A JAZZ ODYSSEY: The Life of Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson, Author, Richard Palmer, Editor . Continuum $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8264-5807-0

In this muddled and confusing autobiography, Canadian pianist Peterson pays a long-winded tribute to his many jazz pals in lieu of revealing much about his own life. It's a shame, considering so little is known about him; with well over 200 albums spanning six decades, Peterson (b. 1925) is widely considered one of the greatest and most prolific jazz musicians ever. Unfortunately, from the outset Peterson is a reluctant subject. He supplies some of the bare facts of his speedy rise to jazz superstardom—from musical training under his Caribbean immigrant father, who administered lickings for wrong notes, to his being discovered in 1949 by legendary jazz promoter and Verve label owner Norman Granz, who set up Peterson's American debut at Carnegie Hall. There are some entertaining anecdotes, such the first time a wide-eyed Peterson attended one of Billie Holiday's drugged-up soirées and was met at the door by the tumbling body of her accompanist ("Billie was at the top of the stairs hurling invectives at him, and she ended this scene by throwing a couple of Coke bottles after him as he landed at my feet"). But there are never enough personal details to make Peterson come alive for readers. One hundred pages into this hefty tome, Peterson abruptly abandons his narrative to write a series of overwritten—and uninsightful—portraits of the jazz greats he's worked with, such as Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins; many vignettes are accompanied by poems. Instead of returning to the story of his life, Peterson chooses to end this odd book with a series of unrelated "essays" on great hotels and his experiences in the outdoors. B&w photos not seen by PW. (July 16)

Reviewed on: 06/10/2002
Release date: 07/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 382 pages - 978-0-8264-7624-1
Paperback - 216 pages - 978-0-8264-6725-6
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