The Complete Clef/Mercury Rec. Of Oscar Peterson Trio (#241)

Mosaic Records Limited Edition Box Set


The Complete Clef/Mercury Rec. Of Oscar Peterson Trio (#241)
"The addition of Barney Kessel took a lot of pressure from Ray and myself...we have the effect of three different voices, three different approaches to jazz in the trio..." - Oscar Peterson
Limited Edition: 10,000 copies

7 CDs -  $119.00


The Music That Made Oscar Peterson A Star

This Mosaic Records jazz collection is the first comprehensive study of Oscar Peterson's earliest trio jazz recordings, the setting for which he was best known, throughout his reign. The collection includes 127 tunes, including five alternate masters that have never appeared on any record, in any format. The earliest recording dates from November 25, 1951 and the last is from December 7, 1953. In the interest of being complete, we amassed a collection that exceeds even the one held in the Universal Music vaults; with some original masters missing entirely, we went to collectors for vintage 78s, second generation tapes, even rare LPs and EPs, performing sonic miracles when necessary to achieve a quality that meets our Mosaic standards.

Coming up in the music era he did, he fell somewhere in between the swing players and the be-boppers, and the two strains wove together into something he never felt any reason to abandon. He and Ray Brown had developed an almost brotherly relationship thanks to the JATP music tours they did together, and in Barney Kessel he found another player whose jazz solos could wipe the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. With the JATP tours combined with these Clef and Mercury recordings the trio found the time and opportunity to hone their craft together and become a tight unit. Norman Granz' vision of the "Songbook" album, was perfected by the trio and the series of "Oscar Peterson Meets…" have long been unavailable and are finally in one jazz music collection.

What is so compelling about the Oscar Peterson technique is the fusion of wizardry and swing. Even when his improvisations lean more toward the flashy, fast finger approach, it still is accomplished with swing and taste. There are many standards and ballads where he solos beautifully and sweetly, and with restraint. And while he would never be mistaken for the economical Count Basie, his comping behind other musicians was spot on, delicate, and tasteful. On other songs, when the goal was to set the keyboard on fire, no one could put together as many choruses of blazing jazz combinations - which he did while always remaining tuneful, and without ever duplicating an idea.

In this music collection, we've included a meticulously researched jazz discography and have corrected known mistakes in previously published works. The collection also includes an essay on Oscar Peterson's life and times, and a track by track analysis of his work written by John McDonough.

By sticking to the style and presentation about which he felt passionate, Oscar Peterson unquestionably established his own voice as unmistakable and personal, and his name as one of the great ones. That voice is captured forever on Mosaic's timeless Oscar Peterson jazz collection. The collection embodies the unique sound and style of of one of jazz music's legenday figures.

Read More About Oscar Peterson:
Track Listing, Personnel & Recording Dates »

  • Booklet
  • Audio Quality
  • Photography
  • Sample Session Notes
Our liner note writer for the Peterson Trio set is an author that may not be unfamiliar to Mosaic fans. His name is John McDonough and his articles have graced Down Beat for a number of years now as well as The Wall Street Journal. His notes for our Buddy Rich set were well received and now he has captured the essence of these classic Oscar Peterson Trio sessions with insight and passion.

The main reason some of this material has not been reissued on CD is because the original tapes are no longer in the vaults at Universal Music. In fact 1/3 of the music found in this reissue came from commercially issued - mint condition vinyl sources. However, with the expertise of our sound restoration and mastering engineer Malcolm Addey, we’ve been able to present an audibly cohesive set that finally brings together all of the original “Songbook” albums from the early Peterson trio.

Photo Copyright © Protected
Oscar Peterson
The photographic images presented have never been publicly released before and further enhance the enjoyment of this welcomed boxed set. Two main sources are responsible for the photos: the Esther Bubley archives and Hank O’Neal.

Award-winning photojournalist Esther Bubley is known for her compositional genius and artistic ability with the lens. Freelancing mostly for Standard Oil of New Jersey during the 1940s and 1950s, she also worked for a variety of clients including Life, the Children's Bureau, Pepsi-Cola International, Pan American World Airways, and UNICEF. While in Los Angeles on assignment for the Ladies' Home Journal, she was invited by illustrator David Stone Martin to come along and take some pictures at a Norman Granz produced jam session for Clef on June 5, 1952. This famous date, known as the “alto summit” with Charlie Parker, Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter, was issued as the Norman Granz Jam Session album and had also featured the Oscar Peterson Trio. We were able to make arrangements with the Bubley archives to finally release some of these wonderful images.

Hank O’Neal is also another photographer whose eye has captured many remarkable images. His love of jazz moved him to begin one of the premier labels of the 1970s, Chiaroscuro Records and he has also co-produced a number of music festivals through his company HOSS. Hank also published the magnificent book The Eddie Condons Scrapbook of Jazz (along with Eddie Condon) in 1973. His connection with jazz musicians led him to acquire some photographs of the Peterson Trio in Flip Phillips’ basement back in 1952 as well as other photos while on tour with JATP. Again, these rare photos have never been published before.


