Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Oscar Peterson

Music History Monday: Is There Something Strange in the Air?

As readers of this blog and/or listeners to this podcast are aware, some Mondays present us with a plethora, a Mother’s Day buffet of musical topics from which to choose, while others are as dry as a perfect martini. During such days of topical feast or famine, coming up with a topic is equally challenging: in the case of feast, the challenge is choosing one topic over the others and in the case of famine, manufacturing a post out of topical crumbs, dust motes, and bed mites.

Having said that, December 23 presents us with a situation I have never before faced in the 3½ years I’ve been writing this post. Yes, there are a couple of events – a birth and a death – that we will mark in a moment. But in doing my research, I have discovered a gaggle of strange, even horrific musical events associated with December 23, making me wonder whether there is some genuine weirdness in the air on this date. Is it the proximity of December 23 to Christmas Eve Day (the 24th) or the Winter Solstice (the 21st)? Is it a reflection of “The Night of the Radishes”, an annual celebration held on December 23 in Oaxaca, Mexico dedicated to carving oversized radishes? Perhaps it is a function of “Operational Servicemen Day”, a military holiday observed by all service personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine? Or maybe it’s all a result of the spirit of Festivus (“Festivus for the rest of us”), a secular holiday presumably “celebrated” on December 23 as an antidote to the materialism and commercialism of Christmas? (Festivus was invented in 1966 by the writer Daniel O’Keefe, though it gained prominence thanks to a 1997 Seinfeld episode called The Strike, which featured a Festivus dinner and such “traditional” Festivus activities as “The Airing of Grievances”, “Feats of Strength”, the labeling of commonplace events as “Festivus miracles”, and the display of a “Festivus pole”: a plain aluminum pole mounted on a wooden stand.

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Oscar Peterson

It’s a story I told before, in a blog dated July 28, 2013. Since it’s been almost six years I will be forgiven for telling it again. It was sometime in the spring of 1980. I was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, living in a studio apartment in a dilapidated brown shingle house south of campus, across from a package store. I made my dollars as a teaching assistant in the music department and by giving private lessons. When folks called the music department looking for a theory or composition teacher, I was the person to whom they were referred. As a result, I received a lot of calls from prospective students, only a few of whom actually took a lesson. So I didn’t pay all that much attention when in the spring of 1980 I received such a call from a guy who identified himself as “Anthony”. Anthony told me that he wanted nothing less than the equivalent of an undergraduate music education, from start to finish. I no doubt rolled my eyes while telling him that that would take years. He told me that he was prepared to do whatever it took, including taking […]

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Greenberg Recommends: Oscar Peterson

I was sixteen years old when I bought two record albums that changed my life. One was called “Oscar Peterson at the JATP” and the other “Oscar Peterson on Prestige”. “Oscar Peterson at the JATP” [‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’], the producer Norman Granz’ touring jazz mega-show] is available on a just-released, four-CD set called “Oscar Peterson, Live Recordings 1952-1958”, issued by the UK-based “Coda” label. Sadly, the set is not available in the United States for reasons inexplicable. However, it can be found on iTunes, and I would single out in particular a cut called “Come to the Mardi Gras” that cooks like a roomful of industrial ranges set on “broil”. With Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar it is – in my opinion – a must have despite the fact that it can only be acquired from the evil audio empire, the Starbucks of recorded sound (iTunes). In the name of great music we do what we must. The other album named above – “Oscar Peterson on Prestige” – is indeed available, albeit under a different title. The circumstances behind its creation are fascinating, and it’s a story I’ll tell in a moment. But first, a […]

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