Polaris

The Way I Really Play: Album Review

By William Mullin

Volume 2 Issue 2

November 19, 2021

The Way I Really Play: Album Review

Original image from William Mullin

On November 12, 1967, Oscar Peterson, Sam Jones, and Bobby Durham recorded at the private studio of Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer. On piano, double bass, and drums, respectively, this trio headed by Oscar Peterson dazzlingly performed originals and renditions of jazz standards to a selectively picked small audience. Peterson was an extreme virtuoso, taught by one of Franz Liszt’s pedagogical successors, one of the most renowned virtuosos of the classical era. Originally classically trained, Peterson shifted focus to ragtime, blues, and jazz, bringing his extreme virtuosity and classical understanding of the piano. The Way I Really Play is the third volume in a series of recordings done in the private studio called Exclusively for My Friends, and debatably the most impressive and cohesive of them all. In this series, Peterson does not hold back.


1. “Waltzing is Hip”

Originally this piece was composed by John Wayne and Ray Brown. However, as is the case with many of the pieces Peterson performs, the original does not even compare to Peterson’s rendition. The recording begins with some claps from the audience, and then Oscar Peterson just releases this insane sound from the piano that shoots off into the stars. The central melodic theme, mixed with Peterson’s glissandos and intricate riffing, is jaw-dropping. This piece makes me want to jive to this impossible-to-follow jazz waltz. The fact that a human could be so talented and passionate is disturbing. Also, the idea that this is a trio performing live following each other’s solos is ridiculous to imagine. The only factors that detract from this performance are some of the drummer's solos. While they are impressive, they are not especially memorable and take up a lot of time. That being said, without the drum solos, this would have been rated as at least a 9.3.

Favorite Phrase: Approximately around 1:42 - 1:49

Rating: 8.7/10.0


2. “Satin Doll”

Satin Doll, a jazz standard created by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, was given new life by Peterson and his trio. Much slower and more reminiscent with a hint of melancholy in comparison to Waltzing is Hip; however, the harmonies that Peterson employs show the range of Peterson’s skill. Yes, Peterson can be bold, loud, and flex his virtuosity, evident in Waltzing is Hip. But Peterson can also be sentimental, poetic, and lyrical, slowly taking his time to pour his woes into the piano, evident in his rendition of Satin Doll. The tempo ramps up as the piece progresses, and Peterson gets a little brasher as he creates multiple climactic parts until he eventually decrescendos to end in a shy, relieved manner.

Favorite Phrase: Approximately around 5:40 - 6:30

Rating: 9.2/10.0


3. “Love Is Here to Stay”

Another jazz standard, this one created by the Gershwin brothers, Peterson again makes beautiful art music out of a simple theme. The intro and outro of this piece specifically stick out to me, and the transition from the solo piano to the trio is memorable. This piece is blissful and withholds a sense of comfort, almost as reassuring and comforting as knowing another’s love for you is here to stay. As corny as it sounds, even if the title of this standard were not Love Is Here to Stay, the same atmospheric imagery would appear for me.

Favorite Phrase: Approximately 1:48 - 2:12

Rating: 9.4/10.0


4. “Sandy’s Blues”

An original by Peterson himself, dedicated to his then-wife Sandra King, Sandy’s Blues, takes on a different meaning with this context. Interspersed with bluesy riffing and running, Peterson is exceptionally light on his feet in this piece. In this recording, you can also hear what seems to be Peterson riffing with his voice. Although this is present in the other recordings to an extent, it is much more noticeable in this one. Peterson’s passionate musicality is most clear in this piece, which I am sure was lovely to hear for his wife.

Favorite Phrase: Approximately 4:05 - 4:58

Rating: 9.0/10.0


5. “Alice In Wonderland”

Composed by Sammy Fain for Disney’s 1951 animated film Alice in Wonderland, this is by far Peterson’s best piece on the album. The melody is so rich and ethereal. An upbeat and jovial jazz waltz that I cannot help but blush and smile at. And the same central theme is repeated just enough times with the right amount of embellishing, as it is interspersed with solos. Again, Peterson gives the audience exactly what it wants. This piece, to me, is just simply lovely. I do not want to give too much away or create too much of an influence, but this is without a doubt the piece I put on first when I go to listen to this record. Easily my favorite. Peterson’s rendition of this piece is revolutionary.

Favorite Phrase: Approximately 2:06 - 2:59 (honestly, it was hard not to just put from the beginning to the end).

Rating: 10.0/10.0


6. “Noreen’s Nocturne”

As a Chopin fanatic, I am obsessed with nocturnes. All of Chopin’s 21 nocturnes hold a special place in my heart and make me feel more human. However, Peterson subverts expectations and redefines what one can call a nocturne. Nocturnes are supposed to evoke images of the night. Chopin’s were created as somber, lyrical, and ethereal pieces. One can connect multiple emotions to Chopin’s compositions, but all with this sad imagery of venting one’s late-night woes to the piano. However, Peterson’s nocturne is on the complete opposite side of the aisle. Noreen’s Nocturne evokes the image of a midnight dance with your beloved. Jiving and dancing the night away. You do not want to go to sleep, nor do you feel the desire to. Wasting away all the hours of the night with the one you are with, except it is not a waste.

Favorite Phrase: Approximately 2:28 - 2:41

Rating: 9.6/10.0


Reflections: This recording is a masterpiece. The lowest rating of the pieces is an 8.7, and that was me being harsh, justifying the low score with my dissatisfaction with the long drum solos where I wished for more Peterson. If I were discussing this with my friends, I would give all these pieces a 9.0 or higher and be much less critical. However, due to the nature of this being an article, I feel I must be a little more judgmental and have more of a disparity between the ratings of these pieces. Either way, Oscar Peterson, Sam Jones, and Bobby Durham created something breathtaking with this trio, and I am sure to specially selected for that live audience was priceless. Each piece stands out and is memorable. With each listen, I find myself remembering some of the small phrases in these vast pieces, blissfully scatting out the melodies and dancing to the vibe as I walk to my car, fold laundry in my room, or wander around my town on a late-night stroll. To hear and see Peterson play live must have been quite an awakening.

Final Ranking:

  1. Alice In Wonderland 10.0

  2. Noreen’s Nocturne 9.6

  3. Love Is Here to Stay 9.4

  4. Satin Doll 9.2

  5. Sandy’s Blues 9.0

  6. Waltzing is Hip 8.7