Hymn To Oscar

From the Playboy Blog, 1/2/08


One of the greatest pianists to sit at a keyboard, Oscar Peterson played with a dexterity and emotional expressiveness that could hold you in a trance for an entire album.

Peterson was elected winner of the Playboy All-Star Jazz Poll as Best Jazz Pianist in 1959, 1961-66, 1968-69, and 1975. Over his long career, we reviewed 25 of Peterson’s recordings; here is we had to say about my favorite, Night Train, in December 1963:

Night Train: The Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve) features Peterson, [Ray] Brown and [Ed] Thigpen in a driving, blues-tinged mood. The blues make for happy listening; we rarely have heard the group so up for a session. This LP rates Oscar an Oscar.

Our blurb was dead on for most of the album, but we didn’t have room to do justice to its brightest moment: Peterson’s on-the-spot composition, “Hymn to Freedom.” This beautifully subdued masterpiece was deeply rooted in the church hymns of Peterson’s childhood and became an anthem for the civil rights movement. For my money, “Hymn to Freedom” is the reason Night Train is still the best piano jazz album you can buy.

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