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Oscar Peterson plays and discusses jazz

BROADCAST: Sep. 8, 1961 | DURATION: 00:59:46

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Synopsis

Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson sits down with Studs Terkel to discuss historical developments in jazz piano, his own personal development as a pianist, and his experience directing a youth jazz piano school. Includes Peterson playing short excerpts from "Chicago (that toddlin' town)," "Soon," Chopin's Nocturne in E flat Major to demonstrate musical concepts.

Transcript

Studs Terkel [Oscar Peterson playing piano] It's about a quarter to four, we're on the empty stage of Birdhouse at this moment.

Oscar Peterson Were it a quarter to three, we could very easily say quarter to three, no one in the place but the artist and me. The artist in this instance being a man who is considered by so many perceptive friends of jazz the finest living jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson. Oscar Peterson, Canada, United States. And Oscar, if you don't mind perhaps [while we're here?], you're all alone now, you've had I know long sessions tonight. This is an hour, I imagine an hour of fatigue for a jazz artist, the same time for reflection too. Well in you're so right Studs. With me it's a matter of reflection and and sort of thinking back over the whole evening. All of the sets, what I did that I didn't like primarily, what I did that I would accept and I think this is a sort of a retching you know you've heard of the witching hour. This is sort of a retching hour.

Studs Terkel This is, this to me is very revealing. Something you just said. You were thinking over the whole night in a way perhaps you were thinking over your whole life too, thinking of the whole night. Things you did you didn't like, here's a self-critical artist.

Oscar Peterson Oh--

Studs Terkel You feel there's something you did tonight that you felt you could do even better?

Oscar Peterson Yes this is sort of a vein or a stream that runs through almost every performance, I would say every performance no matter how well certain particles of the perform come off, or certain parts, I find that maybe just one little thing or one or two little things that I say to myself when I go home, Boy if I could just have made that a little more predominant or if I'd done this in more of a subtle way it would have enhanced this other part, you know. As I said you [retching?] with this then you then you sort of resigned yourself to the fact that it's gone it's played it's over with it's now either recorded in the listener's minds or floated away in the night. And you go home saying, Well the next time I'll make it up.

Studs Terkel The next time you'll make it up, and you said it was at that moment it's over and done with. Isn't this what jazz is all about really? I mean the performers art, it's something you do at that particular moment.

Oscar Peterson Well yes the spontaneous quality of it Studs, I always say to most people that ask me about my end of the performance, with myself and my group we are players. There's a vast difference I feel in a lot of the jazz personalities today, [you know?] modern music personalities, especially now we have people that are writing improvised jazz, complete jazz solos written out, which whether or not I believe in this, which incidentally I don't, but it's it's part of an era. It's part of a medium and I think we have to segregate groups that way. I think rather than stylistically speaking I think we have to segregate them insofar as who are the players and who are the writers, and I'm happy to fall in the category of being a player. I'm spontaneous. I work spontaneously.

Studs Terkel Of the player you said, you were pointing out a paradox here. It's interesting and you indicated the way you felt. Improvised jazz written and you were taking a dim view of this, is that it?

Oscar Peterson Well yes I feel that basically jazz retains a lot of its interest in the challenge that it can represent to a performer, that is a spontaneous and improvisational performer. You have to have certain frameworks obviously in an arrangement that you will utilize. However at this by the same token within that framework each individual in the group gets a chance or should get a chance to show what he can do from a spontaneous standpoint.

Studs Terkel Is it possible to demonstrate, I'm thinking, the last number you did of the last set, last the second to last, you did that what we consider a cliché number and yet you, it was "Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin' town." Here's a cliche number. And yet as you played it, you and your colleagues, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, as you played it, it took on a wholly different feeling.

Oscar Peterson Well this is the way we work in other words if we usually believe in staying the chorus as the composer intended it to be. We may voice it, by that I mean the tune is [plays piano] pretty simple [here?], however group-wise I would voice it like this [plays piano]. Now that still fulfills the melodic impulse and then by the same token [notes?] voice so that we have little leeway harmonically to move around. After that, then after we finished the last chorus then I usually go into segue which may be a leading passageway into the ad lib solo. Then of course you take liberties. [plays piano] We go on and on and on from there.

Studs Terkel And yet you yourself have left the melodic pattern.

Oscar Peterson Well I, primarily you're right there Studs. I was playing what I would play on the first improvised chorus. In other words, when I start out I try to build.

Studs Terkel Variation one [you say?]

Oscar Peterson Yes. Usually I don't get that far removed from the previously stated melody on the first chorus. It's hinted you hint keep hinting and referring to the melody so that you, we try to imprint the basic melodic and harmonic pattern in the listeners' minds so that if I decide to play five or six choruses, by the second chorus they're not too far lost.

Studs Terkel Isn't this then what jazz is all about? You use the word players. I would say performers, but players. It's a player's art that is, there, the number itself need not be a jazz, it could be a cliché, it could be a pop number, it could be anything--

Oscar Peterson Oh yes.

Studs Terkel It's what you do to it. You the performer, the player.

Oscar Peterson At that moment the way the-- Some tunes hit you various ways. I remember the same number when I first started working on it. I had it in a very sort of almost romantic lush version. You know something like this. [plays piano] Now that's a very easy and a very sort of lush approach to it and you don't get the rhythmical impulse or impetus that you get from the other way that I played it. I thought of it this way and then I said, No. I'm at the rehearsal we're where we started to work with the tune. I had been playing the tune quite a while which is something I'd do; before we do rehearse a tune and make an arrangement, I usually play it over to get the feel of it. And without becoming too maudlin about the tune, we didn't color it to sound like the city of Chicago necessarily but Chicago is representative in a lot of people's minds and this is the way it strikes me also. I couldn't see it being that lush and that in this particular instance.

Studs Terkel It's harsh city too.

Oscar Peterson In its own way, yes, I think it is.

Studs Terkel And so your interpretation had all these qualities too. You were thinking also of the content if I may use the phrase.

Oscar Peterson Oh yes. Well quite a few times Studs, when we do tunes, maybe pop tunes some t imes, I believe in investigating the lyrics also because that's one way, if you know the lyric, if the tune has a lyric and you know the lyric you don't get too far away musically. I believe this that you don't get too far away from what the composer intended. If you keep the lyric in mind it's the same as a vocalist doing it. A vocalist doesn't stray that far from the intent of the lyric in the projection of it. And we try not to stray that far in that type of tune. Now an out and out jazz tune that is written strictly for the medium, that's a different approach.

Studs Terkel This is this is very fascinating. Ad instrumentalist, we'll come to the matter of later on perhaps the matter of Oscar Peterson the vocalist . Oscar Peterson the consummate instrumentalist thinks of the lyric, the words here. And you think of the words of the tune though you play a wordless instrument?

Oscar Peterson Yes. In one way--

Studs Terkel You think the words of the tune, this colors what you do.?

Oscar Peterson Yes definitely because I think that helps to sustain the feel of the tune, yet, actually it is in a way that I don't consider it a wordless instrument in that it speaks, in that you strike, it speaks.

Studs Terkel Has its own language? If I may, this is by way of introducing many WFMT listeners, I know a great many listeners have not heard jazz this being primarily a classical music station. Many want to know about it. And we're talking now to perhaps the finest of jazz pianists today Oscar Peterson. If we may now go back to beginnings and we'll come--Oscar Peterson of Montreal. You were born in Montreal.?

Studs Terkel Yes I was Studs.

Studs Terkel And then Toronto. Your early training as a small boy was in the classical piano?

Oscar Peterson Yes very definitely. My dad insisted on this, as a matter of fact the whole family was trained classically and I had that time I had two brothers and two sisters. My oldest brother died very early and I can always considered him the best pianist because I can remember him playing very vividly and playing very talentedly. And with the training I learned a lot of things that I find youngsters today have tried to bypass but it's impossible. You must have this basic training unless you're someone of the raw innate talents such as Erroll Garner or someone like that. But there are very few exceptions to that rule, believe me.

Studs Terkel The matter of basic academic training.

Oscar Peterson You must have this. You should have it.

Studs Terkel Was your family a musical family? You spoke of your brother being a--

Oscar Peterson Well, yes my brother played, my older sister still teaches in the conservatory now. My younger sister teaches and my older brother that is alive, Charles, he has a group of his own in Montreal.

Studs Terkel So I'm thinking now of, Oscar if I may-- Oscar Peterson, we're going back, [small boy?], you were serious. Y ou took elementary exercises and all.

Oscar Peterson Oh yes, I think all the [unintelligible], you know, [plays piano], the whole thing. Went from that to the [plays piano], right through the Chopin, the Liszt, Ravel.

Studs Terkel What led, now this leads to the question. You might well have perhaps become a serious concert pianist. What led to your interest in jazz?

Oscar Peterson Well to be very truthful Studs there were several things. I was very interested in jazz and I had a very tremendous and a very warm and sympathetic classical teacher by the name of Paul deMarkey, he was Hungarian. And I would go to my lessons, he would never play for me. He, this he refused to do so the only way I could get to hear him play was to arrive at my, I found out that he practiced before he took me. It was one of his practice periods so I'd get there about an hour and a half before and sit on his stoop and listen to him play. Then when it was time I'd ring the doorbell and go in for my lesson. And he'd go through all of the classical things very prodigiously with me, made me do all of the things that he had set out for me. But when the lesson was completed then he'd say, Now show me where have you been doing in the other vein. And he was very interested in this. And he encouraged almost insisted that I become a jazz pianist. He felt that he heard something there that wanted out so to speak. He said that he said, The way you take selections and you change them around and you improvise on them, he said, I think that you should play modern music. He said, Perhaps it might be a writing thing, but he said, With the way that you can play the piano I believe you should play modern music. And he insisted on--

Studs Terkel You used the phrase just then, your teacher said you wanted out, out. A way of perhaps of feeling even freer?

Oscar Peterson Yes.

Studs Terkel Than you might feel with serious music.

Oscar Peterson Certainly because as you know with the classical sonata or something like that you just don't take that type of liberty whereas with modern music there are no bounds.

Studs Terkel So he sensed this facility you had for improvisation.

Oscar Peterson Yes [unintelligible] restlessness.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] basic phrase, restlessness.

Oscar Peterson Because many of the many of the various compositions that I've studied and learned at that time, I would inadvertently sometimes resort to a different harmonic structure [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel Is it possible, would it be possible to demonstrate that or is that too difficult.?

