Jazz Professional               



Happy with success


Oscar Peterson talking in 1963
The School
Happy with success
Oscar Peterson talking in 1976

Well, Oscar, having read my feature on you and my review of one of your concerts, any comments?

There’s one off–hand comment I must make, Les, pertaining to the Trio—this is before having read your critique on the concert and the article you wrote—and it’s a humorous remark made by Ray Brown to me. He said: “It’s about time that we retire now—when we start getting good reviews in England!” But, seriously, my reaction naturally I’m always pleased with a review in which the reviewer enjoys what we have to offer musically. However, to carry it a little deeper than that, I’m even more pleased in that with this particular review you repeatedly mention the one thing that I think is a basic and an embryonic part of our group—and that’s musical exuberance—in depth.

This is one thing, if nothing else, that we have always tried to retain—not forcibly, because it isn’t always like that. This is a necessary component, I feel, in modern music. You find this in people such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Basie, Ellington. I’m not saying that we rank with them, but I’m just saying that this spirit, this exuberance is found in their music because it’s a by–product of belief and honesty in what they do.

We don’t walk on the stage with apprehensions. The apprehensions, if any, come afterwards in a reflective sense, in which we review what we’ve done in that particular segment of the concert, or that concert. And then it is worked over mentally, talked over, rehashed and possibly revamped—to alleviate in the next concert whatever difficulty occurred in that concert. By doing it this way, I feel that our group—and I must say this out of ego, speaking truthfully—has at last come through.

I was very pleased this year that, quietly, without any fanfare and hat–raising, the group won the All Stars’ vote as the outstanding group of the year in Playboy magazine—which is the first award this group has ever won. This pleased me even more so than having won the piano award myself, because over the years, apart from looking at it in a selfish light—I have been playing with a group—and I believe strongly in what my group has been doing.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am that at long last we have been able to project the honest confidence, whatever inventiveness we have, and musical compatibility. Over the years I’ve listened repeatedly to—not only reviewers or just average listeners (and in most cases that’s one and the same thing) but also musicians who have said that this is the tightest group they’ve ever heard, that this group breathes as one person, moves, thinks as one person.

Yet it’s strange, it took us until 1963 to win this award. I’m even more pleased because we won the award from what they classify as the All Stars—the players. I wasn’t concerned with the public awards to that extent.

I’ve been very pleased over the years to have won various polls on my instrument from the public, but the first time I ever won the Musicians’ Silver Plaque for being the pianist of the year—I must say this pleased me more than anything else. In fact, if I had to think of any other moment to cap that moment it would have to be the group winning this particular award as a group from the other voting musicians. To have you receive our projections, so to speak, insofar as exuberance and warmth and musical compatibility are concerned—this pleased me extremely in the article and in the review.

The last time you interviewed me, we were discussing the tremendous amount of accent that was being put on the matter of technique and so forth. We went through all of this. Well, you know, over the years, as I told you then, time answers all questions. And a player is a player. That’s the way it is. And I believe the resurgence of our group is proof enough.

To me you seem to have somehow come to terms with your technique. You’re now in a position where you can say that your technique is your servant rather than your master.

Right. Any artist, and obviously any group, is continually in the process of investigation and growth. They move through musical transitional periods. Because of this you see things in retrospect and say: “I think I’ll adjust this, or I’ll tighten this screw here, or I’ll lessen this, or I’ll add to this particular component of my playing.” We all do this over the years.

I can remember Ray talking to me many years ago about playing—and I was complimenting him, as I often do both guys in my group. He said: “Yes, that’s fine, but when I get to the point when I can play everything completely in tune and with the right amount of impetus that I want—then I’ll really feel happy. So I’m glad that it’s coming through as it is now, but it’s not what I want to do.” This is exactly what I’m saying. It’s a refining process. And I think that in some ways you could almost say that it’s unfortunate that the public has to be a part of this during the weaning period of various artists. But you’re out there, and once you’re out in front of the public you have nothing to hide. I’m open for criticism the same as anyone else. The only point I raised in that original conversation with you was as to the direction from which it came and the validity or background of the reviewers.

I still say this—although it doesn’t bother me as much now as it did then. Because, you know, when a group is still, as I said, searching and working on something, any kind of off–hand comment, regardless of which quarter it comes from, is distracting, if nothing else. When a group starts to move as one instead of three components, as in our case—then it really makes a difference.

I still don’t hold any reverence for much of the criticisms written because I don’t think many of them are musically honest. I don’t think they’re aware. A good instance is several nights ago.

Without calling names of cities, we walked into a concert hall and the group really felt like playing. I couldn’t wait for Douggie to finish announcing us. However, as exuberant as I felt, I walked out and found an instrument that I wouldn’t ask my worst enemy to play on.

Well, these are all things that you have to contend with—and without crying the blues, so to speak. You know, everyone runs into this in the profession. But, as I say, on the night of review, who knows what is transpiring—instrumentally speaking even? That standpoint alone is a point of conjecture in most artists’ lives.


Copyright © 1963 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved