In Tune By Oscar Peterson + The Singers Unlimited

November 22, 2018

Oscar Peterson, 1925-2007, was a legendary jazz pianist, who unlike many of his contemporaries focused on a melodic approach. His classical influences and technical ability allowed him to find commercial acceptance outside of jazz music.

The Singers unlimited were a jazz vocal group led by singer/producer Gene Puerling. His ability to combine their voices into a virtual choir was amazing given the technology of the early 1970’s.

Peterson’s strongest albums were usually recorded as a trio. Here he is accompanied by bassist Jiri Mraz and drummer Louis Hayes. What is different is he departs from the norm and records with a vocal group with the result being a collaborative effort released in 1971.

In Tune is a quiet and in many ways a subtle album. The flash is provided by the vocal harmonies but it is Peterson’s playing that provides the substance.

“Sesame Street” is the album opener where the two different styles of the trio and vocals come together and set the tone for what will follow. “Once Upon A Summertime” is a simple ballad with vocalist Bonnie Herman. “The Shadow Of Your Smile” finds Peterson knowing when not to intrude on the vocals but to act a supporting musician.

Oscar Peterson is recognized as one of the unique and great jazz pianists of the last half of the 20th century. Any of his Verve recordings is a must for the jazz aficionado. However, if you want something a little different from Peterson, In Tune is a good place to start.


Skol by Oscar Peterson and Stephane Grappelli

November 9, 2013

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Oscar Peterson was a giant of jazz. From the late 1940’s until his death in 2007, he produced a body of work that was not only of the highest quality due its improvisational nature but very approachable as he was more melodic than many of his contemporaries.

Stephane Grappelli’s first claim to fame came during the 1930’s when he was part of a quintet with legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt. He blended classical elements into his music as he paved the way for the violin to be recognized as a jazz instrument.

On July 6, 1979, pianist Peterson and violinist Grappelli took the stage at the Trivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark and the tape was running. They were joined by guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson, and drummer Mickey Rokey. The results of the concert have now been re-released as a part of the ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.  Skol has been enhanced with three previously unreleased bonus tracks.

One should be aware that the concert had two distinct parts. The first half featured Grappelli, Pass, and Pederson, while the second half added Peterson and Roker to the mix.

While all the musicians step forward to solo from time to time, it is Grappelli who is the star of the show.

The best track is a poignant rendition of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” with Peterson’s laid back solo followed by incredible work by Grappelli. “Skol Blues” is a rare jazz statement where a pianist and violinist play off of each other. “Makin’ Whoopee,” “Someone To Watch Over Me,” and “That’s All,” are vehicles for each instrumentalist to solo as Grappelli ties everything together.

The three bonus tracks from the concert are seeing the light of day for the first time. Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” has Peterson in the middle and Grappelli finishing. There is a laid back version of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose.” In some ways it is guitarist Joe Pass who is the glue on many of the songs and nowhere is this more apparent then on “I Got Rhythm” where he not only provides a foundation but on his solo adds some bars from “Salt Peanuts.”

As with all the releases in the series the production and sound quality are impeccable. The enclosed booklet gives a nice overview of the concert and music.

Thirty-four years have passed since these artists took the stage together, yet the music retains its sheen. A must release for any jazz aficionado.


Ella and Oscar by Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson

March 22, 2011

The Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series has reached the one year mark. They have released a number of classic jazz albums, which have been remastered so as to achieve a clear and pristine sound. Most contain unissued bonus tracks and all contain the original liner notes plus an extended essay presenting a history of the music and recording sessions. Four new titles have just been issued. Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, and Cal Tjader/Stan Getz Sextet are the newest additions to what will hopefully be a long series of releases.

Ella and Oscar by Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson was recorded during 1975, and was produced by the legendary Norman Granz. The only other musician to appear is bassist Ray Brown who provides support on tracks 6-9, which was side two of the original vinyl release. Brown played with Peterson for decades and was married to Fitzgerald for six years. He would continue to support her professionally after their divorce.

Oscar Peterson, 1925-2007, is recognized as one of the enduring piano players in jazz history. His career extended over 60 years and he recorded nearly 200 albums worth of music as a solo artist, group leader, and supporting other artists. He may not have been as creative as some of his well-known counterparts, but his preciseness and the melodic nature of his music appealed to a vast audience, which extended the acceptance and commercial appeal of jazz music.

Ella Fitzgerald, 1919-1996, is now recognized as one of history’s premier jazz vocalists. During her six decade career, she recorded over 80 albums and placed 60 plus singles on the pop charts. She won 13 Grammy Awards and received The National Medal Of Art from President Ronald Reagan and The Presidential Medal Of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush.

Fitzgerald and Peterson toured together many times during their careers and both received wide commercial success while signed to Norman Granz’s Verve Label. Granz sold the label to MGM during the early 1960s for $3,000,000. In 1973 he formed the Pablo Label and quickly signed Fitzgerald and Peterson.

Ella and Oscar is so relaxed, it could have been recorded in the living room of either of the artists. Both just seem to cruise through the sessions without really straining, yet the results are stunning.

“Mean To Me” is an old Billie Holiday tune that Fitzgerald smooths out. Gershwin’s “Midnight Sun” and Johnny Mercer’s “How Long Has This Been Going On” were taken for Fitzgerald’s Song Book Series. The melodies are made for Peterson’s style and Ella’s retrained vocals are a perfect match.

The classics “I Hear Music” and “April In Paris” were long term favorites of Fitzgerald. It was about as swinging as she would ever get and Ray Brown joining Peterson provides a nice foundation.

There are a number of nice ballads. The playing of Peterson on “Street Of Dreams,” “More Than You Know,” “There’s A Lull In My Life,” and “Midnight Sun” draws you in and Fitzgerald’s vocals transport you to other places.

The four bonus tracks are unreleased, different takes from material contained on the album. It is fascinating to hear how different they are from the material that was selected.

Ella and Oscar is a look at two jazz icons at the height of their powers. It remains a smooth listen 36 years after its initial release.

Article first published as Music Review: Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson – Ella and Oscar on Blogcritics.