Oscar Peterson Well they're , no I could demonstrate it. This the Nocturne of Chopin in E flat Major [plays piano]. Now those incorrect harmonies right there. It is not written that way, I realize this but this is the way I hear things. From a child a very interesting experience was discovering that I had what they term absolute pitch and upon learning of this I found out that when I hear certain chords I hear notes over and above them. For instance if I hit a plain C chord [plays chord] and someone else with relative pitch heard that chord they would C, E, and G [plays]. Well when I hear that I hear a different harmony. I hear that but I hear what we would call extensions. I hear this [plays different chord].

Studs Terkel Over and beyond what was written.

Oscar Peterson Over and beyond what was played also.

Studs Terkel What was played.

Oscar Peterson Yes.

Studs Terkel Marvelous.

Oscar Peterson And these are the things that I think started me investigating modern harmonies because the all the poly tonal chords and so forth and versions interested me at that time.

Studs Terkel In jazz you found the avenue that here might be the way--

Oscar Peterson Yes.

Studs Terkel That that you felt over and above what was conventionally traditionally played or written.

Oscar Peterson [Also?]

Studs Terkel You could do it.

Oscar Peterson Because I feel that when you, when a person plays an instrument they should be completely at ease. They should be able to express themselves just as we are conversing right now.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Oscar Peterson If for instance did [unintelligible] make [unintelligible] analogy if you said to me, Oscar, I only want you to speak of certain subjects or I only want you to speak within this area. Then it's a strained conversation. It's the same way in music, as some people think of it now. Other people such as some of the great classical pianists and instrumentalists are more than content to remain within the confines set out by the various composers.

Studs Terkel Course this raises the question, nothing do with jazz but you raise the question now that I was always fascinated [unintelligible] answered , what of a serious pianist a Serkin or someone. Isn't he fresh? I mean he's a serious pianist playing a Beethoven sonata. He plays a sonata many times let us say. Isn't he, what of freshness? As you, as an improvisational, master of improvisation, jazzman find freshness what of the serious musician? Is he hampered within this framework or can he find the freshness in his own way? [Unintelligible] beyond--

Oscar Peterson Well yes I think that his primary freshness as, to use this terminology that you used, would be found in his interpretation of the sonata. However it's a very thin line and to my way of thinking classical music is worth dividing who are the greats and who are not. Because of course you play they play obviously for critics and many critics believe that certain things should be played certain ways and that you play Chopin a certain way. You play Liszt a certain way you play Ravel another way, Bach obviously. Well if I had continued on that avenue I don't think I could have conformed to these things because I feel differently night to night. I can't guarantee exactly what would take place, and many people in concerts or in a nightclub just as I'm going onstage, they may say, What are you going to play? I never know until I hit the instrument.

Studs Terkel Because you raised a certain point right now, here again we come to jazz itself. You say tonight you felt a certain way.

Oscar Peterson Yes.

Studs Terkel Obviously this is Thursday night. You, what you played tonight, you , the same , let's say the same piece--

Oscar Peterson Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel You would play wholly different tomorrow night or Saturday?

Oscar Peterson Yes, the arrangement would remain the same note-wise, even as the written parts note - wise would remain the same but insofar as articulation, projection, tone, and time it would vary. I may elongate the time say on "Chicago," taking that tune again.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Oscar Peterson I may elongate it this way. [plays piano] I may drop back on the time purposely just to give it that sort of lethargic feeling.

Studs Terkel And then to you, Oscar Peterson, the man, you yourself might feel whether chemically, physically, or spiritually different one night from the next.

Oscar Peterson Certainly.

Studs Terkel And so this would in a sense--not in the sense, very definitely--alter the way you play.

Oscar Peterson Oh it would by all means. Some tunes we play, you go through cycles and phases Studs. I find that some tunes we play at certain tempos for certain periods and inadvertently some of them may even move up in tempo and stay that way for maybe a month, a month and a half, two months, then all of a sudden one day it'll come back to a very contradictory tempo so t o speak, as opposed to what you played the way you've been playing it for two months. And there's a freshness to the tune or it may go the other way around. You may be playing a tune at a very slow tempo and all of a sudden one night you raise it and it has a definite bearing on the tune.

Studs Terkel Can you, I know this is elementary for you but for me it's tremendously important. Can you demonstrate that?

Oscar Peterson Well, take a tune such as "Soon," which is one we do [plays piano]. Now that that gives me, at that tempo that gives me a chance to employ not only the singular line such as this [plays piano], it gives me a chance to use the harmonic clusters [plays piano]. But some nights we take it at this tempo [plays piano]. Now that has a very light and sort of a snap--

Studs Terkel Mmmhmm.

Oscar Peterson To it.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Oscar Peterson You see? And by me playing it that way the group changes the whole whole aspect of the tune.

Studs Terkel Depending how you yourself--

Oscar Peterson Oh definitely.

Studs Terkel Feel at that moment.

Oscar Peterson And depending also, depending, pardon me, also on the way the group has been--Say this tune falls in the third set. A lot depends on the way the group has been playing that night also. If I find that they're, everything is very very crisp, then I'll move that tune up into that area, time-wise.

Studs Terkel It's rather significant I think, [unintelligible] point out to the audience, Oscar Peterson mentioned the word "group," the way the group feels. Here again you refer to Ray Brown at the bass and Ed Thigpen at the piano [sic].

Oscar Peterson Yes.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] rapport between the bass, the piano, and the drum here.

Oscar Peterson Oh there has-- There has-- And we'll come to that.

Studs Terkel

Oscar Peterson There has--

Studs Terkel there has-- How the group feels-- And we'll come to that.

Oscar Peterson There has to be.

Studs Terkel This too I suppose. Here you, at the moment the soloist, you and I on the stage along with you and your piano , your Steinway here. I know this is Steinway's in tune.

Oscar Peterson Yes?

Studs Terkel It, yet you think in terms of the playing with each other with your colleagues.

Oscar Peterson By all means because this is the one way that you keep a group sounding as one. If if let's say the trio, and were dealing with the three of us, if we are not cognizant of the fact that maybe one set one night or part of the night one of us doesn't quite feel that way--

Studs Terkel This alters the entire--

Oscar Peterson Certainly. We have to revamp the feel of the group and if it's a momentary feeling then when it passes we continue in the vein we were going. If it doesn't you just [equate?].

Studs Terkel As you were playing a moment ago, the clusters, you did something. And this, I was going ask you this later but now is the time. You were humming as you were playing and this is again rather intriguing. Toscanini when conducting and often, a lot of recordings [of the?] rehearsals was humming. There was a rehearsal of "Traviata" and he was happening as he was playing. Now would you mind explaining?

Oscar Peterson Well this perhaps could have a dual reason Studs. First of all when I started music I play--initially played trumpet but due to illness I changed. I reverted back and I started trumpet and piano. Due to illness, reverted back to piano. That could be part of it, a holdover from the trumpet playing days. But basically what it is it's a matter of inflection and articulation. I think, or I pre-think my phrases, and, pardon me, being being employed playing this particular instrument, I try as much as possible to get in certain places as sort of a fluid attack the way a horn would. In other words to run one note into another to bend a note such as if I sang [scat sings], I would try to get that same impetus the notes [plays piano]. Instead of [plays piano] the disjointedness [plays piano] or even in a harmonic phrase you try to make it sound as a sax section [plays piano]. So I would sing it [scats and plays piano] and it also helps me with my pedaling, then I know exactly where to hold over. Basically it's a bit of a bug sometimes in the recording studio but it does help me insofar as my articulation and it's a habit that I've developed.

Studs Terkel There's something, you used two phrases here. You said you pre-think it, you pre-think it you see? What you're humming then, you're humming. You're thinking also of the trumpet, you say you [went?]--Setting the pattern [unintelligible], and you used the phrase "bend the note," which of course is a beautiful phrase. You bend it, you make it flexible.

Oscar Peterson Yes. Instead of playing [plays piano] you play [plays piano] and it slide into the other, the way, which is very a very easy thing for a wind instrument but can be very difficult for a percussive, percussion and such as a piano.

Studs Terkel And therefore, in your humming, this then is the purpose of the humming?

Oscar Peterson Partially, yes, that's the main purpose. Also usually, I have a belief, I believe that I should be able to play everything I can sing and sometimes I get a little ambitious with the singing, you know it's a lot easier to sing a phrase than to execute it on the piano. You see if for instance this phrase [scat sings] [unintelligible] [go?] [plays piano] This forces me to stretch and reach a little bit in my improvisation.

Studs Terkel It's more of a challenge then? I mean--.

Oscar Peterson Yes, if I sing something and can't come up with it on a piano then I know I'm in trouble.

Studs Terkel So it's that singing that humming that you do supplies this impetus, more challenge. You have to stretch more than you would if you didn't do the humming.

Oscar Peterson Yes. For instance Ray Brown my bassist sings right along with his solos and I think another reason he sings in his case now is intonation wise. He sort of hums all of his notes and makes sure that the bass note comes at exactly the same way that--same pitch that he has been singing it in.

Studs Terkel You mentioned, since we touched on singing, you yourself for a time, or have you abandoned this? You were a singer as well as--.

Oscar Peterson Well I made a couple of recordings and primarily Studs, the reason we got into the singing apart from the recordings was that we found that in nightclubs when we got into the involved jazz things trio wise we could lose a lot of people very easily and we also found that sometimes it could be hard, it would be very hard for them to take a whole set of of the deep jazz things, so consequently used to try and intersperse them with light things like "Mountain Greenery" and things that they knew they could you know sort of relate--.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] for a very definite--.

Oscar Peterson Yes.

Studs Terkel Purpose of conditioning the audience to accept the more serious [unintelligible].

Oscar Peterson But basically one drawback I find with singing I think I would have made a much better job of it if I didn't play for myself because I found that while singing I was very involved in what I played for myself on the piano. You know I'd be singing a lyric and I'd be saying to myself, I don't like that voicing, [unintelligible] that, it's too thick or it isn't thick enough or it's in the wrong range. And by the same token though we did a couple of things. I did a couple of things where someone else played for me and I didn't like that either. So I decided that basically that this instrument is enough of a challenge. It's more than two hands full.

Studs Terkel But singing and playing was almost like handling two instruments at the same time--

Oscar Peterson Very difficult.

Studs Terkel Wasn't it, yeah? And so--

Oscar Peterson Very difficult.

