Oscar Peterson Trio: London House Sessions, ‘61

I believe it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” Well, color yourself happy and call me shallow or just – as I do – go for Seneca instead: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” No matter what, I was damn lucky, and in my present circumstances that is not something that’s lurking around every corner. Several stars must have been aligned just right: I stumbled into this godforsaken CD shop populated by people who did not really know what they were selling. The usual money-making machinery. It was early in the morning, just after they had opened for the day. They were shop-cleaning, removing Britney Spears to be replaced with, err, Mariah Carey. All in all, a perfect day for jazz lovers.

As I was leafing through their jazz section, which consisted mostly of no-name, cheap, and copyright-free CD re-releases of the worst quality, interspersed with some better stuff (none of it recent), I saw this thicker ring-bound CD collection sticking out. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what I was looking at. The cover is rather weird and only upon closer inspection are the words “London House” and “Oscar Peterson” discernible – most of the rest is illegible at best. Considering the low quality surrounding this find, I didn’t really expect much but still, I decided to have a closer look.

My pulse began to quicken once I opened the thing up. Inside, after a blank black page, again not exactly prominently, the title declared that this was “The Oscar Peterson Trio”. Just beneath, diagonally, it said “The London House Sessions”, below which was the short list of musicians, “Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Ed Thigpen”. It wasn’t until I had leafed past the 7 pages with various murky photographs and barely legible writing that I reached the 5-page track list. And that’s when I realized what I was looking at: The complete 1996 Verve/Polydor 5-CD release of Oscar Peterson’s “The London House Sessions”. I had lusted after the set but had all but given up.

For all of you in the know, not much else actually needs to be said here, but for those who have never seen this CD collection, some background: For ten days in the summer of 1961, between July 11th and August 6th, to be exact, Oscar Peterson played at the jazz club in Chicago, “London House”. He was accompanied by Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. Ed Thigpen had joined up two years before, in 1959, replacing guitarist Herb Ellis. As Peterson is quoted in the booklet:

There was a lot of talk about my virtuosity on the instrument, and some people were saying, ‘Oh, he can play that way with a guitar because it’s got that light, fast sound, but he couldn’t pull off those lines with a drummer burnin’ up back there’ … We chose Ed Thigpen because of his brushwork and sensitivity in general.

With Thigpen on drums, the legendary Oscar Peterson trio was complete and it became an instant success. And, in my opinion, on these five CDs you can hear the trio at its best. There is an incredible amount of energy pulsating from these recordings for various reasons. First of all, Thigpen was new enough to give the trio that extra amount of freshness. Secondly, the live audience, noisy as it was at times, seems to have drawn the best from Peterson who time and again stretches tunes to wow his audience, whips out the most incredible showmanship only to descend into the most wonderful ballads. There is color, sensitivity, bop, lots of blues, and most importantly, the whole set swings like mad at times. It is pure bliss.

Not that this music hasn’t been heard before. A larger part of the recording session was previously issued on four separate LPs, “The Trio” (Verve, 1961, V-8420), “The Sound of the Trio” (Verve, 1962, V6-8480) “Put on a Happy Face” (Verve, 1966, V6-8660), and “Something Warm” (Verve, 1966, V6-8681). But this collection adds twenty-two previously unissued tracks, effectively doubling the muisc issued on the four LPs. Mind you, the unissued tracks are not fillers. Quite to the contrary, some of the best tunes here are the ones never heard before. Disc 5, for example, is in constant rotation here, especially “Cuban Chant” which showcases a smokin’ Ed Thigpen and at times has a raw energy that is invigorating.

The restoration and mastering work by Ben Young and Chris Herles at Polygram is fabulous and despite the booklet’s warning that the audience gets in the way at times, this is exactly what gives this CD set its charme. Yes, you can hear people talk, you can hear a phone ring occasionally and you can hear the clatter of silverware. And that’s why it sounds authentic and surrounds you with just the right atmosphere once you throw it into a half-decent stereo and blast it out via equally decent speakers.

