Saturday Night Tunes: Oscar Peterson Plays the Cole Porter Songbook

I thought, mostly out of sheer laziness on my part, that we could put our jazz history theme aside for one week and go back to listening to some tunes from a single album. Since Oscar Peterson made a cameo in our Louis Armstrong post from a couple of weeks ago, I thought his album of Cole Porter covers would be a nice way to say more about him and also keep the music in that early-20th century realm.

Oscar Peterson (d. 2007) was born in 1925 in Montreal, which believe it or not had a pretty thriving jazz scene in its Little Burgundy neighborhood. As a child he studied classical piano but taught himself how to play the boogie-woogie, and he was so proficient that he was a full-time professional musician by 1940, when he was 14 years old, and came on to the US jazz scene before he turned 25. One of the rare artists who made the transitions from hot jazz to swing to bebop and beyond without missing a step, he’s regarded as one of jazz’s true titans both as a performer and composer. If you don’t know who Cole Porter is, I’m afraid you’re beyond my abilities to save. He wasn’t a jazz man, but he might as well have been, given how many of his songs have become jazz standards.

Peterson’s 1950s trio with Ray Brown on bass and guitarist Herb Ellis is considered one of the finest piano trios in jazz history, but when Ellis left the group in 1958 they elected to replace him with a drummer, Ed Thigpen, for fear that no other guitarist would be able to match Ellis’s contributions. That’s the group that recorded 1959’s Oscar Peterson Plays the Cole Porter Song Book. Cole Porter’s music entered the jazz canon very early on, so you’ll be able to hear how a late 1950s group approaches music that Armstrong or Sidney Bechet might have tackled back in the day.

“Love for Sale” is my favorite tune on the album. Peterson just owns it all the way through:

“Night and Day” is one of Porter’s best-known tunes, and it gets a great treatment from the trio here:

Another Porter favorite is “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” mostly because Frank Sinatra basically made the song one of his staples. Peterson gives it an interesting percussive feel before it settles into a nice medium swing:

Let’s kick the tempo up a little with “It’s All Right With Me,” written for his 1953 musical Can-Can:

“I Love Paris” is yet another well-known and heavily covered Porter tune, also from Can-Can, and I really enjoy this version:

There are a full dozen tracks on this album, so you’ll have to hunt down the rest on your own, but to close us out on sometime nice and slow, here’s the ballad “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”:

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