Studs Terkel Voicing the instrument too but certainly you've mastered the piano. Before I ask you, there's another question about the several Oscar Petersons, perhaps, you're the best artist I can think of perhaps to demons--In your own way the story of jazz through, not the whole story but through you, through your understanding and development. People have described you, critics describe you as a master of all styles. Oh let me ask you this first. How did the influences in your life, Tatum I suppose was an influence--

Oscar Peterson Very definitely.

Studs Terkel Wasn't he?

Oscar Peterson Mmmhmm. Art Tatum has been my biggest influence, m y major influence, still is and I believe will be for the duration of my lifetime. Another great influence on my life was Nat Cole who--

Studs Terkel That's interesting.

Oscar Peterson Whose basics--Well I'm speaking now primarily of the days, I still revere his singing--

Studs Terkel The trio.

Oscar Peterson Primarily of the days when he played with the trio because he had a basic simplicity and directness and a beautiful sense of taste and a beautiful approach to the instrument. And they went through all of the phases at one time. I think everyone does when they when they start out you know a youngster. Incidentally without , without trying to sound commercial we have a school in Canada that we've initiated and the major question that arises every time-- not just myself but all the other instrumental teachers--the youngsters come up and say, Look everything has been played. There are so many styles. How do I find a style? And it's so hard when you have a young impetuous mind that listens to everything. It becomes a little bewildering to them to sort of figure out how will I segregate what I want to do from the rest of this conglomeration of music. It can be very difficult. I went through that period. You were speaking of the different periods I went through I went through all of them. I, at one time I figured, well, I go along with this particular pianist this is really the answer to jazz piano. And the funny thing is you outgrow and I don't mean this egotistically Studs, you outgrow this because I think the inner person starts to come out.

Studs Terkel Obviously Oscar Peterson is his own man his own artist. The fact is though there could be no Oscar Peterson unless you heard these others.

Oscar Peterson Exactly which is exactly what we tell the youngsters because one fallacy that has originated in this particular medium of modern music is that I think primarily critics have overstressed the the idea of originality, and I can't remember exactly where I saw this particular comment but there was one very astute comment on this overused phraseology of cliches. Now most people when they read the word "he plays a bunch of cliches" interprets , interprets this to mean that whoever the artist may be has got a bunch of things that are so repetitious they're mundane to the average listener. This is not so. This is, I think what they overlooked in stressing this, the overuse of this word, is that this is all part and particle of the inner man. He's restating his objectives in the music. He's saying this is what I believe in. He's stressing it. And it also is a matter of style. This is also his style. I know several musicians I can that I can I can buy a recording not knowing they're on it and put it on and hear the solo [going round?]--

Studs Terkel And you know.

Oscar Peterson Immediately this the point of recognition, you see.

Studs Terkel The uniqueness of each man's approach.

Oscar Peterson That's right.

Studs Terkel At the same time this man is not removed from the rest of the world.

Oscar Peterson Certainly not.

Studs Terkel The older artists he's heard.

Oscar Peterson And we crib from one another. Believe me I do--

Studs Terkel It has to be, doesn't it?

Oscar Peterson Certainly because you're influenced as we said, you admire. I know I revere many musicians living and dead and it's a sort of a salutary thing. This thing I just played you this phrase [plays piano], that's one of Dizzy Gillespie's things. Now from what I know it's one of Dizzy Gillespie's pet phrases. Perhaps he may have gathered this from someone that influenced him. I'm not saying it was that way but however it came to my attention through Dizzy Gillespie.

Studs Terkel I [admire him?] Would we know Dizzy without Roy Eldridge?

Oscar Peterson There you go. Exactly.

Studs Terkel And no Roy without Armstrong I suppose.

Oscar Peterson And it just goes all the way back down the line.

Studs Terkel Now the phrase you just played, Dizzy Gillespie, yet from that you go on to something else.

Oscar Peterson Yes

Studs Terkel That becomes Oscar Peterson.

Oscar Peterson Yes. This leads me into something else.

Studs Terkel Is that is that asking too much?

Oscar Peterson No, not in the least. If you were playing something like this [plays piano] and now you you will see [plays piano] that I retained the rolling quality of that phrase [plays piano]; the rhythmical pattern is retained [plays piano]. You retain, it just serves to invent, to help you invent and stretch it a little further.

Studs Terkel Becomes if I may, the catapult.

Oscar Peterson That's right.

Studs Terkel You jump from there but then from there on you're on your own. But that's the catapult. You have to have that.