On top of that, the set offers up wonderful (new) liner notes by Michael Ullman, written in 1996 and way above the usual gibberish written about Peterson. It’s an insightful short essay, getting things just right and, for once, giving the Art Tatum – Oscar Peterson comparison a decent perspective.

Lots of negative stuff has been written about the artwork and the layout, but I don’t agree. First of all, it hid the set pretty well from the eyes of other shoppers and gave me the chance to pick this one up at a killer price, and secondly I also love bibliophile stuff. And this set certainly has that quality. But, to be quite honest, the first thing I did was to remove the CDs from their cardboard sleeves and store them away snuggly in jewelcases … just to make sure nothing gets scratched.

I’m in heaven. You could be too, if you can find this set anywhere. Once in a while the set pops up on eBay at prices ranging from $40 upwards, but now that I know how damn good it is, I would surely dish out the $50 to $80 this set usually commands.

Beg, steal or borrow.

Oh, to finish the story. At the above-mentioned shop, the set had been lying around for probably 5 years or more. I played dumb and told them I wanted to get it as a present, and that I wasn’t prepared to pay the price they were asking (which was ridiculously low in the first place, with a price tag of around $30). After all, the cover was slightly creased at the spine. Having listened to one CD from the set, the guy at the counter noticed that two of the CDs were slightly fogged up. When I said I wasn’t about to take a risk with such a set, and after some bartering, I got the set for $20. Needless to say, I walked out of their with a smile wide and bright enough to lighten up larger parts of Germany.

***

Artist(s): Oscar Peterson Trio
Title: The London House Sessions
CDs: 5
Venue: London House, Chicago, USA
Recording Date(s): July 11 – August 6, 1961
Label: Verve Records, 314 531 766 2
Release Date: 1996

Reissue:
Supervised by: Michael Lang
Researched and restored by: Ben Young
Mastered by: Chris Herles at PolyGram Studios
Notes edited by: Peter Pullman
Production coordinated by: Aric Lach Morrison
Production assistance by: Jared Patterson and Jason Wampler
Art designed and directed by: David Lau and Lisa Po-Ying Huang
Design coordinated by: Nichell Delvaille
Executive Producer: Richard Seidel

Disc 01:
01 I’ve never been in Love before
02 In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning
03 Chicago
04 The Night We Called It a Day
05 Sometimes I’m Happy
06 Whisper Not
07 Billy Boy
08 Tricrotism
09 Billy Boy

Disc 02:
01 On Green Dolphin Street
02 Thag’s Dance
03 Ill Wind
04 Kadota’s Blues
05 Put On A Happy Face
06 Old Folks
07 Woody ‘N’ You
08 Yesterdays

Disc 03:
01 Diablo
02 Soon
03 The Lonesome One
04 (There Is) No Greater Love
05 I Remember Clifford
06 Autumn Leaves
07 Blues for Big Scotia
08 Swamp Fire
09 I Love You
10 It Happened In Monterey
11 Billy Boy

Disc 04:
01 Introduction
02 On Green Dolphin Street
03 Moanin’
04 Billy Boy
05 Scrapple From The Apple
06 Jim
07 Band Call
08 The Night We Called It a Day
09 The Lonesome One
10 The Gravy Waltz
11 Woody ‘n’ You
12 Soon
13 Daahoud

Disc 05:
01 As Long As There’s Music
02 Close Your Eyes
03 Cubano Chant
04 Sometimes I’m Happy
05 Sophisticated Lady
06 Better Luck Next Time
07 Confirmation

***

External Links:
Oscar Peterson: Oscar Peterson’s official site. I’m not a fan of it, but it’s better than nothing.
Ray Brown: The late Ray Brown’s page on Concord’s homepage.
Ed Thigpen: The late Ed Thigpen’s homepage.

