The super–agile, classically-trained pianist Oscar Peterson and the smoky-toned saxophonist Ben Webster recorded this delightful session on December 14, 1972 in a Hanover studio. Indeed, the companion DVD readily attests that they did so in front of an attentive and clearly appreciative audience. Nine months later, Webster, who had recorded sessions with Billie Holiday, was dead in Amsterdam, aged 64, following a cerebral haemorrage. He is still remembered for his breathy, raspy tone on the instrument.
Oscar Peterson would continue to tour and record for many years afterwards, although the stroke he suffered in 1993 confined him to playing with one hand. When he died in 2007, aged 82, the Ontario-born, one-time child prodigy had made 200 recordings. During a long and productive jazz life, he would win eight Grammy awards.
Also part of that Hanover session were drummer Tony Inzalaco – the only member of the ensemble still living - and double bass virtuoso, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. Affectionately known sometimes as The Great Dane with the Never Ending Name, NHOP died of heart failure in his native Denmark, in 2005, aged only 58.
Some years prior to his death, the clearly likable musician played Vicar Street with an electric guitar/ bass/ drums trio, an exhilarating concert which this writer was fortunate to attend. At the time of this Hanover session, he had just begun to play with Oscar Peterson and theirs would be a long and fruitful relationship. From the moment he first heard his playing, Oscar had always wanted to perform with the Dane and had felt it would happen. There was a certain air of destiny about their collaboration.
Throughout his life, Ørsted Pedersen was a much-sought after player, not just by Oscar Peterson. Suffice to say that at 15 he was obliged to turn down an offer to join the Count Basie orchestra. (It appears that he was too young to to live and work legally as a musician in America.)
Here these four skilled musicians are clearly having fun in a predominantly bluesy swing set, dominated by four Ellington tunes, I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good, Come Sunday, Cotton Tail and the bonus track, In A Mellow Tone (available on the CD only.)
The first two of these are ballads, but the kind of melancholia that Miles Davis perfected is studiously avoided. Oscar Peterson – surely the happiest face ever in jazz – continues to smile in entrancement through arrangments that are more whimsical than morose. Entirely in keeping with the overall, cheery and companionable tone of an excellent set.