Oscar Peterson

Studs Terkel [Oscar Peterson playing piano] It's about a quarter to four, we're on the empty stage of Birdhouse at this moment. Were it a quarter to three, we could very easily say quarter to three, no one in the place but the artist and me. The artist in this instance being a man who is considered by so many perceptive friends of jazz the finest living jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson. Oscar Peterson, Canada, United States. And Oscar, if you don't mind perhaps [while we're here?], you're all alone now, you've had I know long sessions tonight. This is an hour, I imagine an hour of fatigue for a jazz artist, the same time for reflection too. Well in you're so right Studs. With me it's a matter of reflection and and sort of thinking back over the whole evening. All of the sets, what I did that I didn't like primarily, what I did that I would accept and I think this is a sort of a retching you know you've heard of the witching hour. This is sort of a retching hour. This is, this to me is very revealing. Something you just said. You were thinking over the whole night in a way perhaps you were thinking over your whole life too, thinking of the whole night. Things you did you didn't like, here's a self-critical artist. Oh-- You feel there's something you did tonight that you felt you could do even better? Yes this is sort of a vein or a stream that runs through almost every performance, I would say every performance no matter how well certain particles of the perform come off, or certain parts, I find that maybe just one little thing or one or two little things that I say to myself when I go home, Boy if I could just have made that a little more predominant or if I'd done this in more of a subtle way it would have enhanced this other part, you know. As I said you [retching?] with this then you then you sort of resigned yourself to the fact that it's gone it's played it's over with it's now either recorded in the listener's minds or floated away in the night. And you go home saying, Well the next time I'll make it up. The next time you'll make it up, and you said it was at that moment it's over and done with. Isn't this what jazz is all about really? I mean the performers art, it's something you do at that particular moment. Well yes the spontaneous quality of it Studs, I always say to most people that ask me about my end of the performance, with myself and my group we are players. There's a vast difference I feel in a lot of the jazz personalities today, [you know?] modern music personalities, especially now we have people that are writing improvised jazz, complete jazz solos written out, which whether or not I believe in this, which incidentally I don't, but it's it's part of an era. It's part of a medium and I think we have to segregate groups that way. I think rather than stylistically speaking I think we have to segregate them insofar as who are the players and who are the writers, and I'm happy to fall in the category of being a player. I'm spontaneous. I work spontaneously. Of the player you said, you were pointing out a paradox here. It's interesting and you indicated the way you felt. Improvised jazz written and you were taking a dim view of this, is that it? Well yes I feel that basically jazz retains a lot of its interest in the challenge that it can represent to a performer, that is a spontaneous and improvisational performer. You have to have certain frameworks obviously in an arrangement that you will utilize. However at this by the same token within that framework each individual in the group gets a chance or should get a chance to show what he can do from a spontaneous standpoint. Is it possible to demonstrate, I'm thinking, the last number you did of the last set, last the second to last, you did that what we consider a cliché number and yet you, it was "Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin' town." Here's a cliche number. And yet as you played it, you and your colleagues, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, as you played it, it took on a wholly different feeling. Well this is the way we work in other words if we usually believe in staying the chorus as the composer intended it to be. We may voice it, by that I mean the tune is [plays piano] pretty simple [here?], however group-wise I would voice it like this [plays piano]. Now that still fulfills the melodic impulse and then by the same token [notes?] voice so that we have little leeway harmonically to move around. After that, then after we finished the last chorus then I usually go into segue which may be a leading passageway into the ad lib solo. Then of course you take liberties. [plays piano] We go on and on and on from there. And yet you yourself have left the melodic pattern. Well I, primarily you're right there Studs. I was playing what I would play on the first improvised chorus. In other words, when I start out I try to build. Variation one [you say?] Yes. Usually I don't get that far removed from the previously stated melody on the first chorus. It's hinted you hint keep hinting and referring to the melody so that you, we try to imprint the basic melodic and harmonic pattern in the listeners' minds so that if I decide to play five or six choruses, by the second chorus they're not too far lost. Isn't this then what jazz is all about? You use the word players. I would say performers, but players. It's a player's art that is, there, the number itself need not be a jazz, it could be a cliché, it could be a pop number, it could be anything-- Oh yes. It's what you do to it. You the performer, the player. At that moment the way the-- Some tunes hit you various ways. I remember the same number when I first started working on it. I had it in a very sort of almost romantic lush version. You know something like this. [plays piano] Now that's a very easy and a very sort of lush approach to it and you don't get the rhythmical impulse or impetus that you get from the other way that I played it. I thought of it this way and then I said, No. I'm at the rehearsal we're where we started to work with the tune. I had been playing the tune quite a while which is something I'd do; before we do rehearse a tune and make an arrangement, I usually play it over to get the feel of it. And without becoming too maudlin about the tune, we didn't color it to sound like the city of Chicago necessarily but Chicago is representative in a lot of people's minds and this is the way it strikes me also. I couldn't see it being that lush and that in this particular instance. It's harsh city too. In its own way, yes, I think it is. And so your interpretation had all these qualities too. You were thinking also of the content if I may use the phrase. Oh yes. Well quite a few times Studs, when we do tunes, maybe pop tunes some t imes, I believe in investigating the lyrics also because that's one way, if you know the lyric, if the tune has a lyric and you know the lyric you don't get too far away musically. I believe this that you don't get too far away from what the composer intended. If you keep the lyric in mind it's the same as a vocalist doing it. A vocalist doesn't stray that far from the intent of the lyric in the projection of it. And we try not to stray that far in that type of tune. Now an out and out jazz tune that is written strictly for the medium, that's a different approach. This is this is very fascinating. Ad instrumentalist, we'll come to the matter of later on perhaps the matter of Oscar Peterson the vocalist . Oscar Peterson the consummate instrumentalist thinks of the lyric, the words here. And you think of the words of the tune though you play a wordless instrument? Yes. In one way-- You think the words of the tune, this colors what you do.? Yes definitely because I think that helps to sustain the feel of the tune, yet, actually it is in a way that I don't consider it a wordless instrument in that it speaks, in that you strike, it speaks. Has its own language? If I may, this is by way of introducing many WFMT listeners, I know a great many listeners have not heard jazz this being primarily a classical music station. Many want to know about it. And we're talking now to perhaps the finest of jazz pianists today Oscar Peterson. If we may now go back to beginnings and we'll come--Oscar Peterson of Montreal. You were born in Montreal.? Yes I was Studs. And then Toronto. Your early training as a small boy was in the classical piano? Yes very definitely. My dad insisted on this, as a matter of fact the whole family was trained classically and I had that time I had two brothers and two sisters. My oldest brother died very early and I can always considered him the best pianist because I can remember him playing very vividly and playing very talentedly. And with the training I learned a lot of things that I find youngsters today have tried to bypass but it's impossible. You must have this basic training unless you're someone of the raw innate talents such as Erroll Garner or someone like that. But there are very few exceptions to that rule, believe me. The matter of basic academic training. You must have this. You should have it. Was your family a musical family? You spoke of your brother being a-- Well, yes my brother played, my older sister still teaches in the conservatory now. My younger sister teaches and my older brother that is alive, Charles, he has a group of his own in Montreal. So I'm thinking now of, Oscar if I may-- Oscar Peterson, we're going back, [small boy?], you were serious. Y ou took elementary exercises and all. Oh yes, I think all the [unintelligible], you know, [plays piano], the whole thing. Went from that to the [plays piano], right through the Chopin, the Liszt, Ravel. What led, now this leads to the question. You might well have perhaps become a serious concert pianist. What led to your interest in jazz? Well to be very truthful Studs there were several things. I was very interested in jazz and I had a very tremendous and a very warm and sympathetic classical teacher by the name of Paul deMarkey, he was Hungarian. And I would go to my lessons, he would never play for me. He, this he refused to do so the only way I could get to hear him play was to arrive at my, I found out that he practiced before he took me. It was one of his practice periods so I'd get there about an hour and a half before and sit on his stoop and listen to him play. Then when it was time I'd ring the doorbell and go in for my lesson. And he'd go through all of the classical things very prodigiously with me, made me do all of the things that he had set out for me. But when the lesson was completed then he'd say, Now show me where have you been doing in the other vein. And he was very interested in this. And he encouraged almost insisted that I become a jazz pianist. He felt that he heard something there that wanted out so to speak. He said that he said, The way you take selections and you change them around and you improvise on them, he said, I think that you should play modern music. He said, Perhaps it might be a writing thing, but he said, With the way that you can play the piano I believe you should play modern music. And he insisted on-- You used the phrase just then, your teacher said you wanted out, out. A way of perhaps of feeling even freer? Yes. Than you might feel with serious music. Certainly because as you know with the classical sonata or something like that you just don't take that type of liberty whereas with modern music there are no bounds. So he sensed this facility you had for improvisation. Yes [unintelligible] restlessness. [Unintelligible] basic phrase, restlessness. Because many of the many of the various compositions that I've studied and learned at that time, I would inadvertently sometimes resort to a different harmonic structure [unintelligible]. Is it possible, would it be possible to demonstrate that or is that too difficult.? Well they're , no I could demonstrate it. This the Nocturne of Chopin in E flat Major [plays piano]. Now those incorrect harmonies right there. It is not written that way, I realize this but this is the way I hear things. From a child a very interesting experience was discovering that I had what they term absolute pitch and upon learning of this I found out that when I hear certain chords I hear notes over and above them. For instance if I hit a plain C chord [plays chord] and someone else with relative pitch heard that chord they would C, E, and G [plays]. Well when I hear that I hear a different harmony. I hear that but I hear what we would call extensions. I hear this [plays different chord]. Over and beyond what was written. Over and beyond what was played also. What was played. Yes. Marvelous. And these are the things that I think started me investigating modern harmonies because the all the poly tonal chords and so forth and versions interested me at that time. In jazz you found the avenue that here might be the way-- Yes. That that you felt over and above what was conventionally traditionally played or written. [Also?] You could do it. Because I feel that when you, when a person plays an instrument they should be completely at ease. They should be able to express themselves just as we are conversing right now. Yes. If for instance did [unintelligible] make [unintelligible] analogy if you said to me, Oscar, I only want you to speak of certain subjects or I only want you to speak within this area. Then it's a strained conversation. It's the same way in music, as some people think of it now. Other people such as some of the great classical pianists and instrumentalists are more than content to remain within the confines set out by the various composers. Course this raises the question, nothing do with jazz but you raise the question now that I was always fascinated [unintelligible] answered , what of a serious pianist a Serkin or someone. Isn't he fresh? I mean he's a serious pianist playing a Beethoven sonata. He plays a sonata many times let us say. Isn't he, what of freshness? As you, as an improvisational, master of improvisation, jazzman find freshness what of the serious musician? Is he hampered within this framework or can he find the freshness in his own way? [Unintelligible] beyond-- Well yes I think that