A Customer Review:

These are the best recordings Oscar Peterson ever did with his Trio including Ray Brown b and Ed Thigpen d. It contains previous(ly) released material like “The Trio” but also never before released tracks. This is an absolute MUST for all Oscar Peterson fans! – Dieter Speck, jazz journalist

Check out pictures of this CD set by scrolling down the list to Oscar Peterson. While you’re there, check out the many (often OOP) collector’s items.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. Short comment: this is a brilliant set, with some great playing by Peterson’s excellent first piano-bass-drums trio. For another great Peterson set, this time with his first piano-guitar-bass trio with Barney Kessel and Ray Brown, get the recently released limited-edition Mosaic set “The Complete Clef/Mercury Recordings of the Oscar Peterson Trio 91951-1953)”.

    Reply

  2. Oops, sorry for the typo, it’s “The Complete Clef/Mercury Recordings of the Oscar Peterson Trio 1951-1953”, of course.

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  3. Seven months later I got hold of that one. Fabulous music and quite an improvement in sound when compared to some earlier hissy and crackly reissues I have of the material.

    Still, I’m not quite happy with the sound. It seems a bit lifeless and muffled at times, but I guess there wasn’t much more to get out of some of these sessions.

    Reply

  4. That’s not so strange, considering the fact that some tracks were taken from 78s and LPs because there were no tape sources.

    Reply

  5. arnold van kampen06/05/2009 at 3:08 am

    Dear Volkher,

    Earlier I tried to write the truth about “The London Sessoins””, because you might indeed say: I was involved in that!
    There is an article on WIKIPEDIA about this, and because of all the nonsense published there I worked a complete afternoon (Sunday-raining)to correct all this, and write what really happened.
    Well after one hour, my complete article was removed by a stupid guy, and I just could not bring it back!
    So a warning to all readers: when you go to WIKIPEDIA just do NOT believe what is written there.
    Earlier I had the same experience about Oscar’s fine series “Exclusively For My Friends”.
    As I not only talked with Oscar about this series, but also with Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, I most certainly know about these splendid recordings.
    I only corrected some of the worst stupidity, but that was also removed.
    I guess by the same idiot who wrote that Oscar was living in Germany during these years.

    As for the “London House” box set, I can tell you: I was involved in that from start to finish.
    I even had to original tapes from the Verve Archives, know exactly what was recorded when, etc., etc.
    But for one stupid reason, there are several, including so called “discographers” that keep telling us that this splendid music was recorded in 1962.
    Of course I know where this is coming from: from Gene Lees’ liner notes on “Something Warm”, a mistake, but a mistake that was corrected many times.

    Another thing: I was asked to help Verve U.S.A. out in the matter of releasing the “Concertgebouw” album on cd.
    Well what are you doing in cases like this: you do everything that is possible to get to the truth.
    So I collected everything that was written about that concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
    The concert was only a few years before I became myself a regular visitor of all these splendid jazz concerts in the Concertgebouw.
    I was born and raised in Amsterdam, and during that period I lived in Amsterdam on walking distance from the Concertgebouw.
    To find out what really was recorded and was played during that concert I researched not only all jazzmagazines from that time, but all other media as well.
    During that time I was marketing director of the second largest publisher in Holland, member of the board, and responsable for several large newspapers in our country.
    So it was easy for me to get my hands on every article that was written in every major newspaper.
    Combining all this information I rapidly found out what songs were played during that concert in Amsterdam.
    It turned out that not a single track of what was issued on the original LP (with windmill on the cover), was played during that concert.
    Mr. Ben Young from Verve U.S.A. came up with other information, advertisements in Chicago from that time, tracklists, and information from the boxes in the Archives.
    So it became very clear, that in spite of the touching story of Norman Granz on the cover, the released music came from a concert of September 29, 1957 at the Civic Opera House and most certainly NOT from a concert on April 13, 1958 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
    Since there was room left on the cd, I advised Ben Young to released the Oscar Peterson tracks from a record that otherwise would never bring it to “cd-level” , the tracks from the album: “The Modern Jazz Quartet & Oscar Peterson Trio at the Opera House”, recorded October, 1957 (at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles), but also splendid work from Oscar’s first great Trio, with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown.
    However in 2002 a book was published: “Oscar Peterson – A musical biography” by Alex Barris.
    To my surprise Mr. Barris wrote a complete chapter about what he calls: “The Amsterdam Scam”, and let readers believe that what Ben Young and I had carefully researched was completely WRONG!
    Of course nothing to proove his statement, only what he believes………..!

