"Oscar, With Love" Review- A Superb Tribute to Oscar Peterson at Symphony Center

On April 7, The Chicago Symphony Center Presents Jazz series hosted “Oscar, With Love”, a tribute concert commemorating the music of the great pianist and composer Oscar Peterson at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan. Emceed by the pianist’s daughter, Céline Peterson, with a brief and touching appearance on stage by the artist’s widow, Kelly Peterson, the concert followed the creation and release in 2015 of a 3-disc (5LP) set also called “Oscar, With Love”, which included many of his better-known works, a number of previously unrecorded Peterson compositions and 7 songs that were written for Oscar by some of the 17 assembled artists. On the recording, all the pianists played on his personal piano.

Pianist Ramsey Lewis; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Peterson, once called “Canada’s ambassador of jazz”, had a profound impact on six decades of jazz music, both as a pianist and as a composer. The 36 works on the set release and the 16 presented at this concert represent a very special demonstration of the brilliance of his work and influence.

The evening featured a star-studded ensemble of fine pianists- a virtual who’s who of keyboard experts- by artists who had a personal connection to Peterson: Audrey Morris, Ramsey Lewis, Robi Botos, Benny Green, Kenny Barron, Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes, with stellar bass player Dave Young, an integral member for decades of Peterson’s famed jazz trio.

The piano used on stage the night of the concert was not the rare 97-key Bösendorfer Imperiale style beloved by Peterson and used by the  pianists who gathered with Kelly Peterson to help make the album; it was a Bösendorfer 280VC concert grand, which premiered in 2016, provided courtesy of Grand Piano Haus in Skokie. The instrument was designed to deliver rich and diverse tonal colors. The clarity and resonance were dynamic, the audience bathed in lustrous sound.

Pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Young; photo by Todd Rosenberg

The music ran the gamut from the stark “Announcement”, the introduction to the famed 1981 “A Royal Wedding Suite” performed by the stylish incredibly fast-fingered Bill Charlap, through the technical virtuosity of “Bossa Beguine”  played by Renee Rosnes and Dave Young, to the charming four-handed version of “Sushi Blues”, presented by the married Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes, during which the couple switched sides several times so they could each play in the treble register. Charlap solo gave a splendid rendition of the lively jazz standard “Back Home Again in Indiana”, and Rosnes performed the strikingly sentimental and lyrical “Love Ballade” with Dave Young.

Kenny Barron demonstrated a compelling mastery in his  romantic, meditative and dreamy “Ballad for Benny Carter” and the swinging, rocking “The Smudge”, both performed with Dave Young.

Audrey Morris, hailed as "the first lady of jazz in Chicago",  displayed a firm but gentle touch on the old standard “Look What You’ve Done to Me”, which she crooned sweetly in homage to Peterson, a dear friend.

Husband and wife piano duo Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap; photo by Todd Rosenberg

The music ranged widely from the bluesy feel of “Cool Walk”, played by Benny Green, introduced as “the only true protégé of Oscar Peterson” through his passionate interpretation of “If You Only Knew” to his striking execution of “Hymn to Freedom”, the Civil Rights anthem. Green, who played with a large helping of attitude to match his masterful articulation, spoke eloquently about how Peterson befriended and helped him.

 Ramsey Lewis garnered well-deserved ovations  when he walked onstage as well as for his lustrous delivery of “If I Love Again” and his superb playing with fingers flying all over the keys of the majestic “Laurentide Waltz”, from Peterson’s “Canadiana Suite”, 1964.

Young, a remarkabley skilled bassist, not only  accompanied many of the pianists throughout the show with masterful and often understated skill but delivered a stunning solo rendering of the sentimental, lovely “Goodbye Old Friend”.

Pianist Benny Green; photo by Todd Rosenberg

The incomparable Robi Botos’ gave a rousing depiction of his own “Smedley’s Attack”, with it’s heavy bass component and obvious Peterson influence; he closed the concert with the lyrically melodic and strongly felt ballad “When Summer Comes”; he performed both pieces with Dave Young.

The enormous combined talent of the evening supplied a showcase for the individual musicians whose heartfelt performances shed light on their own interpretations of the thoughts and feelings of a musical giant.

Peterson’s waltzes, ballads, commissions for television programs and ballet scores have formed an integral part of the language and enduring appeal of the jazz medium. His own solo recordings as well as those with The Oscar Peterson Trio and with famous collaborators such as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, to name but a few, earned him honors and accolades. It is only fitting that this legendary musician’s work be remembered and complemented by those he worked with and inspired.

Pianist Robi Botos and bassist Dave Young; photo by Todd Rosenberg

 

For information and tickets to all the fine programs of The Chicago Symphony go to the CSO website.

 

  

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