Oscar Peterson: Oscar Sings

Charming vocal renditions from the virtuoso pianist suggest he could almost pass as a tribute act to Nat King Cole

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In the liner notes to this collection of Oscar Peterson’s vocal performances, Alice Partland writes that Peterson had a “very beautiful voice”, and she is absolutely spot on. What surprises and delights throughout these tracks is the elegance with which Peterson approaches the material.

Sounding eerily like Nat King Cole in the opening notes of I’m Glad There Is You, he could almost pass as a tribute act to Cole, such are the similarities in phrasing and vibrato. But Peterson puts his own stamp on these songs, paring back his playing to let the lyrics shine through.

Collected from a couple of albums Peterson released in the 1950s (Romance: The Vocal Styling of Oscar Peterson, and Soft Sands, which featured orchestral arrangements conducted by Buddy Bregman) together with a few singles from the same era, this is a comprehensive and highly listenable collection.

The Bregman material contains some cheesy backing vocals that make the songs sound like advertising jingles, but these apart, a quiet sense of style permeates the proceedings. Most tracks barely last four minutes, but on The Sheik Of Araby Peterson combines vocals with an extended piano solo to take the song to over eight minutes, giving us more of a performance on piano that we’re used to from him.

Peterson regulars Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Barney Kessel underpin the trio performances, adapting their contributions to support Peterson’s vocals rather than get carried away with themselves. The single version of Autumn In New York, recorded in 1952, could hardly be a more fitting way to conclude the album. Recorded almost 70 years ago, it’s a restrained, wistful song that places itself firmly in the America of the time. Short, bittersweet and perfectly executed, it suggests that times back then were simpler than they are now. I doubt they were but it sure sounded like it.

Discography
(1) I’m Glad There Is You; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; One For My Baby; I Hear Music; Autumn In New York; I Can’t Give You Anything But Love; Spring Is Here; These Foolish Things; From This Moment On; The Things We Did Last Summer; (2) Too Marvelous For Words; But Not For Me; (3) On The Outside Looking In; Why, Oh Why; I’ve Never Left Your Arms; Susquehanna;(4) The Sheik Of Araby; Until The Real Thing Comes Along; That Makes A Difference To Me; Autumn in New York (67.49)
Peterson (v, p) on all tracks plus (1) Herb Ellis (g); Ray Brown (b). New York, May 1953 and 27 April 1954. (2) Barney Kessel (g); Ray Brown (b). Los Angeles, February 1952. (3) Buddy Bregman (cond). Los Angeles, March and July 1957. (4) as (2) Los Angeles, 1951-53.
Essential Jazz Classics EJC55761