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Seattle Times: Oscar Peterson Tribute Highlights Jazz Port Townsend

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PORT TOWNSEND — Young faces and new names dominated Jazz Port Townsend this year, emerging talent that pressed audiences against the future of jazz. But as the three-day festival neared its peak Saturday afternoon, the audience was asked to look to the past.

The festival's artistic director John Clayton took the lead, recalling for those who packed McCurdy Pavilion in Fort Worden State Park, the first time, at age 16, that he ever listened to a recording of pianist Oscar Peterson. Like most, he was astounded and he never looked at jazz music the same way again. He remembered “every note," Clayton said.

And with that, Clayton introduced to the stage the pianist Peterson named as his protg, Benny Green, who had agreed, for the first time since Peterson's death in 2007, to perform a set of Peterson's music as a tribute to his former mentor.

Clayton himself was mentored by Peterson's longtime bass player, Ray Brown, who also made Green part of his own trio in the early 1990s. Before Green sat down at the piano, Clayton made a phone call to Peterson's widow, Kelly Peterson, from the stage so she could hear the audience applaud.

Green, 46, who performed with Seattle bassist Doug Miller and drummer Alvester Garnett, is one of few — if not the only pianist — who not only understands Peterson but can play like him. Capturing Peterson's sound means taking command of the entire keyboard in a way few have done, doubling up his lines of improvisation with his right and left hand, filling songs with stout chords and bluesy turns, swallowing whale gulps of notes at a time but pronouncing each one meaningfully.

The trio took one departure from playing Peterson's original compositions, with a mercurial version of the theme from the television show “Bewitched," a song Green counted off at close to 400 beats per minute. Velocity was another Peterson trademark.

Between songs, Green spoke eloquently about his close friendship with Peterson and shared a particular personal observation: “He was the only musician I know who smiled when he listened to a recording of himself."

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This story appears courtesy of Seattle Jazz Scene.
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