Albums That Made Me - Night Train
In this series of blogs, I will document a selection of albums that were pivotal in shaping my musical journey. I will focus on what made these albums special to me, as opposed to what makes them special in music, cultural or any other terms. Of course, every album I discuss can be considered as recommended listening, however, please keep in mind that whilst these albums are special to me, that doesn't mean they're particularly special and/or unique in their own right (although in most cases, I would argue that they are!).
Artist: The Oscar Peterson Trio
Album: Night Train
Oscar Peterson - piano
Ray Brown - double bass
Ed Thigpen - drums
Norman Granz – production
Val Valentin – recording engineering
Pete Turner – cover photography
Benny Green - sleeve notes
I forget exactly when I got this album. It was gifted to me as a Christmas present when I was 13 or 14 (I think). A quirky, but thoughtful present for a teenaged aspiring pianist. I listened to it a few times and thought it was cool, but it's fair to say my angsty teenage brain didn't get it.
However, I revisited it a few years later (about 17 years of age) and was able to much better understand what I was hearing. As discussed in my blog about Whatever And Ever Amen, by my late teens, I'd thrown myself into Ben Fold Five and was getting much better at the piano. I'd set Ben Folds as a benchmark of pianistic ability to aspire to, and I had reached a point whereby I could play all of his flashiest solos. I was getting adept at showboating on the piano (I must have been pretty insufferable come to think of it!). Furthermore, I had trained my ear to the point that I could jam along with most rock or pop I was listening to, with relative ease.
Suffice to say, I wasn't feeling challenged by the things I was listening to or learning to play, and this invoked in me a sense of stagnation (so much so that I took up the guitar!). This stagnation ceased however when I rediscovered Night Train.
Listening to it for the first time since actually getting half-decent on the piano, I instantly realised how far I still had to go on my piano journey. Whilst I was good on the piano (for my age) in terms of blues and rock, I was positively amateurish compared to what existed in the world of Jazz.
Using dial up internet, and reading the short biographical notes on the CD sleeve, I found out all I could about Oscar Peterson. I learned that he is an absolute legend and powerhouse of piano and grew to hold him in the utmost highest regard as my piano hero.
At 17 years old, upon rediscovering Peterson, I got to work trying to play the way Peterson does. I failed! His touch is more than just something one eagerly picks up in their teens. I was already too late to the game to play catch up, and really needed to have started a decade or so earlier. By his mid twenties, Peterson's touch and dynamic control was greater than many with a lifetime of refinement.
Nevertheless, whilst I never got close to Peterson's level of ability, I never felt discouraged or put off playing (or listening to Peterson's work). I amassed many more of his records and delved much deeper into the world of Jazz, all of which further heightened my love for him and his music.
Discovering Peterson also helped me much better contextualise jazz-theory such as passing chords, voicing, phrasing and so on, which massively improved my playing and understanding of music theory.
During one of my geeky Peterson-research sessions, I heard an excerpt from an interview he gave, in which he discussed how in his youth he obsessed over Art Tatum (much like how I obsessed on Ben Folds, and later Peterson). He learned to play one of Tatum's most complicated solos note for note, but realised that playing someone else's solo verbatim, is somewhat of a dead-end street.
His reasoning was that if people want to hear an Art Tatum solo, they'd go to an Art Tatum concert or listen to an Art Tatum record, and of course, he's completely right! Instead, what Peterson focused on was learning to be distinctly different from Tatum and leaning further into his own expressiveness and his own ideas. I.e. he focused on what he did best, and what made his playing and his sound distinctive, and doubled down on that.
This is in many ways the biggest lesson I learned from Peterson (more even than aspects of his actual piano craft). His philosophical mindset of what it means to be an artist with a unique sound has stayed with me and been a constant voice of encouragement and reassurance whenever I've been worried or anxious about moving away from what I've been doing (stylistically) and trying something new or different.
I aspired to be a great pianist. Peterson blew my mind and made me realise that I'd probably missed the boat on that dream. He nevertheless inspired me to focus my efforts in other ways. He also taught me that having a singular focus and distinctive artistic voice is far more important than being able to shred and solo better than other players (mind you, that's easy for him to say as for most of his life, he was the greatest soloist on the planet! Haha!).
I carry both Peterson's musical and philosophical lessons with me every day. His philosophical sentiments are present in my work-ethos and, even if it's very subtle, I like to think that his bluesy-jazz stylings influence my own playing and phrasing to some extent, whether I'm just noodling on the piano or tracking a solo for a tune I'm working on; Peterson's in there, somewhere.