Oscar Peterson

30. Oscar Peterson Plays Duke Ellington

PetersonRecord: Oscar Peterson Plays Duke Ellington
Artist: Oscar Peterson
Released: Clef Records, 1952

Before the record even comes out of the sleeve, this album is guaranteed to please. This format -- one legend plays another's material -- was incredibly common, but this particular effort, recorded way back in 1952, was surely one of the first examples. And when the source material is one of the greatest composers in the history of American music and the artist is perhaps the best piano player of his generation, the resulting record can only be great.

And so it is with this. I've written a few times already about the tradition of jazz standards, certain pieces that were universally known and played by everyone during the 1950s and '60s, serving two purposes. First, they served as common ground when musicians bounced from one band to another. A band leader could confidently call out "Take the A Train" and know that everyone on stage wouldn't just know it, they could play it together without further instruction.

Second, these pieces served as measuring sticks. If an unknown musician could keep up, he proved his worth. Better yet, if a player could improvise a bit and add his own flavor to an established classic, it meant he might be someone worth keeping track of.

Oscar Peterson is doing nothing like any of that in these sessions, however. He certainly had nothing to prove to anyone, even at this early stage of a career that would stretch across seven decades. He's leading a trio here, with guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Ray Brown, a threesome that Peterson described as "the most stimulating" group he ever played with, and the results reflect that confidence. 

I've been listening to this record in the evenings for a couple of weeks, and Peterson's swinging versions of Ellington's classics have been the perfect companion for lesson planning and paper grading. A bit of sleuthing reveals that this particular pressing was released in 1953, the year after the recording and original release, meaning that my father likely had this in his collection for fifteen years or so. The jacket is worn from use, with adhesive tape along the bottom to guard against a split, and a faded price tag on the corner tells me that this is another record he bought from the basement of the downtown Hudsons in Detroit. After sitting dormant for more than fifty years, it's been spinning again in my living room, proving once again that music is timeless and vinyl is forever.


Side 1
John Hardy's Wife
Sophisticated Lady
Things Ain't What They Used to Be
Sittin' and Rockin'
In a Mellow Tone
I've Got It Bad and That Ain't Good

Side 2
Prelude to a Kiss
Don't Get Around Much Anymore
Take the A Train
Rockin' in Rhythm
Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me