Peter Sokolowski sent along this delightful clip of Oscar Peterson with Dick Cavett earlier today. Click here and enjoy Oscar demonstrating for Dick Cavett a range of “stylistic trademarks” that’ll quickly enhance your appreciation of Art Tatum, Errol Garner, and Nat King Cole. Cavett even coaxes a vocal from Peterson, who’s reluctant to name the singer he sounds like, but by the time he intones “this has been” in the opening line of “Almost Like Being in Love,” you’ll recognize his uncanny resemblance to Nat King Cole. Of course, anyone already familiar with Oscar’s 1965 memorial album to Cole, With Respect to Nat, will know what’s coming before he sings a note.
Peter’s e-mail arrived only minutes after I’d finished reading about the pianist David Hazeltine in preparation for tonight’s Jazz à la Mode, where I’ll play a couple of sets of David’s music in recognition of his 53rd birthday. Hazeltine, a Milwaukee native, is a dyed-in-the-wool hard bop stylist who at first glance betrays little evidence of Peterson’s influence in his playing. Indeed, he usually cites “Bud Powell through Barry Harris,” and the lineage of Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, and Cedar Walton as his chief influences. And he’s recorded a few tunes by the late Buddy Montgomery, an overlooked pianist (and Wes’s brother) whom David befriended during his formative years in Milwaukee.
Back to Peterson: In the liner notes to Hazeltine’s 1997 recording How It Is, he says that he listened to Oscar “for his clean, fluent approach,” but when he really dug in he “found a lot more than [he] thought was there.” Peterson never lacked for fans, but the critical take on him was often dismissive, “all flash, no feeling.” And many pianists, overawed by Peterson’s prodigious chops, simply looked the other way. But when one takes the time to listen beyond the technique, Peterson can be a rewarding emotional experience. Herb Ellis, who played guitar in the Peterson Trio throughout the ‘50s, told Oscar’s biographer Gene Lees, “I’ve never played with anybody who had more depth and feeling in his playing. He can play so hot and deep and earthy that it just shakes you when you’re playing with him.”
Hazeltine played extensively with another jazz legend of stunning technical renown, the saxophonist Sonny Stitt. He told All About Jazz, “I learned a lot from Sonny. Not just the obvious things, like tunes, and tricky changes, but on a more subtle level I learned the importance of being so much in command of the idiom that you can relax, groove and swing hard.” Sounds like the same formula Peterson used so successfully in pursuit of what Lees called Oscar’s “will to swing.”
After you’ve watched the Cavett clip, check out this very rare, slightly blurry film of “Pete” with fellow Nat Cole admirer Ray Charles!