A Tribute to Oscar Peterson [TrackList follows] – Andrew Litton, piano – BIS multichannel SACD 2034, 54:00 (Distr. by Naxos) [3/25/14] ****:

Andrew Litton is known in the classical world as a conductor, but does sometimes appear as a piano soloist. He has been conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony, the Dallas Symphony and associated with the Minnesota Orchestra in their summer concerts. He is currently conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Some other classical pianists have offered their versions of the music of jazz keyboard greats.  It’s a bit different from the crossover efforts of classical singers delivering their versions of jazz and pop vocals, but in a way the same in that it’s not Billie or Ella singing this particular song, and in this case it’s not Oscar Peterson playing this tune. Litton has followed and played this music for a long time and clearly understands how to interpret these amazing arrangements of Peterson’s recordings. His idea is to replicate in modern hi-res audio what the master did on these tunes. Unfortunately we all know that written-down notes cannot possibly convey the whole sound and feeling of jazz improvisations.

It is a beautiful tribute. Most of the dozen tracks come from the Great American Songbook but there are a couple jazz classics in there as well.  Litton emphasizes in his notes “Little Girl Blue,” which he also played at the funeral for his mother. Some of the tracks go on well over six minutes, and this include great treatments of Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” and the closing (and rousing) “Perdido.”

Not only is the SACD in hi-res surround, but Litton is playing a Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano, so the sound is much better than any of Peterson’s recordings. However, were I to do this sort of thing with a fantastic jazz pianist of the past, I think I would chose Art Tatum rather than Peterson, good as he was. And if you want to hear exactly what Tatum sounds like, actually playing on his original recording titled Piano Starts Here, but in the highest-res surround sound and even binaural as processed by Zenph Studios, pick up the Sony Classical SACD 88697-22218-2, which we reviewed.  It would make a most interesting SACD pairing with this disc.


1. Lulu’s Back in Town by Harry Warren 
2. ‘Round Midnight by Thelonious Sphere Monk 
3. Body and Soul by Johnny Green 
4. Little Girl Blue by Richard Rodgers 
5. Take the “A” Train by Billy Strayhorn 
6. A Child is Born by Thad Jones 
7. Basin Street Blues by Spencer Williams 
8. Rosalie: How long has this been goin’ on? by George Gershwin 
9. The Nearness of You by Hoagy Carmichael 
10. Wizard of Oz: Over the Rainbow by Harold Arlen 
11. Things Ain’t What They Used To Be by Edward “Duke” Ellington 
12. Perdido by Juan Tizol 

—John Henry