(e) c. Early December 1952

The next sequence of 42 songs would form the basis of the first of Peterson songbook albums for Norman Granz. Although the specific date is uncertain, they appear to have been done in Los Angeles during a single long session or perhaps two sessions on successive days, since the master numbers are in an unbroken sequence from 896 to 937. It was a very busy time for Peterson in the studios. The trio recorded with Lester Young (Takes Two To Tango, and others) in New York on November 28. And Oscar was involved in all the 16 or so sessions Granz was doing in Los Angeles with Fred Astaire for The Astaire Story.

In Granz’s mind the Astaire project was very closely related to the Peterson composers albums, and it was probably no coincidence that they were undertaken almost simultaneously. He found in planning the Astaire recordings that the great singer-dancer seemed to be the one common thread that ran through the greatest and richest vein of American popular music. Discographies offer no certainty and much doubt on the dates of the Astaire-Peterson sessions other than December 1952. This is unlikely, though, since we know from interviews Granz gave at the time that many sessions were involved. Moreover, the first reviews of the deluxe Astaire album began appearing in the national press the first week in January. It would have been virtually impossible to record, manufacture, and distribute even advance copies of such an elaborate album in December and make the closing date for the January 5 New Yorker.

Albums built around particular composers were nothing new in the early ‘50s. But the concept was rarely more than a marketing hook and seldom pursued with any sense of seriousness. Granz, a cultural elitist if there ever was one, believed this was injustice. Inspired by the Astaire project, he wanted to create a catalog of definitive performances, executed with the same consistency and care that Victor Red Seal might invest in a Toscanini-Beethoven cycle. For this he turned to Peterson.

“Irregardless of what people may think because of the wealth of recordings [Norman] turned out,” Peterson recalled in 1997, “he tried to be very careful about the material. He tried to find material, in some cases, that would be different, because he figured that listening audiences might like to hear our viewpoints on these particular subjects. That was basically why he chose to do the composer series early on as well as the Astaire sessions, so that we could give them our reading and place them in a jazz context. ”

Granz was also a believer in the doctrine of overwhelming force when it came to a pet project. The first Peterson songbooks would hit stores in 1953 on four composer fronts simultaneously: Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington. Rodgers and Hart, Vincent Youmans, and Jerome Kern would follow in August 1954, then Harry Warren, Harold Arlen, and Jimmy McHugh in 1955, the last six divided between the Kessel and Ellis trios. The first group of four came out as Granz was transitioning out of his five-year partnership with Mercury and into his own Clef label and the more prestigious 12-inch record format. (My own copy of the original Ellington songbook LP has a Clef sticker pasted over the Mercury brand actually printed on the cover.) For a small jazz label in 1953, putting four songbooks out at once was a move calculated for impact and one that raised Peterson’s prominence to a new level.

With composers being the raison d’etre, of course, there was an inherent tension in this whole project between the trio on the one hand – a jazz group expected to be creative – and the songs on the other, which in a composers series enjoy an elevated if not sacred status. The Peterson songbooks attempted something of a compromise within the three-minute time constraints necessary to fit a fair sampling of each composer’s work onto an LP. The trio claimed a certain improvisational latitude, yet had to show deference to the material as well. This precluded the relaxed, extended explorations of a jazz club. Some purists dismissed the results as commercial cocktail jazz, a sellout of art to commerce. But to take that view was to write off America’s greatest composers as little more than tools of commerce. The only tension in the Peterson songbooks was the one between two arts, one founded on freedom and the other on text. Generally the albums were well received by those who understood the premise, typically fetching four-star honors. “These sets are recommended,” said Down Beat in a moment of wise consensus, “for both the jazz initiate and the many thousands more who dig these tunes but would like a new perspective on them.”

After a quiet Pick Yourself Up and Long Ago And Far Away by Jerome Kern, Peterson began to tackle the Gershwin canon. His habit of moving into the body of a piece with a break was becoming something of a signature by now; some would say a cliché. But one tends to hold on to the tools that work. Note, for instance, Kessel’s “signature” three note riff from Astaire Blues mentioned earlier, surfaces again in I Got Rhythm. Kern’s A Fine Romance is charmingly loping and lackadaisical, certainly compared to the hard driving one he would render on the second Ella & Louis album in 1957. A Foggy Day is played so leisurely, it’s as if Peterson doesn’t want it to end.