his primary freshness as, to use this terminology that you used, would be found in his interpretation of the sonata. However it's a very thin line and to my way of thinking classical music is worth dividing who are the greats and who are not. Because of course you play they play obviously for critics and many critics believe that certain things should be played certain ways and that you play Chopin a certain way. You play Liszt a certain way you play Ravel another way, Bach obviously. Well if I had continued on that avenue I don't think I could have conformed to these things because I feel differently night to night. I can't guarantee exactly what would take place, and many people in concerts or in a nightclub just as I'm going onstage, they may say, What are you going to play? I never know until I hit the instrument. Because you raised a certain point right now, here again we come to jazz itself. You say tonight you felt a certain way. Yes. Obviously this is Thursday night. You, what you played tonight, you , the same , let's say the same piece-- Mmmhmm. You would play wholly different tomorrow night or Saturday? Yes, the arrangement would remain the same note-wise, even as the written parts note - wise would remain the same but insofar as articulation, projection, tone, and time it would vary. I may elongate the time say on "Chicago," taking that tune again. Yes. I may elongate it this way. [plays piano] I may drop back on the time purposely just to give it that sort of lethargic feeling. And then to you, Oscar Peterson, the man, you yourself might feel whether chemically, physically, or spiritually different one night from the next. Certainly. And so this would in a sense--not in the sense, very definitely--alter the way you play. Oh it would by all means. Some tunes we play, you go through cycles and phases Studs. I find that some tunes we play at certain tempos for certain periods and inadvertently some of them may even move up in tempo and stay that way for maybe a month, a month and a half, two months, then all of a sudden one day it'll come back to a very contradictory tempo so t o speak, as opposed to what you played the way you've been playing it for two months. And there's a freshness to the tune or it may go the other way around. You may be playing a tune at a very slow tempo and all of a sudden one night you raise it and it has a definite bearing on the tune. Can you, I know this is elementary for you but for me it's tremendously important. Can you demonstrate that? Well, take a tune such as "Soon," which is one we do [plays piano]. Now that that gives me, at that tempo that gives me a chance to employ not only the singular line such as this [plays piano], it gives me a chance to use the harmonic clusters [plays piano]. But some nights we take it at this tempo [plays piano]. Now that has a very light and sort of a snap-- Mmmhmm. To it. Yes. You see? And by me playing it that way the group changes the whole whole aspect of the tune. Depending how you yourself-- Oh definitely. Feel at that moment. And depending also, depending, pardon me, also on the way the group has been--Say this tune falls in the third set. A lot depends on the way the group has been playing that night also. If I find that they're, everything is very very crisp, then I'll move that tune up into that area, time-wise. It's rather significant I think, [unintelligible] point out to the audience, Oscar Peterson mentioned the word "group," the way the group feels. Here again you refer to Ray Brown at the bass and Ed Thigpen at the piano [sic]. Yes. [Unintelligible] rapport between the bass, the piano, and the drum here. Oh there has-- How the group feels-- There has-- And we'll come to that. There has to be. This too I suppose. Here you, at the moment the soloist, you and I on the stage along with you and your piano , your Steinway here. I know this is Steinway's in tune. Yes? It, yet you think in terms of the playing with each other with your colleagues. By all means because this is the one way that you keep a group sounding as one. If if let's say the trio, and were dealing with the three of us, if we are not cognizant of the fact that maybe one set one night or part of the night one of us doesn't quite feel that way-- This alters the entire-- Certainly. We have to revamp the feel of the group and if it's a momentary feeling then when it passes we continue in the vein we were going. If it doesn't you just [equate?]. As you were playing a moment ago, the clusters, you did something. And this, I was going ask you this later but now is the time. You were humming as you were playing and this is again rather intriguing. Toscanini when conducting and often, a lot of recordings [of the?] rehearsals was humming. There was a rehearsal of "Traviata" and he was happening as he was playing. Now would you mind explaining? Well this perhaps could have a dual reason Studs. First of all when I started music I play--initially played trumpet but due to illness I changed. I reverted back and I started trumpet and piano. Due to illness, reverted back to piano. That could be part of it, a holdover from the trumpet playing days. But basically what it is it's a matter of inflection and articulation. I think, or I pre-think my phrases, and, pardon me, being being employed playing this particular instrument, I try as much as possible to get in certain places as sort of a fluid attack the way a horn would. In other words to run one note into another to bend a note such as if I sang [scat sings], I would try to get that same impetus the notes [plays piano]. Instead of [plays piano] the disjointedness [plays piano] or even in a harmonic phrase you try to make it sound as a sax section [plays piano]. So I would sing it [scats and plays piano] and it also helps me with my pedaling, then I know exactly where to hold over. Basically it's a bit of a bug sometimes in the recording studio but it does help me insofar as my articulation and it's a habit that I've developed. There's something, you used two phrases here. You said you pre-think it, you pre-think it you see? What you're humming then, you're humming. You're thinking also of the trumpet, you say you [went?]--Setting the pattern [unintelligible], and you used the phrase "bend the note," which of course is a beautiful phrase. You bend it, you make it flexible. Yes. Instead of playing [plays piano] you play [plays piano] and it slide into the other, the way, which is very a very easy thing for a wind instrument but can be very difficult for a percussive, percussion and such as a piano. And therefore, in your humming, this then is the purpose of the humming? Partially, yes, that's the main purpose. Also usually, I have a belief, I believe that I should be able to play everything I can sing and sometimes I get a little ambitious with the singing, you know it's a lot easier to sing a phrase than to execute it on the piano. You see if for instance this phrase [scat sings] [unintelligible] [go?] [plays piano] This forces me to stretch and reach a little bit in my improvisation. It's more of a challenge then? I mean--. Yes, if I sing something and can't come up with it on a piano then I know I'm in trouble. So it's that singing that humming that you do supplies this impetus, more challenge. You have to stretch more than you would if you didn't do the humming. Yes. For instance Ray Brown my bassist sings right along with his solos and I think another reason he sings in his case now is intonation wise. He sort of hums all of his notes and makes sure that the bass note comes at exactly the same way that--same pitch that he has been singing it in. You mentioned, since we touched on singing, you yourself for a time, or have you abandoned this? You were a singer as well as--. Well I made a couple of recordings and primarily Studs, the reason we got into the singing apart from the recordings was that we found that in nightclubs when we got into the involved jazz things trio wise we could lose a lot of people very easily and we also found that sometimes it could be hard, it would be very hard for them to take a whole set of of the deep jazz things, so consequently used to try and intersperse them with light things like "Mountain Greenery" and things that they knew they could you know sort of relate--. [Unintelligible] for a very definite--. Yes. Purpose of conditioning the audience to accept the more serious [unintelligible]. But basically one drawback I find with singing I think I would have made a much better job of it if I didn't play for myself because I found that while singing I was very involved in what I played for myself on the piano. You know I'd be singing a lyric and I'd be saying to myself, I don't like that voicing, [unintelligible] that, it's too thick or it isn't thick enough or it's in the wrong range. And by the same token though we did a couple of things. I did a couple of things where someone else played for me and I didn't like that either. So I decided that basically that this instrument is enough of a challenge. It's more than two hands full. But singing and playing was almost like handling two instruments at the same time-- Very difficult. Wasn't it, yeah? And so-- Very difficult. Voicing the instrument too but certainly you've mastered the piano. Before I ask you, there's another question about the several Oscar Petersons, perhaps, you're the best artist I can think of perhaps to demons--In your own way the story of jazz through, not the whole story but through you, through your understanding and development. People have described you, critics describe you as a master of all styles. Oh let me ask you this first. How did the influences in your life, Tatum I suppose was an influence-- Very definitely. Wasn't he? Mmmhmm. Art Tatum has been my biggest influence, m y major influence, still is and I believe will be for the duration of my lifetime. Another great influence on my life was Nat Cole who-- That's interesting. Whose basics--Well I'm speaking now primarily of the days, I still revere his singing-- The trio. Primarily of the days when he played with the trio because he had a basic simplicity and directness and a beautiful sense of taste and a beautiful approach to the instrument. And they went through all of the phases at one time. I think everyone does when they when they start out you know a youngster. Incidentally without , without trying to sound commercial we have a school in Canada that we've initiated and the major question that arises every time-- not just myself but all the other instrumental teachers--the youngsters come up and say, Look everything has been played. There are so many styles. How do I find a style? And it's so hard when you have a young impetuous mind that listens to everything. It becomes a little bewildering to them to sort of figure out how will I segregate what I want to do from the rest of this conglomeration of music. It can be very difficult. I went through that period. You were speaking of the different periods I went through I went through all of them. I, at one time I figured, well, I go along with this particular pianist this is really the answer to jazz piano. And the funny thing is you outgrow and I don't mean this egotistically Studs, you outgrow this because I think the inner person starts to come out. Obviously Oscar Peterson is his own man his own artist. The fact is though there could be no Oscar Peterson unless you heard these others. Exactly which is exactly what we tell the youngsters because one fallacy that has originated in this particular medium of modern music is that I think primarily critics have overstressed the the idea of originality, and I can't remember exactly where I saw this particular comment but there was one very astute comment on this overused phraseology of cliches. Now most people when they read the word "he plays a bunch of cliches" interprets , interprets this to mean that whoever the artist may be has got a bunch of things that are so repetitious they're mundane to the average listener. This is not so. This is, I think what they overlooked in stressing this, the overuse of this word, is that this is all part and particle of the inner man. He's restating his objectives in the music. He's saying this is what I believe in. He's stressing it. And it also is a matter of style. This is also his style. I know several musicians I can that I can I can buy a recording not knowing they're on it and put it on and hear the solo [going round?]-- And you know. Immediately this the point of recognition, you see. The uniqueness of each man's approach. That's right. At the same time this man is not removed from the rest of the world. Certainly not. The older artists he's heard. And we crib from one another. Believe me I do-- It has to be, doesn't it? Certainly because you're influenced as we said, you admire. I know I revere many musicians living and dead and it's a sort of a salutary thing. This thing I just played you this phrase [plays piano], that's one of Dizzy Gillespie's things. Now from what I know it's one of Dizzy Gillespie's pet phrases. Perhaps he may have gathered this from someone that influenced him. I'm not saying it was that way but however it came to my attention through Dizzy Gillespie. I [admire him?] Would we know Dizzy without Roy Eldridge? There you go. Exactly. And no Roy without Armstrong I suppose. And it just goes all the way back down the line. Now the phrase you just played, Dizzy Gillespie, yet from that you go on to something else. Yes That becomes Oscar Peterson. Yes. This leads me into something else. Is that is that asking too much? No, not in the least. If you were playing something like this [plays piano] and now you you will see [plays piano] that I retained the rolling quality of that phrase [plays piano]; the rhythmical pattern is retained [plays piano]. You retain, it just serves to invent, to help you invent and stretch it a little further. Becomes if I may, the catapult. That's right. You jump from there but then from there on you're on your own. But that's the catapult. You have to have that. Certainly. O scar, what of the people have described you, again very perceptive to describe you as master of the [style of?] swing or bop? Again I used what are known as cliches.