    I tell you this, because that not only WIKIPEDIA has a lot of stupid information, but you also watch out for the information in books and discographies.
    For 30 years I am working on “The Complete Oscar Peterson Discography” (it was almost published twice), this is a hughe work, including over 500 recordingsession.
    Since my dear friend approved my work and also wrote a nice Introduction to it, you may say: this is the only authorized Discography of O.P. in the world.
    (Anyone interested in publishing it can contact me via Volkher)

    THE LONDON HOUSE SESSIONS

    During the last 20 years I had the good fortune of being a close friend of Oscar.
    I did many interviews with him, up to a point that we had became this close, that it wasn’t right anymore, to put a recordingmachine or a microphone on the table.
    But of course I always wrote down the most important or funny stories we had talked about during hours at his hotelsuite or over dinner.
    Of course we talked a lot about the four fine albums: “Live From Chicago”, “The Sound Of The Trio”, “Something Warm” and “Put On A Happy Face.”
    Oscar told me: “The London House was our summer residence, we stayed there a couple of weeks, also that year: 1961.
    I think we reached our creative peak at that time.
    Of couse the London House was known to be a loud place, but it didn’t bother us, even if somebody dropped a knife.
    We were allowed to play what we liked, and as long as we liked, so when we were inspired we did long tracks.”
    Many of the issued tracks are around 10 minutes.

    When Ben Young of Verve told me that there were plans to release all four albums in a box set, I remembered of course what Oscar had said.
    “There must be more material in the archives, because they recorded us for weeks.”
    So I phoned Ben, and he jumped into Verve’s Archives.
    Well to make a long story somewhat shorter: Ben found all material, something of around 5 hours, and sent all to my home to recognise the tunes and to compair the tunes The Oscar Peterson Trio had done during several nights.
    Of course Oscar was informed, and I remember he was delighted that all of this from the “London House” would be issued in a 5-cd box set.

    My favorite tracks of the “London House Sessions” are: “Sometimes I’m happy” and “Tricrotism”.
    Of course I could do a long review about the complete box-set, but I think Volkher just hasn’t room enough for that.
    Besides this essay is getting longer and longer.

    At the moment, although I am not very fond of how this box was released, it is at the moment out of print, and a collector’s item.
    Sometimes you can find a copy on sites like Ebay, but you will have to pay $ 150-200,- for it.
    Of course I find it a shame that this, certainly one of the very best Oscar ever did, is out of print.
    There is another box set out on a Spanish label, but this one has only the four original albums, and not all the exciting extra tracks, that doubles the playing time.

    So Volkher was really very lucky, to find this box, and certainly at this price.

    If you want the very best of the Peterson-Brown-Thigpen Trio, well this is it.
    If you want the ultimate in what a real, integrated piano-Trio should sound: this is your box!
    If you want to hear to what hights, inspired jazz musician can go, you won’t find anything better than this.
    But what am I talking about: go and get your copy, while you can!

    Arnold.

    Reply

  6. arnold van kampen30/05/2009 at 4:30 am

    Dear Volkher,

    Since these recordings are this important, I better tell Hans that this music came from the original tapes out of the Verve Archives.
    Copies of the tapes were sent to me by Ben Young to indentify the tracks, and to put these in chronological order.
    Our plans were to release this historic material in chronological order, but during the production process several mistakes were made, so not all tracks in this box set have now the proper recording date, and to my regret are not chronological released.

    So I better give all those interested, the proper information in chronological order:
    This information comes directly from the tape boxes, so no 78’s or LP’s were used for this recordings.
    I have talked a lot with Oscar about the poor recording conditions.
    The piano didn’t stay in tune all the time and was several times corrected,Ray had problems with his large violin, the control room was in wardrobe, but as Oscar said: “That didn’t stop us! Even the fact that the people were dining during our concerts, and somtimes a knife was dropped…….we were so together, so inspired, and I am very happy that all what Verve had in their files is now released.”