Back to Gershwin, Strike Up The Band gets down the molecular level in a series of one-bar exchanges between Peterson and Kessel. The Man I Love proves the truth in the notion that great popular music is the art of finding magic in fragments, in this case a six-note sequence endless repeated. The magic is in the harmonic undertones. Normally a mournful lament, this version is neither ballad nor the swinger that Coleman Hawkins made of it in 1943. Instead, Peterson finds new life for it at a dead center middle tempo. Cole Porter’s coy Let’s Do it is one of the many songs in this group that underlines the limitations of attempting a definitive edition on the American song without a singer to do the lyrics – a fact Granz obviously had in mind when he pried Ella Fitzgerald away from Decca (for whom she had done a modest Gershwin collection) and made the songbook series with Buddy Bregman her first project. It Ain’t Necessarily So, the only selection from Porgy and Bess, is transformed from a sly paean to skepticism into a delicate bluesy but sophisticated sonata.

I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm begins like a John Lewis fugue for the Modern Jazz Quartet, with just a hint of Berlin’s I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For before settling into a nice easy groove propelled by Ray Brown’s bass. Peterson gives I’ve Got a Crush On You an uneventful but appropriately serene representation. Porter’s Night and Day offers greater opportunity for contrasts and Peterson threads a ceaselessly swinging and inventive line through the tune. Counter to expectations, Peterson tunes Berlin’s Isn’t it a Lovely Day down to a ballad with dark harmonic shadows looming the corners.

Porter’s great What Is This Thing Called Love? constitutes one of the most familiar labyrinth of unexpected progressions in jazz, one that Tad Dameron famously fashioned into the bebop anthem, Hot House. Like dozens of other pop songs, it helped cement the alliance between popular music and improvised jazz in a symbiotic golden age for each. Peterson had recorded the Porter song earlier in the year on Granz’s first studio jam session with Carter, Hodges, Parker and others. The same could be said for Oh, Lady Be Good, another road map through countless jazz originals of the swing and bop years. Peterson takes a completely fresh look at it here, producing an unrushed, medium slow reading in stark contrast to the extended blazing romp the trio plus Stoller gave it earlier in the year. Next, Kessel and Peterson invent an intriguing vamp for ’S Wonderful and generally split the solo time.


Click here to write a review

Not as flashy as his later trio recordings, but this box set music just gets better and better as I listen to the discs. Do like hearing the early Ray Brown and Barney Kessel too.
The best recordings of Peterson, to my ears, is when he is an acccompanist with sax players, when he is playing duets with trumpet greats, and when he's playing in these early trio recordings. In all of these great recordings he's closer to his emotions and to his roots in the blues.
  Great Music, But Original Album Order Info Please
Great music – five stars without any hesitation. While the bulk of the tracks are relatively short and focused, there are also some amazing extended improvisations, like The Astaire Blues, which give this set variety. I have one issue with this package: Since the music is presented in the order it was recorded, it would be nice to have information about the sequence of the tracks on the original songbook albums. Those interested in hearing this music as originally issued are left to hunt for that information themselves. It would be a simple matter to include this in the booklet. Why make your customers go through the hassle of searching for it? That said, this is an absolutely wonderful collection, and easily one of my favorite Mosaics.
  Pre - G
Peterson before he got glib. As focused and emotionally focused as when he's backing the great saxophonists - Young, Webster, Stitt etc. This is great jazz.
  Oscar Peterson Trio Alive Again
This boxset is absolutely astonishing, i remember seeing oscar peterson at the monterey jazz festival a few times. Thanks for the memories.
What can you say about this collection...???!!!! MASTERPIECES OF JAZZ!!!! Love it!
  Another classic big set!!!
Seven cds of Oscar and his trios playing classic jazz standards. Oscar jumps around and embellishes some tunes to the point where you can hardly recognize them. It does not matter, however, as Oscar's playing is nothing short of amazing. I love these big, 6-plus cd sets!!! Keep them coming!!!
  Mosaic strikes again!
Yet another welcome addition to the Mosaic canon! In response to the previous review, the Harold Arlen set is already available on a Verve CD and is with Herb Ellis on guitar.
  Textbook Beauty
I've heard some of these songbook albums before and am looking to hearing them again. They are not about Peterson stretching out, but rather giving clear readings of beautiful songs in a classical sort of way. I hope the sound quality is improved from the crackling versions previously released on cd by Verve. It is curious that the Harold Arlen set from 1954 with Kessel and Brown is not included - maybe the tapes were lost or not salvageable. Anyways, long live Mosaic!

The Complete Clef/Mercury Rec. Of Oscar Peterson Trio (#241)
The Complete Clef/Mercury Rec. Of Oscar Peterson Trio (#241)
Limited Edition: 10,000 copies
7 CDs - $119.00

Customer Reviews:

"What can you say about this collection...???!!!! MASTERPIECES OF JAZZ!!!! Love it!"
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Mosaic Podcast

On this podcast, Jazz pianist Mike Longo discusses some of the unique qualities of Oscar Peterson's style and approach to music, as well as his experiences learning as Peterson's protege.

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