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Oscar Peterson: The Man and His Jazz by Jack…

Oscar Peterson: The Man and His Jazz

by Jack Batten

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I liked the concept of the book and I love learning about people's lives, especially how they have overcome adversity, but I didn't like the author's writing style. I found his sentences to be choppy and they often broke grammatical rules, such as "Do not start a sentence with 'and' or 'but." Things like that bug me. I did like the inclusion of the pictures, bibliography and index. I think all of those things will benefit someone who would like to know more about Oscar's life outside of reading this book. ( )
  eheinlen | Feb 7, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Oscar Peterson is my favorite jazz pianist from the twentieth century, so I enjoyed reading this biography (full disclosure: I was given a copy by the publisher). The book covers Oscar's formative years with a family who helped each other learn to play both classical and jazz under their father's guidance. This situation seems similar to the Jackson family, though, in this case, Oscar was the only one to become a professional musician. The book does a good job of covering the early successes and some of the middle and later years. The only weakness is the inconsistent coverage of Oscar's performances - some are covered in great detail while others are mentioned in a few sentences or not at all. While it's not a definitive biography, it's more than rich enough for a good overview of the great performer's life. The author's prose is clear and is at a level suitable for younger readers. ( )
  cwlongshot | Dec 13, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This biography of a jazz giant, told in third person, is a simple, straight-forward read. Geared for novice musicians and the YA crowd, the coverage of Peterson's life is interesting and non-academic in its telling. Quick and breezy, this biography is a good introduction to a piano legend. ( )
  Jeanomario | Dec 7, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I wasn't sure how interesting the life of Oscar Peterson was going to be when I first started reading this biographical story, but I found myself very engaged from start to finish. If you have an appreciation for music, play the piano, or enjoy listening to or playing jazz, you will most likely enjoy learning about the life and career of Canadian jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson. The most refreshing part of this book was that unlike other icons who are very talented but whose private lives reveal they are of poor character, Oscar Peterson was a wholesome, decent person. The third person voice is very lively and does a nice job storytelling about this jazz legend. ( )
  LauraEnos | Oct 27, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Oscar Peterson is one of my favorite pianists, regardless of genre. His mastery of those 88 drums (to quote NRBQ‘s Terry Adams) is incomparable and a joy to listen to. So, I was quite pleased when an email from LibraryThing told me I had won an Early Reviewer copy of his latest biography written by Canadian author, Jack Batten, and published by Tundra Books.

I approached this book knowing very little about its subject. I’ve listened to many of Oscar Peterson’s records, but I didn’t know anything about him away from the instrument he affectionately called “The Box.”

Batten did a decent job of introducing me to the man, describing his upbringing in the Montreal neighborhood of St. Henri, his introduction to the piano by his father, Daniel, his quick rise to the national and then international stage by the time he was 24, and then his decades of success as one jazz’s greatest pianists.

This book is aimed at a younger audience. I’d recommend it to junior high and high school music students who are interested in learning something of one of jazz’s major icons. It’s an easy read and not an academic biography, by any means. The downside to that is that it’s lacking in primary research and source material and seems to gloss over elements of Peterson’s life that could have been worth delving into.

It could also be organized better. For example a mention of a crisis in Peterson’s second marriage is made without any explanation until several pages and another chapter later. There are plenty of photographs, which is a nice addition. However, they, too, could have been better organized, either appearing closer to the topics they were concerned with, or perhaps all being placed in a center section by themselves.

Those criticisms aside, it’s a pleasant, quick read that’s a good start to learning about the Maharaja of the keyboard. ( )
  MFenn | Oct 3, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Biographers tread a narrow path between fiction and documentary. Those writing with a young audience in mind have the add­­ed challenge of figuring out what is appropriate to tell children about adult lives.

This used to be an easier task. Biographies for children were primarily written about people we wanted them to emulate: heroes, role models, those who triumphed over adversity. But writing about real people is a trickier business now: we’re less sure what constitutes an exemplary life. Our general taste is geared more to revealing hypocrisy than inspiring virtue. Our standards are also more rigorous, discouraging invented dialogue or hypothetical musings of the “she must have felt” variety.

Jack Batten walks confidently through these various minefields in his biography of Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Born in Montreal to poor, immigrant parents, Peterson went on to debut at Carnegie Hall at age 24. When he was eight, he spent a year in hospital with tuberculosis. Like other members of his family he developed arthritis. At 67, he suffered a stroke, losing much of the power in his left hand, yet he continued to perform and record for years. He seemed to weather the endemic racism he encountered without becoming embittered. In a jazz world fuelled by drugs he remained a straight arrow. Batten quotes him as writing: “I knew for certain I didn’t belong at that party.”

Batten knows his subject well: there are photos of him interviewing Peterson in the mid-1960s, and he is the former jazz reviewer for The Globe and Mail. A conscientious researcher, he fashions a convincing aspirational narrative from his material. His jaunty, journalistic writing makes the reader feel like one of the gang. One politician is described as “an affable, low-key operator,” and a particular guitarist’s style is marked by “long shimmering lines of improvisation.” Batten puts the facts of Peterson’s life in context, opening up many avenues of further exploration for the curious.

Writing about music has been likened to dancing about architecture, yet Batten’s text becomes energized when he describes Peterson’s music. Of the pianist’s perfor­mance of Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly,” Batten writes: “At about the two-thirds mark in the song, after several quietly passionate passages at medium tempo, Oscar went into a series of extra-large, two-handed chord rolls, the kind that threw listeners, metaphorically, against the back of their seats.”

Batten makes us really want to hear the music for ourselves (I went straight to iTunes and was indeed blown back against my desk chair). He also provides a tidy capsule history of jazz for the uninitiated, making sense of its varying influences. A detailed analysis of a 1956 concert recording, The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, is a kind of jazz primer.

Batten gives us a moving and convincing portrait of Peterson, but his text is not well served by its package. A dramatic cover portrait and some innovative type design and layout invite us in, but the quality of the photographs is uneven – many are grainy, overexposed, or ill-placed. This is particularly disappointing given that, as Batten tells us, Peterson was a keen amateur photographer.

Still, substantial biographies of Canadians for young readers are in short supply, and this volume will be a welcome choice for students who have been given the “biography assignment.” Its other obvious curriculum-related use is for the study of black Canadian history, joining titles such as Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner and Season of Rage by John Cooper in putting a human face on this strand of our story.

This book’s real potential is for the kid who may not know a Thigpen from a Thelonious, but who wonders about the shape of a life. What must it be like to discover, at age 12, the art form that will shape the rest of your existence? How does it feel to grow up with such a stern and demanding father? What happens when you outshine your teachers? What is it like to be famous? What gives somebody the drive, ambition, and focus to say, “On our worst night we’ve got to sound better than most people sound on their best night”?

Beyond answering these questions, this well-crafted bio might just inspire some young pianist to slog away at scales and exercises in the hope that, with luck and determination, the hard work might lead to greatness.
added by VivienneR | editQuill & Quire, Sarah Ellis (Dec 1, 2012)
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Traces Oscar Peterson's rise from being a disadvantaged youth to becoming one of the world's most distinguished jazz pianists, discussing such topics as his battles with racism, illness, and poverty.

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