I spoke with the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson on a winter afternoon in 1979 at his Minneapolis hotel. He was in town to perform his own extended composition with the Minnesota Orchestra called “The Canadiana Suite,” a work originally released by Verve in 1964 as a trio recording. I believe now that Peterson had revived and rearranged this for performance because of his renewed interest in long-form pieces for jazz. These orchestral compositions would culminate in his 1981 album The Royal Wedding Suite, a celebration of the union of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Although each suite shows Peterson’s abilities as a composer and an arranger, both are now largely forgotten.
In spite of his concert with an orchestra being only hours away, Mr. Peterson was happy to discuss his own solo and small group performances. However, he was also quick to draw parallels between jazz forms and classical music. As we began, I pointed out which of his albums I liked best and asked him to comment on some of his newer Pablo Records releases. He was happy to speak in specifics about albums from his entire career. As we neared the end of the brief amount of time his agent had set aside for me, I used one of my mainstay questions of that time, his interest in Duke Ellington. I asked this specifically because of the major orchestral jazz piece that he was about to perform, and I compared it with some of Ellington’s extended works. This discussion on the Duke led to some intense reaction, as did my later use of the names Art Tatum and Keith Jarrett in the same sentence.