Oscar Peterson [Unintelligible]

Studs Terkel Is there a way, can you demonstrate would be differences of the various phases or schools of jazz?

Oscar Peterson Well I can speak of the phases that I went through and I'll have to become very basic to do this of course. Obviously when I started I started with simple things. I started with the plain blues chords trying to improvise them [plays piano]. Now as I went as I grew I struggled with for instance let's say that blues chorus and then tried to refine it. Meanwhile passing through these various areas. Now one important area, pardon me, that I passed through was the boogie woogie era which had a great influence on me in that it taught me how to build an independence between the two hands and independence insofar as what I played as a background with my left hand as opposed to the line of invention with the right hand, so just like this [plays piano]. This is the way I built independence and it gave me the ability to take liberties with the time. Then from that I passed into the first trio area; pardon me I'm ahead of myself. I passed into the Teddy Wilson era in which he had the very simple but plaintive lines going [plays piano]. Very simple light type of invention. Then I ' m into the more of the rhythmic and basic type thing when I started admiring Nat Cole [plays piano] you see? And from that then I started to branch off into my own avenues on the blues also [plays piano]. Now of course this led me right into the Art Tatum era and I learned a lot harmonically and insofar as control from Art Tatum, like this [plays piano] you see, and then from there I just built into the, I moved from that into the direct trio type thing in which I used less of the moving [hands?] [plays piano] and used just the plain chords [plays piano] and lets, this way it lets, doing it that way with the cushion chords allows Ray Brown to walk behind it [plays piano]. You see this way I learned not to get in his way by playing [plays piano] the walking left hand.

Studs Terkel Course these past five minutes or so that you've been demonstrating the development your personal development in a sense this is a story of development of jazz too. I find deeply moving Oscar, because , very moving. Here are you, perhaps the finest of living jazz pianists yet not a phoenix that springs fully grown out of ashes but it's a, your tribute to the early blues pianist, to the boogie woogie man--Albert Ammons once called boogie woogie the right hand supplying the muscle left supplying the soul. But all these and then from that to Nat Cole and all the others. Paying tribute to all the various artists of the past Cole being a recent vintage but all the others again a tribute of a modern artist to all the others. Would that more of the younger jazz artists--Well more, are more of them appreciating this today?

Oscar Peterson I think they have now returned to this Studs. We found--I was very disappointed about four years ago I found that we were in a sort of a groove whereby they disputed all of the things that a piano could do and it was very, let's say old fashioned, to utilize the piano as a piano. And I found that they were using what I type--the type of left hand I call a bagpipe left hand and it can become very monotonous. [plays piano].

Studs Terkel Bagpipe, [laughter] bagpipe.

Oscar Peterson Lester Young used to used to Lester Young , Harry Edison, many of the giants used to criticize this. They used to say a pianist can't play anything for me unless he can sit down to play without a rhythm section you know. And this is how you prove it because many of the younger pianists at that time you could perhaps accept what they did with the rhythm section when it was moving up tempo. But there's always there are several areas where you can tell when they're lacking. If they play, the group suddenly resorts to a ballad, you never hear them go out of tempo or [around?] the piano such as this [plays piano] and [ends? then it's?] tempo [plays piano]. This is the way the instrument is intended. I believe this is the most complete instrument there is and this is the way you should be able to play it if you have to play by yourself not to place sparsely like this [plays piano]. Then you're hamstrung with the [plays piano] you can't move the left hand around. And I think that it is necessary. You should be able to play what you want to play on the instrument.

Studs Terkel So what Lester Young and Harry Edison were looking for is what you are doing that the piano is a piano complete.

Oscar Peterson I believe it's the most complete instrument. We have a thing that we teach. Out of necessity out of a technical necessity, I'm perhaps getting very deep into it right now.

Studs Terkel Please.

Oscar Peterson But they used to ask me, various students would say, I want to play certain things but I can't. I can't make it come off. And when necessary I teach so that with the idea in mind that you can make the listener hear what you want them to hear. In other words a phrase such as this that I used to employ [plays piano]. Now that sounds as if I'm playing this [plays piano]. Actually all I'm playing is [plays piano]. The left hand and this is merely joining at the odd time [plays piano], this way, [plays piano] so you get [plays piano] you know. And this is these are things that if you learn the instrument and learn what it can do, if you learn the overtones the inversions, you know exactly what the instrument do and you can make the listener hear the notes that you possibly cannot play at that particular time.

Studs Terkel Matter then of plumbing all the potentialities [that met?] the dimensions of the--

Oscar Peterson Exactly.

Studs Terkel Oscar, you mentioned in your school. Tell us about this, if you don't mind. You have a school in Toronto?