    For those interested, here are the tracks in chronological order:

    Session 1: 1961-07-27

    There’s no greater love
    I remember Clifford
    Autumn leaves
    Blues for Big Scotia
    It happened in Monterey *

    Session 2: 1961-07-28

    In the wee small hours of the morning
    Kadota’s Blues
    Put on a happy face
    Old Folks
    Woody’n’you
    Yesterdays
    Chicago
    Billy Boy
    Introduction by Oscar Peterson *
    On Green Dolphin Street *
    Moanin’ *
    I’ve never been in love before
    Billy Boy *
    Scrapple from the apple *
    Jim! *
    Band Call *
    The night we called it a day *
    Diablo
    Soon
    The lonesome one

    Session 3: 1961-07-29

    The lonesome one *
    The gravy waltz *
    Woody’n’you *
    On Green Dolphin Street
    Soon * (incomplete)
    Daahoud *
    Tricrotism
    Billy Boy (Oscar mentions previous “Tricrotism”)*
    Swamp fire *
    Billy Boy (Oscar mentions previous “Swamp fire”)*
    The night we called it a day
    Sometimes I’m happy
    Whisper not
    Thag’s dance
    Ill wind
    I love you

    Session 4: 1961-07-30

    As long as there’s music *

    Session 5: 1961-08-02

    Close your eyes *
    Cubano chant *
    Sometimes I’m happy *

    Session 6: 1961-08-03

    Sophisticated lady *
    Better luck next time *
    Confirmation *

    All marked * were previously unissued on LP.
    The track “Billy Boy” was used for intermissions.
    During several of these Oscar tells what was played before.
    Because of a mistake in the liner notes of one of the LP’s, and the difference between recording and releasing, a lot of discographers and others still think that part of the recording were done in 1962.
    Most certainly NOT true.
    Another mistake comes from the Rupli Verve-Discography that tells that the tune “Yours is my heart alone” was recorded on 1961-07-28 during these London House Sessions.
    That is also NOT true, that track “Yours is my heart alone” was recorded on the 26th of September 1962.
    This mistake comes from the Verve 2-LP: “Jazz History Volume 6 – Oscar Peterson.”
    “Yours is my heart alone” was not even recorded “live” and was recorded in 1962 for the fine “Affinity” album, now released on cd together with equal fine album “The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson” of 1959.

    Of course it’s a shame that this legendary box of the best trio jazz has ever known, is out of print now.
    Don’t be fooled by a Spanish box that holds only the music of the 4 originally released LP’s.
    You not only miss half of the music (and the fun), but I think that this music was NOT taken from the original master tapes.

    So find yourself a copy of the real thing.
    You will find this either on Ebay, Gemm or Musicstack.

    Good hunting !

    Arnold.

    My favourite track?
    “Tricrotism” , although “Sometimes I’m happy” comes close.

    Reply

  7. Arnold,

    I was talking about the Mosaic Oscar Peterson 1951-1953 box, not anything else. The notes in the booklet clearly state that some tracks were taken from 78s and LPs because there were no tape sources. Why would they lie about that?

    Reply

  8. Arnold van Kampen sent me the following comment (by accident) which was supposed to be on this page when he posted it:

    “Well your comments look to be upon the London House Sessions, so I thought you were talking about that.
    Sorry if I misunderstood that. ”

    (Volkher)

    Reply

  9. No problem, Arnold. I was replying to Volkher’s previous post: “Still, I’m not quite happy with the sound. It seems a bit lifeless and muffled at times, but I guess there wasn’t much more to get out of some of these sessions”, which I thought was about the Mosaic.

    Reply

  10. Yes, my comment was about the Mosaic. I’m not a fan of the sound, although just about everything else I have from those sessions sounds worse. I just can’t beat the feeling that more could have been gotten out of the material sonically, but maybe I’m completely off base.
    Wishful thinking?
    No idea.

    But, it’s fabulous music!

    Reply

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