Oscar Peterson: A Musical Biography


244 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-00-200082-2
DDC 786.2'165'092





Reviewed by Desmond Maley

Desmond Maley is the music librarian at the J.W. Tate Library,
Huntington College, Laurentian University, and editor of the CAML


There’s nothing new in this predictable and at times tiresome account
of Oscar Peterson’s career. At the outset, journalist and broadcaster
Alex Barris, who has known Peterson for over half a century, tells us he
is not concerned with his subject’s private life, but decided instead
to concentrate on a professional biography. Even given this scaled-back
objective, however, Barris fails to generate interest apart from the
personal enthusiasm he has for Peterson’s music.

Probably the chief value of the effort lies in the extensive quotations
from interviews that Peterson and his colleagues have given over the
years for magazines and newspapers. (In fact, the book could almost be
titled, Oscar Peterson and Friends in Their Own Words. But this also
makes for a patchy narrative, as Barris navigates through a pile of
clippings while adding the occasional anecdote or comment of his own.

Barris waxes indignant at the neglect or withering attacks Peterson has
endured from some jazz magazines and critics. But he neglects to mention
this is symptomatic of the critical divide that has long existed between
mainstream and avant-garde jazz. (Barris does point out that Peterson
has been no less partisan in the debate, dismissing the likes of Chick
Corea and Keith Jarrett.) I was astonished there was no mention in the
book of Bill Evans. If Peterson is the Liszt of the jazz world, then
surely Evans is its Chopin. A comparison of these two great artists, who
were contemporaries, would have given us a more rounded portrayal.

All in all, Oscar Peterson reads more like an infomercial rather than
the appreciative chronicle that Barris obviously intends it to be.


Barris, Alex., “Oscar Peterson: A Musical Biography,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/9881.