Jazz Virtuoso Oscar Peterson Gives Dick Cavett a Dazzling Piano Lesson (1979)

Duke Ellington once dubbed Oscar Peterson a “keyboard maharaja” for his versatility and ability to play any style with ease, a skill he first learned as a classically trained kid. He was introduced to Bach and Beethoven by his musician father and older sister Daisy, then trained in rigorous finger exercises and gave her six hours a day of practice under his mentor, the Hungarian pianist Paul de Marche. Canadian jazz greats said, “I only really heard jazz for the first time somewhere between the ages of seven and ten.” “My older brother Fred, who was actually a better pianist than me, started playing different new tunes–well, it was new to me, anyway…. The Duke of Ellington and Art Tatum, who frightened me to death with his style.”

Despite his remarkable talent, Peterson found Tatum “intimidating,” as he told Count Basie in a 1980 interview. He responded to fear by learning how to play like Tatum, and like everyone else he admired, while adding his own musical transformations to Standards and Origins. At the age of 14, he won a national Canadian music competition and left school to become a professional musician.

He recorded his first album in 1945 at the age of twenty. “Since his “discovery” in 1947 by Norman Granz, International Musician wrote in 2002, five years before the pianist’s death,” Peterson has amassed an astonishing legacy of recorded works with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Fred Astaire and Daisy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Parker, among countless other greats.”

In the video above the post from Dick Cavett Show In 1979, Peterson demonstrated his elegant style and demonstrated the “stylistic trademarks” of the greats he admired, which others had heard expressed in his own style. He begins with an albatross, Tatum’s “step piano,” a technique that requires a great deal of left-hand articulation which, if done correctly, can “stop the rhythm section from working,” Cavett jokes. Peterson then shows Nat Cole’s “two-finger rhythm”, Errol Garner’s “lyrical octave work” and double octave melody lines, a very difficult two-handed maneuver.

It’s an astonishing lesson that shows, in just a few minutes, why Peterson is known for his “amazing prowess as a soloist,” as one of his biographies notes. In the video above, YouTube producer and personality Rick Beato explains why he thought Peterson played “the greatest singles of all time” on the 1974 show of “Boogie Blues Study.” As David Funk, who posted Cavett’s YouTube video, puts it, “What more can you say?” To understand why Louis Armstrong called Peterson the “man with four hands,” we simply need to watch him play.

Related content:

How Music Unites Us All: A Herbie Hancock and Kamassi Washington Conversation

Deconstructing Stevie Wonder’s Poem for Jazz and Its Hero, Duke Ellington: A Fabulous Breakdown of ‘Sir Duke’

Jazz Deconstruction: What Makes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” Groundbreaking and Radical?

Josh Jones Writer and musician based in Durham, North Carolina. follow him in Tweet embed

Leave a Comment