Oscar Peterson Yes we have, Studs we have a, it's called the Advanced School of Contemporary Music and it started almost three years ago. We found a great need for some sort of instruction in jazz. I know this can be said by many musicians that are working today. When I came up and first started investigating jazz and working with it I couldn't get answers from the professionals at that time. The best I could get from the--I can remember as a young kid I walked up to this pianist that used to play in a nightclub and he played very beautiful piano in Montreal and I said, Would you show me how to do such and such a thing? I'm having trouble. And he said, Kid you get it the same way I got it. Trial and error, you know. And there is the controversy of course. Many people will say can--jazz cannot be taught if it's an honest improvised art. No you can't teach talent. You can't actually teach , teach talent. You can't make talent but you can give it direction. There has to be a basic talent there but you can give a direction and save a lot of time. If you tell a student this goes a certain way. And in the school that we have we run it just a little different than most schools of this nature. Obviously first of all it's a jazz school which is a little unusual in certain parts of this hemisphere and one of the things that you for instance let's say you were a piano student. You would obviously study with me. But over and above that you would get mandatory harmony and theory which we found very lacking in a lot of the youngsters. You would get ear training; you'd get music appreciation which is a very important subject because we find that piano--pianists buy records by other pianists even though they may be playing with a big band and they hear nothing of what goes on outside of the piano. And many times missing that. But the interesting thing is we have these playing forums Studs, in which you must play with groups and we sit and criticize and at various times let's say you were a pianist you would have to play with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen which is enough of a hammer in itself to be [under?].

Studs Terkel Challenge indeed.

Oscar Peterson I think so.

Studs Terkel The school is very fascinating. It's a jazz school yet the academic training is there the fundamentals.

Oscar Peterson That's right.

Studs Terkel And music appreciation again that they must know something outside their own immediate world.

Oscar Peterson That's right. Well you know something you said that they must learn the basics. This is very odd. Most of the piano students come in and they figure automatically well he's going to show me how to make all those runs and how to put these two way chords the three big three part chords together. And usually I end up after hearing them, I do what I call a musical diagnosis. In other words people comes into my studio when it's time for their private lesson and they say well I'm ready and say, Well, just play something for me, you know, and I make notes as they're playing as to what I think they need, what they're lacking what they are trying to duck you know and what they're they're harping on and I just sort of prescribe various exercises for them. But believe it or not almost to the person every one of my students the first week that they had their lesson with me were all in the Czerny exercise book the very next day.

Studs Terkel It has to be. Canada. What of Canada? The schools in Canada Is there a upsurge, or an interest? I'm completely unaware of what's going on in Canada. Can I assume greatly influenced by what's happening in the United States and the--Are there many jazz [musicians?] in Canada?

Oscar Peterson Yes there are. The interesting thing about jazz or modern music as we call it is that it no longer is a hidden art. In other words it doesn't have to stay in the coffeehouses or the nightclubs and I don't mean that in a disparaging way, but it has obviously moved onto the concert stage. This has been for years now and also it is no longer possible to be just a plain ordinary legit musician and fulfill studio work. In other words TV, radio, films. You must have some sort of jazz knowledge and jazz proficiency or modern music proficiency. And we find that we had quite a few of the studio musicians come to us because it's a matter of interpretation. I'll give you a very vivid case. A lot of the detective sagas that you see on television you know what kind of background they have.

Studs Terkel Jazz background.

Oscar Peterson Right. And you must be able to interpret this way. You cannot interpret modern music the way you would classical--

Studs Terkel It's become then an accepted-- his is a-- Once upon a time what might have been considered an underground or unrespectable music--

Oscar Peterson Exactly.

Studs Terkel Is today fully accepted [unintelligible] .

Oscar Peterson Exactly. And you find this all over the world Studs. We know, I know on our tours which has carried us just about to every corner of the world that people, and this is very [hard? odd?], people in the more remote places--I'm speaking as far as proximity to America--are vitally interested in this music because the odd thing you go to Europe and they class this as being our contribution to the musical culture. When they turn out people like Richter and Oistrakh and so forth, this is their music. They have the history they have the chronological history behind it. We don't, not in the classical music. We are now in the process of developing some wonderful contemporary writers and players but classically it belongs to Europe, to the continent, to the old world.

Studs Terkel Ours is basically a new country in that respect.

Oscar Peterson In that respect, yes.

Studs Terkel An old art has in older countries, but jazz specifically the--

Oscar Peterson Exactly.

Studs Terkel American countribution.

Oscar Peterson We had a very interesting experience on a concert tour over there. We played Munich on a Thursday night I think, and the next day that, pardon me, after the concert that night the conductor whose name was [Richter?] at that time came into my dressing room and he said, Mr. Peterson I would like to invite you and the trio and anyone else in the show that would like to come we would like to have you on our concert tomorrow night. We're doing the Brandenburg Concertos. And he enjoyed our concert. He was just taken in completely. He, we discussed this at length and the next night we all appeared at his concert and it was quite and, you know when I thought about it afterwards I said, You know this is quite a palatable thing. Here is there are no arguments as to which music is the most profound which music has the most validity. Both mediums accepted the other.

Studs Terkel This is conjecture of course. You mentioned Brandenburg Concertos I imagine if Bach were alive today he'd have liked jazz very much wouldn't he?

Oscar Peterson Well I know all, not all, but most of the musicians that have had classical training revert back to Bach harmonies, Bach lines. You have groups such as the Modern Jazz Quartet very definitely employ this type of technique. We do at times. At times when we write the contrapuntal harmonies or lines. As I said the basis or basics were all laid out for us. It's just that we have taken a different avenue or approach to it.

Studs Terkel This is a personal question. I know you're a family man you have children.

Oscar Peterson Yes.

Studs Terkel And are they interested in becoming jazz musicians?

Oscar Peterson This is very strange Studs, perhaps to some people. Over the years I've been aware of several cases where there has been a very talented and very profound let's say musician in his field and inadvertently you sooner or later hear of their son his son or his daughter. And I think this is a terrible hazard to live under for a youngster. I have three girls and two boys and they all take music but not with the understanding that they're going to walk in my footsteps. Not that it would be that hard. I didn't mean it that way but I do mean that I think they should be allowed to think for themselves. The interesting thing about my children is that they all have their own separate record collections and I can remember a very vivid incident in my mind. I came home off a trip once and got ready, I was getting ready to go out to play a couple of my recording--not mine but a couple of records out of my collection--and I heard this music coming from one of the kids' bedrooms and it was I knew it was an album that I didn't have. You know and it was a very interesting jazz album. I went in and it was my second daughter Sharon who had bought a Duke Ellington album the week previous. She'd gone down to the record store and she's, Sharon is 12, she'd gone down to the record store and listened to a group of albums and picked this one out and I had to borrow it from her and tape it and add it to my collection.

Studs Terkel But she was finding a way, something that you didn't have.

Oscar Peterson That's right.

Studs Terkel I asked this question deliberately because I know this is a key question. I think perhaps it shouldn't be [asked?] of many artists who were very talented. The matter of the child. The talent of the artist is definitely a hazard to the child of the artist, in a way.

Oscar Peterson In a lot of ways.

Studs Terkel The child must find his own individuality, feels it threatened perhaps.

Oscar Peterson Exactly, because I'll tell you one thing that my one reason that may have been a sort of, may have helped them make whatever decisions they make if they don't become musicians, is the factor of I think they've realized that my profession has kept me apart from the home quite a bit--

Studs Terkel [That a?] factor.

Oscar Peterson And this could have quite a bearing on it too because they don't necessarily enjoy this.

Studs Terkel Here again we come to another, another aspect of the performer in the field of jazz: artists who travel. And here again is one of the crosses borne.

Oscar Peterson That's true.

Studs Terkel In the matter of domestic life.

Oscar Peterson That's true. It's very hard.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] travel. Oscar, perhaps, I know I see the time, this is fantastic. Do we have more time left?

Male voice 1 Five minutes.

Studs Terkel Five minutes? An hours' gone? Perhaps one or two more questions. I don't want to leave you just yet, this is too rich. The recent issue of "Downbeat" speaks of several Oscar Petersons. You play, you play at supper clubs. The question now. Early in the evening let's say you're playing at a supper club and I would suspect the listeners are not particularly interested in jazz. They're there. They respect you.

Oscar Peterson Right.

Studs Terkel They've heard of you. Tinkle of silverware, the munching of steak. The talking of business deals.

Oscar Peterson Yes.

Studs Terkel What's your feel? Later on [you feel very?]--What is your feeling as you as you're performing then?

Oscar Peterson Well this in itself is a challenge because I have a belief that anyone that steps onto a stage in any--to do any specific thing is a different type of ego. As you know and I'm sure you're aware of this, if you take a microphone down amongst a crowd you could very easily create a panic. Most people shy away. And I was trying to sort of think the other night, what makes the difference in a person? What is the difference in people [whereas?] so many of them who shy away from a microphone. they'll get mic-fright to coin a phrase. And other people will walk on stage and say this is what I do without any compunction. They just walk up and do what they do. I believe from this sort of take-- scanning it this way that an artist isn't a definitive ego. I don't mean this in an evil sense. I don't mean this in an--

Studs Terkel He has to have, of course. Any artist has to have it. He has to first believe--he

Oscar Peterson

Studs Terkel has Any artist has to have it.

Oscar Peterson to have, of course. Intolerable sense. He has to first believe--he or she has to first believe they have something to say and I believe that with this ego it's a drive. So consequently if I walk into a supper club as you said and the noise level is pretty high and it can be with, as you said, as you mentioned fighting the dishes and the munching of steak and what of it. This in itself is a challenge. So there are several ways you would, I utilize to gain their attention. I don't try to overpower them volume-wise but I do it through relationships. In other words I can remember about a year ago the big rage a year and a half ago was jazz was was "My Fair Lady" things. So consequently when we opened up we would play something very easy. First of all., something they can digest along with the steak let's say without straining you see. So I would usually pick a tune from one of the--

Studs Terkel Familiar to them, a tune--

Oscar Peterson Familiar, one of the--

Studs Terkel But you play it your way though?

Oscar Peterson Yes of course [plays piano]. Now the minute they hear the opening strains--

Studs Terkel Ah, yes.

Oscar Peterson Of that they perk up. Because there's a relationship there.

Studs Terkel So you find your own techniques.

Oscar Peterson Yes.

Studs Terkel You would not do a jazz composition, or something unknown say, a piece from Gillespie.

Oscar Peterson Not necessarily, no.

Studs Terkel But from that though your interpretation would be jazz.

