Oscar Peterson: When Lights Are Low


When Lights Are Low


Oscar Peterson Trio


A Jazz Odyssey (Verve 589780)

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Oscar Peterson (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass).

Composed by Benny Carter & Spencer Williams


Recorded: Civic Opera House, Chicago, September 29, 1957


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Traversing the shortest distance between two points, a young musician named Oscar Peterson derived not only inspiration from his idol Nat King Cole, but also the instrumentation and even an instrumentalist from Nat's trademark late-'40s combo. There was, however, one notable difference. When Oscar's original guitarist (Irving Ashby, formerly of the King Cole Trio) was succeeded by Barney Kessel and, a year later, Herb Ellis, Peterson's bands became racially integrated at a time when that was fraught with difficulties, not to mention danger.

In 1957 we find the O.P. Trio live in Chicago, presumably out of danger and indisputably in their prime. Although Oscar often set house-on-fire tempos, the better to show off his blazing technique, he was more appealing—to this listener, at least—when not whizzing by in a turbojet flurry of flash and filigree. Consider as evidence this decaffeinated version of Benny Carter's delightful "When Lights Are Low." The opening is so quiet, we can hear Oscar's shoe-leather metronome beating beneath the melody. Of course, after Ray Brown's witty upward glissando and Ellis's bongo-style punctuation rouse the attentive and appreciative audience, excitable Oscar can't help but fire off enough double-time volleys to impress the impressionable. Soon, fortunately, calm is restored for a relaxed landing right on schedule at O'Hare. How rare is that?

Sidebar: This track's deceptive original album packaging bears explanation. The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Concertgebouw, it was titled. Which is all well and good, except that the Verve LP was recorded entirely at Chicago's Civic Opera House, a long way from Amsterdam. According to urban legend, Verve's front-office secretary then was Miss Louella Litella—you guessed it: Emily's maiden aunt. Told to acquire a cover photo of the Windy City, she ordered instead "a windmill that's pretty." Declining to throw good money after bad, Verve retitled the album and ran the picture. If this account is not strictly true, then, as Emily herself regularly admonished: "Never mind."

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz

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