Tuesday 18 March 2008

Smells Like Teen Spirits

In honour of last Friday's Conan feature on the always deep-thoughtful and harmolodically charged The Bad Plus, and considering the U-vid of said gig was yankedrepatriated by the NBC, here they are in a dark but lively den somewhere in Argentina. But that's not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about Oscar Peterson.

I'll tell you about my close encounter with Peterson someday, but what I wanted to tell you is about the show just prior to that, it was at the Winnipeg concert hall and I had my pair of decent-view jazz-DJ comps and took my then-girlfriend to see pure genius in action.

Now, she, bless her heart, thought Jazz died that fateful day when Glenn Miller's plane went missing, and here we were, minor VIPs in the audience of the worthy successor of Art Tatum -- why Winnipeg's only modern jazz DJ was a 'minor' VIP, don't ask, don't matter, unimportant and hadn't really thought of it before -- the thing is, my gf, she was dead bored, edgy board, gown-fidgity looking about to see who's there kind of bored. I was enthralled at the sheer blistering precision of Oscar's execution, but every streaming note of it was sailing right over her head into the cheap seats behind us.

And then Oscar did a brilliant thing: He played a Billy Joel tune! Unannounced, he sailed into Just the way you are, a lyric romance that was not surprisingly my girl's current fave pop-chart topper.

That did it. That was it. That was something she could hang on to, some ground for the figure, some context and frame for understanding what it was that was so brilliant about Oscar Peterson and so brilliant about his outsideness. Oscar Peterson made a new devoted fan that day, leaping out of the Ambient Music bin and straight into the Gotta-Have-More bin.

The Bad Plus may still be a little outside the reach of some ears, even after this, even after their Late Night gig and this week at the Blue Note, but then I always preferred Al Yankovic's version to the original anyway.

Amazon: The Bad Plus / Oscar Peterson