Oscar Peterson

Studs Terkel [Oscar Peterson playing piano] It's about a quarter to four, we're on the empty stage of Birdhouse at this moment. Were it a quarter to three, we could very easily say quarter to three, no one in the place but the artist and me. The artist in this instance being a man who is considered by so many perceptive friends of jazz the finest living jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson. Oscar Peterson, Canada, United States. And Oscar, if you don't mind perhaps [while we're here?], you're all alone now, you've had I know long sessions tonight. This is an hour, I imagine an hour of fatigue for a jazz artist, the same time for reflection too. Well in you're so right Studs. With me it's a matter of reflection and and sort of thinking back over the whole evening. All of the sets, what I did that I didn't like primarily, what I did that I would accept and I think this is a sort of a retching you know you've heard of the witching hour. This is sort of a retching hour. This is, this to me is very revealing. Something you just said. You were thinking over the whole night in a way perhaps you were thinking over your whole life too, thinking of the whole night. Things you did you didn't like, here's a self-critical artist. Oh-- You feel there's something you did tonight that you felt you could do even better? Yes this is sort of a vein or a stream that runs through almost every performance, I would say every performance no matter how well certain particles of the perform come off, or certain parts, I find that maybe just one little thing or one or two little things that I say to myself when I go home, Boy if I could just have made that a little more predominant or if I'd done this in more of a subtle way it would have enhanced this other part, you know. As I said you [retching?] with this then you then you sort of resigned yourself to the fact that it's gone it's played it's over with it's now either recorded in the listener's minds or floated away in the night. And you go home saying, Well the next time I'll make it up. The next time you'll make it up, and you said it was at that moment it's over and done with. Isn't this what jazz is all about really? I mean the performers art, it's something you do at that particular moment. Well yes the spontaneous quality of it Studs, I always say to most people that ask me about my end of the performance, with myself and my group we are players. There's a vast difference I feel in a lot of the jazz personalities today, [you know?] modern music personalities, especially now we have people that are writing improvised jazz, complete jazz solos written out, which whether or not I believe in this, which incidentally I don't, but it's it's part of an era. It's part of a medium and I think we have to segregate groups that way. I think rather than stylistically speaking I think we have to segregate them insofar as who are the players and who are the writers, and I'm happy to fall in the category of being a player. I'm spontaneous. I work spontaneously. Of the player you said, you were pointing out a paradox here. It's interesting and you indicated the way you felt. Improvised jazz written and you were taking a dim view of this, is that it? Well yes I feel that basically jazz retains a lot of its interest in the challenge that it can represent to a performer, that is a spontaneous and improvisational performer. You have to have certain frameworks obviously in an arrangement that you will utilize. However at this by the same token within that framework each individual in the group gets a chance or should get a chance to show what he can do from a spontaneous standpoint. Is it possible to demonstrate, I'm thinking, the last number you did of the last set, last the second to last, you did that what we consider a cliché number and yet you, it was "Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin' town." Here's a cliche number. And yet as you played it, you and your colleagues, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, as you played it, it took on a wholly different feeling. Well this is the way we work in other words if we usually believe in staying the chorus as the composer intended it to be. We may voice it, by that I mean the tune is [plays piano] pretty simple [here?], however group-wise I would voice it like this [plays piano]. Now that still fulfills the melodic impulse and then by the same token [notes?] voice so that we have little leeway harmonically to move around. After that, then after we finished the last chorus then I usually go into segue which may be a leading passageway into the ad lib solo. Then of course you take liberties. [plays piano] We go on and on and on from there. And yet you yourself have left the melodic pattern. Well I, primarily you're right there Studs. I was playing what I would play on the first improvised chorus. In other words, when I start out I try to build. Variation one [you say?] Yes. Usually I don't get that far removed from the previously stated melody on the first chorus. It's hinted you hint keep hinting and referring to the melody so that you, we try to imprint the basic melodic and harmonic pattern in the listeners' minds so that if I decide to play five or six choruses, by the second chorus they're not too far lost. Isn't this then what jazz is all about? You use the word players. I would say performers, but players. It's a player's art that is, there, the number itself need not be a jazz, it could be a cliché, it could be a pop number, it could be anything-- Oh yes. It's what you do to it. You the performer, the player. At that moment the way the-- Some tunes hit you various ways. I remember the same number when I first started working on it. I had it in a very sort of almost romantic lush version. You know something like this. [plays piano] Now that's a very easy and a very sort of lush approach to it and you don't get the rhythmical impulse or impetus that you get from the other way that I played it. I thought of it this way and then I said, No. I'm at the rehearsal we're where we started to work with the tune. I had been playing the tune quite a while which is something I'd do; before we do rehearse a tune and make an arrangement, I usually play it over to get the feel of it. And without becoming too maudlin about the tune, we didn't color it to sound like the city of Chicago necessarily but Chicago is representative in a lot of people's minds and this is the way it strikes me also. I couldn't see it being that lush and that in this particular instance. It's harsh city too. In its own way, yes, I think it is. And so your interpretation had all these qualities too. You were thinking also of the content if I may use the phrase. Oh yes. Well quite a few times Studs, when we do tunes, maybe pop tunes some t imes, I believe in investigating the lyrics also because that's one way, if you know the lyric, if the tune has a lyric and you know the lyric you don't get too far away musically. I believe this that you don't get too far away from what the composer intended. If you keep the lyric in mind it's the same as a vocalist doing it. A vocalist doesn't stray that far from the intent of the lyric in the projection of it. And we try not to stray that far in that type of tune. Now an out and out jazz tune that is written strictly for the medium, that's a different approach. This is this is very fascinating. Ad instrumentalist, we'll come to the matter of later on perhaps the matter of Oscar Peterson the vocalist . Oscar Peterson the consummate instrumentalist thinks of the lyric, the words here. And you think of the words of the tune though you play a wordless instrument? Yes. In one way-- You think the words of the tune, this colors what you do.? Yes definitely because I think that helps to sustain the feel of the tune, yet, actually it is in a way that I don't consider it a wordless instrument in that it speaks, in that you strike, it speaks. Has its own language? If I may, this is by way of introducing many WFMT listeners, I know a great many listeners have not heard jazz this being primarily a classical music station. Many want to know about it. And we're talking now to perhaps the finest of jazz pianists today Oscar Peterson. If we may now go back to beginnings and we'll come--Oscar Peterson of Montreal. You were born in Montreal.? Yes I was Studs. And then Toronto. Your early training as a small boy was in the classical piano? Yes very definitely. My dad insisted on this, as a matter of fact the whole family was trained classically and I had that time I had two brothers and two sisters. My oldest brother died very early and I can always considered him the best pianist because I can remember him playing very vividly and playing very talentedly. And with the training I learned a lot of things that I find youngsters today have tried to bypass but it's impossible. You must have this basic training unless you're someone of the raw innate talents such as Erroll Garner or someone like that. But there are very few exceptions to that rule, believe me. The matter of basic academic training. You must have this. You should have it. Was your family a musical family? You spoke of your brother being a-- Well, yes my brother played, my older sister still teaches in the conservatory now. My younger sister teaches and my older brother that is alive, Charles, he has a group of his own in Montreal. So I'm thinking now of, Oscar if I may-- Oscar Peterson, we're going back, [small boy?], you were serious. Y ou took elementary exercises and all. Oh yes, I think all the [unintelligible], you know, [plays piano], the whole thing. Went from that to the [plays piano], right through the Chopin, the Liszt, Ravel. What led, now this leads to the question. You might well have perhaps become a serious concert pianist. What led to your interest in jazz? Well to be very truthful Studs there were several things. I was very interested in jazz and I had a very tremendous and a very warm and sympathetic classical teacher by the name of Paul deMarkey, he was Hungarian. And I would go to my lessons, he would never play for me. He, this he refused to do so the only way I could get to hear him play was to arrive at my, I found out that he practiced before he took me. It was one of his practice periods so I'd get there about an hour and a half before and sit on his stoop and listen to him play. Then when it was time I'd ring the doorbell and go in for my lesson. And he'd go through all of the classical things very prodigiously with me, made me do all of the things that he had set out for me. But when the lesson was completed then he'd say, Now show me where have you been doing in the other vein. And he was very interested in this. And he encouraged almost insisted that I become a jazz pianist. He felt that he heard something there that wanted out so to speak. He said that he said, The way you take selections and you change them around and you improvise on them, he said, I think that you should play modern music. He said, Perhaps it might be a writing thing, but he said, With the way that you can play the piano I believe you should play modern music. And he insisted on-- You used the phrase just then, your teacher said you wanted out, out. A way of perhaps of feeling even freer? Yes. Than you might feel with serious music. Certainly because as you know with the classical sonata or something like that you just don't take that type of liberty whereas with modern music there are no bounds. So he sensed this facility you had for improvisation. Yes [unintelligible] restlessness. [Unintelligible] basic phrase, restlessness. Because many of the many of the various compositions that I've studied and learned at that time, I would inadvertently sometimes resort to a different harmonic structure [unintelligible]. Is it possible, would it be possible to demonstrate that or is that too difficult.? Well they're , no I could demonstrate it. This the Nocturne of Chopin in E flat Major [plays piano]. Now those incorrect harmonies right there. It is not written that way, I realize this but this is the way I hear things. From a child a very interesting experience was discovering that I had what they term absolute pitch and upon learning of this I found out that when I hear certain chords I hear notes over and above them. For instance if I hit a plain C chord [plays chord] and someone else with relative pitch heard that chord they would C, E, and G [plays]. Well when I hear that I hear a different harmony. I hear that but I hear what we would call extensions. I hear this [plays different chord]. Over and beyond what was written. Over and beyond what was played also. What was played. Yes. Marvelous. And these are the things that I think started me investigating modern harmonies because the all the poly tonal chords and so forth and versions interested me at that time. In jazz you found the avenue that here might be the way-- Yes. That that you felt over and above what was conventionally traditionally played or written. [Also?] You could do it. Because I feel that when you, when a person plays an instrument they should be completely at ease. They should be able to express themselves just as we are conversing right now. Yes. If for instance did [unintelligible] make [unintelligible] analogy if you said to me, Oscar, I only want you to speak of certain subjects or I only want you to speak within this area. Then it's a strained conversation. It's the same way in music, as some people think of it now. Other people such as some of the great classical pianists and instrumentalists are more than content to remain within the confines set out by the various composers. Course this raises the question, nothing do with jazz but you raise the question now that I was always fascinated [unintelligible] answered , what of a serious pianist a Serkin or someone. Isn't he fresh? I mean he's a serious pianist playing a Beethoven sonata. He plays a sonata many times let us say. Isn't he, what of freshness? As you, as an improvisational, master of improvisation, jazzman find freshness what of the serious musician? Is he hampered within this framework or can he find the freshness in his own way? [Unintelligible] beyond-- Well yes I think that his primary freshness as, to use this terminology that you used, would be found in his interpretation of the sonata. However it's a very thin line and to my way of thinking classical music is worth dividing who are the greats and who are not. Because of course you play they play obviously for critics and many critics believe that certain things should be played certain ways and that you play Chopin a certain way. You play Liszt a certain way you play Ravel another way, Bach obviously. Well if I had continued on that avenue I don't think I could have conformed to these things because I feel differently night to night. I can't guarantee exactly what would take place, and many people in concerts or in a nightclub just as I'm going onstage, they may say, What are you going to play? I never know until I hit the instrument. Because you raised a certain point right now, here again we come to jazz itself. You say tonight you felt a certain way. Yes. Obviously this is Thursday night. You, what you played tonight, you , the same , let's say the same piece-- Mmmhmm. You would play wholly different tomorrow night or Saturday? Yes, the arrangement would remain the same note-wise, even as the written parts note - wise would remain the same but insofar as articulation, projection, tone, and time it would vary. I may elongate the time say on "Chicago," taking that tune again. Yes. I may elongate it this way. [plays piano] I may drop back on the time purposely just to give it that sort of lethargic feeling. And then to you, Oscar Peterson, the man, you yourself might feel whether chemically, physically, or spiritually different one night from the next. Certainly. And so this would in a sense--not in the sense, very definitely--alter the way you play. Oh it would by all means. Some tunes we play, you go through cycles and phases Studs. I find that some tunes we play at certain tempos for certain periods and inadvertently some of them may even move up in tempo and stay that way for maybe a month, a month and a half, two months, then all of a sudden one day it'll come back to a very contradictory tempo so t o speak, as opposed to what you played the way you've been playing it for two months. And there's a freshness to the tune or it may go the other way around. You may be playing a tune at a very slow tempo and all of a sudden one night you raise it and it has a definite bearing on the tune. Can you, I know this is elementary for you but for me it's tremendously important. Can you demonstrate that? Well, take a tune such as "Soon," which is one we do [plays piano]. Now that that gives me, at that tempo that gives me a chance to employ not only the singular line such as this [plays piano], it gives me a chance to use the harmonic clusters [plays piano]. But some nights we take it at this tempo [plays piano]. Now that has a very light and sort of a snap-- Mmmhmm. To it. Yes. You see? And by me playing it that way the group changes the whole whole aspect of the tune. Depending how you yourself-- Oh definitely. Feel at that moment. And depending also, depending, pardon me, also on the way the group has been--Say this tune falls in the third set. A lot depends on the way the group has been playing that night also. If I find that they're, everything is very very crisp, then I'll move that tune up into that area, time-wise. It's rather significant I think, [unintelligible] point out to the audience, Oscar Peterson mentioned the word "group," the way the group feels. Here again you refer to Ray Brown at the bass and Ed Thigpen at the piano [sic]. Yes. [Unintelligible] rapport between the bass, the piano, and the drum here. Oh there has-- How the group feels-- There has-- And we'll come to that. There has to be. This too I suppose. Here you, at the moment the soloist, you and I on the stage along with you and your piano , your Steinway here. I know this is Steinway's in tune. Yes? It, yet you think in terms of the playing with each other with your colleagues. By all means because this is the one way that you keep a group sounding as one. If if let's say the trio, and were dealing with the three of us, if we are not cognizant of the fact that maybe one set one night or part of the night one of us doesn't quite feel that way-- This alters the entire-- Certainly. We have to revamp the feel of the group and if it's a momentary feeling then when it passes we continue in the vein we were going. If it doesn't you just [equate?]. As you were playing a moment ago, the clusters, you did something. And this, I was going ask you this later but now is the time. You were humming as you were playing and this is again rather intriguing. Toscanini when conducting and often, a lot of recordings [of the?] rehearsals was humming. There was a rehearsal of "Traviata" and he was happening as he was playing. Now would you mind explaining? Well this perhaps could have a dual reason Studs. First of all when I started music I play--initially played trumpet but due to illness I changed. I reverted back and I started trumpet and piano. Due to illness, reverted back to piano. That could be part of it, a holdover from the trumpet playing days. But basically what it is it's a matter of inflection and articulation. I think, or I pre-think my phrases, and, pardon me, being being employed playing this particular instrument, I try as much as possible to get in certain places as sort of a fluid attack the way a horn would. In other words to run one note into another to bend a note such as if I sang [scat sings], I would try to get that same impetus the notes [plays piano]. Instead of [plays piano] the disjointedness [plays piano] or even in a harmonic phrase you try to make it sound as a sax section [plays piano]. So I would sing it [scats and plays piano] and it also helps me with my pedaling, then I know exactly where to hold over. Basically it's a bit of a bug sometimes in the recording studio but it does help me insofar as my articulation and it's a habit that I've developed. There's something, you used two phrases here. You said you pre-think it, you pre-think it you see? What you're humming then, you're humming. You're thinking also of the trumpet, you say you [went?]--Setting the pattern [unintelligible], and you used the phrase "bend the note," which of course is a beautiful phrase. You bend it, you make it flexible. Yes. Instead of playing [plays piano] you play [plays piano] and it slide into the other, the way, which is very a very easy thing for a wind instrument but can be very difficult for a percussive, percussion and such as a piano. And therefore, in your humming, this then is the purpose of the humming? Partially, yes, that's the main purpose. Also usually, I have a belief, I believe that I should be able to play everything I can sing and sometimes I get a little ambitious with the singing, you know it's a lot easier to sing a phrase than to execute it on the piano. You see if for instance this phrase [scat sings] [unintelligible] [go?] [plays piano] This forces me to stretch and reach a little bit in my improvisation. It's more of a challenge then? I mean--. Yes, if I sing something and can't come up with it on a piano then I know I'm in trouble. So it's that singing that humming that you do supplies this impetus, more challenge. You have to stretch more than you would if you didn't do the humming. Yes. For instance Ray Brown my bassist sings right along with his solos and I think another reason he sings in his case now is intonation wise. He sort of hums all of his notes and makes sure that the bass note comes at exactly the same way that--same pitch that he has been singing it in. You mentioned, since we touched on singing, you yourself for a time, or have you abandoned this? You were a singer as well as--. Well I made a couple of recordings and primarily Studs, the reason we got into the singing apart from the recordings was that we found that in nightclubs when we got into the involved jazz things trio wise we could lose a lot of people very easily and we also found that sometimes it could be hard, it would be very hard for them to take a whole set of of the deep jazz things, so consequently used to try and intersperse them with light things like "Mountain Greenery" and things that they knew they could you know sort of relate--. [Unintelligible] for a very definite--. Yes. Purpose of conditioning the audience to accept the more serious [unintelligible]. But basically one drawback I find with singing I think I would have made a much better job of it if I didn't play for myself because I found that while singing I was very involved in what I played for myself on the piano. You know I'd be singing a lyric and I'd be saying to myself, I don't like that voicing, [unintelligible] that, it's too thick or it isn't thick enough or it's in the wrong range. And by the same token though we did a couple of things. I did a couple of things where someone else played for me and I didn't like that either. So I decided that basically that this instrument is enough of a challenge. It's more than two hands full. But singing and playing was almost like handling two instruments at the same time-- Very difficult. Wasn't it, yeah? And so-- Very difficult. Voicing the instrument too but certainly you've mastered the piano. Before I ask you, there's another question about the several Oscar Petersons, perhaps, you're the best artist I can think of perhaps to demons--In your own way the story of jazz through, not the whole story but through you, through your understanding and development. People have described you, critics describe you as a master of all styles. Oh let me ask you this first. How did the influences in your life, Tatum I suppose was an influence-- Very definitely. Wasn't he? Mmmhmm. Art Tatum has been my biggest influence, m y major influence, still is and I believe will be for the duration of my lifetime. Another great influence on my life was Nat Cole who-- That's interesting. Whose basics--Well I'm speaking now primarily of the days, I still revere his singing-- The trio. Primarily of the days when he played with the trio because he had a basic simplicity and directness and a beautiful sense of taste and a beautiful approach to the instrument. And they went through all of the phases at one time. I think everyone does when they when they start out you know a youngster. Incidentally without , without trying to sound commercial we have a school in Canada that we've initiated and the major question that arises every time-- not just myself but all the other instrumental teachers--the youngsters come up and say, Look everything has been played. There are so many styles. How do I find a style? And it's so hard when you have a young impetuous mind that listens to everything. It becomes a little bewildering to them to sort of figure out how will I segregate what I want to do from the rest of this conglomeration of music. It can be very difficult. I went through that period. You were speaking of the different periods I went through I went through all of them. I, at one time I figured, well, I go along with this particular pianist this is really the answer to jazz piano. And the funny thing is you outgrow and I don't mean this egotistically Studs, you outgrow this because I think the inner person starts to come out. Obviously Oscar Peterson is his own man his own artist. The fact is though there could be no Oscar Peterson unless you heard these others. Exactly which is exactly what we tell the youngsters because one fallacy that has originated in this particular medium of modern music is that I think primarily critics have overstressed the the idea of originality, and I can't remember exactly where I saw this particular comment but there was one very astute comment on this overused phraseology of cliches. Now most people when they read the word "he plays a bunch of cliches" interprets , interprets this to mean that whoever the artist may be has got a bunch of things that are so repetitious they're mundane to the average listener. This is not so. This is, I think what they overlooked in stressing this, the overuse of this word, is that this is all part and particle of the inner man. He's restating his objectives in the music. He's saying this is what I believe in. He's stressing it. And it also is a matter of style. This is also his style. I know several musicians I can that I can I can buy a recording not knowing they're on it and put it on and hear the solo [going round?]-- And you know. Immediately this the point of recognition, you see. The uniqueness of each man's approach. That's right. At the same time this man is not removed from the rest of the world. Certainly not. The older artists he's heard. And we crib from one another. Believe me I do-- It has to be, doesn't it? Certainly because you're influenced as we said, you admire. I know I revere many musicians living and dead and it's a sort of a salutary thing. This thing I just played you this phrase [plays piano], that's one of Dizzy Gillespie's things. Now from what I know it's one of Dizzy Gillespie's pet phrases. Perhaps he may have gathered this from someone that influenced him. I'm not saying it was that way but however it came to my attention through Dizzy Gillespie. I [admire him?] Would we know Dizzy without Roy Eldridge? There you go. Exactly. And no Roy without Armstrong I suppose. And it just goes all the way back down the line. Now the phrase you just played, Dizzy Gillespie, yet from that you go on to something else. Yes That becomes Oscar Peterson. Yes. This leads me into something else. Is that is that asking too much? No, not in the least. If you were playing something like this [plays piano] and now you you will see [plays piano] that I retained the rolling quality of that phrase [plays piano]; the rhythmical pattern is