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
Venue: London House, Chicago, USA
Recording Date(s): July 11 – August 6, 1961
Label: Verve Records, 314 531 766 2
Release Date: 1996
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
01 I’ve never been in Love before
02 In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning
04 The Night We Called It a Day
05 Sometimes I’m Happy
06 Whisper Not
07 Billy Boy
09 Billy Boy
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
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
02 On Green Dolphin Street
04 Billy Boy
05 Scrapple From The Apple
07 Band Call
08 The Night We Called It a Day
09 The Lonesome One
10 The Gravy Waltz
11 Woody ‘n’ You
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
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.
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.