A Jazz Odyssey: The Life of Oscar Peterson
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Oct. 25, 2002
A Jazz Odyssey: The Life of Oscar Petersonby Oscar Peterson
382 pp., $29.95 There's no denying that Oscar Peterson is among the most supremely talented musicians jazz ever produced. The Canadian-born piano Promethean is, however, not the most colorful figure in a musical culture known for its larger-than-life characters. What makes this fast-moving autobiography most compelling is Peterson's long association with the best jazz musicians of the age, artists whose lives are more vivid and intriguing than that of the storyteller. So integral are his fellow musicians to the telling of his story that the beginning of the book features a seven-page dramatis personae of characters from Cannonball Adderly to Lester Young. Peterson's insightful and often humorous vignettes about legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and dozens more are a delight for jazz fans. Peterson's long professional and personal relationship with jazz impresario Norman Granz, "my best friend" and a complex character in his own right, is an essential ingredient as well. These characterizations, forming the crux of the book, are incorporated into an entertaining and personal account of a jazzman's life on the road. Peterson saves his most intimate observations on race, family life, and the cultural politics of jazz for last. Until then, one wonders if he's conspicuously ignoring these obvious topics, but when addressed, his emotions are intense and they come in a deluge. The most glaring omission here is the absence of a discography. With over 50 years of recordings to his credit, a listing of his career highlights seems in order and would provide a touchstone for interested readers/listeners.