley, had seamlessly duetted on Art Tatum’s ‘Tiger Rag,’ a song, which upon listening to back in the 1930s, lit a flame in Peterson to play the piano. Its ferocious boogie became a major influence on Peterson’s own style and is one of the reasons why two pianists are needed for this performance – as Pearson jokes, “it’s easier with four hands.”
With its opulent chandeliers and busts of classical composers, Chappell of Bond Street at first seems an odd venue to celebrate the musical life of one of the great jazz pianists. Especially given that the James Pearson Trio is the house band at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, a more traditional setting for the kind of evening in store. Yet the sea of pianos that spread out before you as you enter the building (the downstairs is a music shop), along with a further six more cast adrift upstairs, gives the impression that this is about letting the music speak for itself, and with Pearson and Cawley bashing at the pianos this quickly becomes the case.
Joined by Sam Burgess on bass and Chris Higginbottom on drums, Pearson enthusiastically directs the band from behind his Bosendorfer piano. ‘C Jam Blues’ and ‘Out of Nowhere’ open proceedings with each member of the band revelling in their own solos, each looking suitably relaxed as they do so. The songs are interspersed with a history lesson into the life of Oscar Peterson and other jazz greats. Pearson at one point gives a lesson in ‘grunt-ology’, the habit that some pianists have of grunting the tune as they play it, going on to do impressions of Keith Jarrett and Oscar himself, before signalling to the band that the next tune is on the way.
Keen not to hog the limelight Pearson hands over responsibility to Cawley to demonstrate the double octave runs (improvising the same melody with the left and right hand) that became so synonymous with Peterson, causing much open-mouthed incredulity from the spoilt audience. The best moments of the evening are when Pearson and Cawley battle it out at the piano, each trying to out-do the other in their improvising, often leaving the audience, along with their fellow band members, chuckling in appreciation.
But it’s Peterson who the audience have come to remember and the second half of the gig is mostly dedicated to his own compositions. The infectious jive of ‘Hallelujah Time’ gets everyone’s toes tapping, while the rumbling piano on ‘Hymn to Freedom’, inspired by the civil rights movement, creates a cacophony of noise which reverberates through the venue. It only leaves time for ‘Satin Doll’ to be played with both pianists pulling out all the stops to leave the audience satisfied and smiling, alongside a certain German composer.
This guest blog complies to Virgin.com terms & conditions.