Oscar Peterson. Oh my! This guy can really reach me emotionally. Early on in this blog, I believe I told the story of the one time I saw him live. Again, oh my! Beyond the feeling, soul, and emotion Oscar can convey, along with his remarkable pianistic aptitude and control (whether a blistering phrase, or a single note), listening also showers my mind with thoughts (gets kind of crowded up there). You may be surprised to know that; in the jazz community (particularly among contemporary players, and in the academic realm), there is not a uniform sense of how superlative this performer is. Enter the agendas. We all have them, or at least opinions, undergirded by presuppositions. When one exerts a fundamentalistic bent upon their view of things, grading is introduced into the lens. In today's artistic landscape, there is wide divergence in what jazz is (was, and ought to be). For many, the emphasis has been squarely placed on harmonic vocabulary. For others; more about sustaining a particular (historical) culture. I will be in the minority in the jazz world when I say phooey on much of it. Jazz has, indeed, become a four letter word (one not to be welcomed) to many, as, in effect, fundamentalist preachers bring the message of the superiority of their view, and the irrelevance of most others. Of course, that little nasty fact that the world continues to go 'round relegates the zealots themselves to a place in the irrelevant. Fine with (many of) them, as we're just not ... whatever.
Coming up as a young musician, I struggled with all this, having friends (and finding meaning) on both sides of the fence. Though it may not sound like it, in some (essential) way, I'm still there. Not holding on to any fence, though, having jumped off long ago on the side of performing to make connection with those around me. My perception of what this all means have evolved much over the years (and is the subject of a number of earlier journal posts), but what it doesn't mean is the "dumbing down" of anything for the cause of popularity. Quite to the contrary, the more rooted in substance, the deeper the connection. Of course, defining the substance betrays whether we insist in elevating our view to some objective standard, or whether we will allow ourselves to succumb to where it will take us. Now, though I may be an advocate for this "non-elitism"; in all honesty, moving to this place has been my struggle, with the shedding of my own elitism, one shred at a time. I have spend much negative energy on my path, over the years, with sufficient tunnel vision to not understand that I have stood squarely in my own way, much of the time. Still, from the beginning, the light has broken through, even if only in slivers. One recognizes light when one sees a flash of it, and (unless blindless is your comfort zone) when past, we long for more. This defines the path/struggle of the artist (and many others) - drawn to an illumination within and without: that which transports us, with ample passenger space to bring along all who are touched by this same source (not us, but through us). Have to get out of the way, though. I'm learning. So now (hopefully not succumbing to the stifling agendas I just described) I'll say to those who minimize the contribution of Oscar (and others) because they don't measure up to a standard or pass the litmus test: Loosen your grip - not on your mission/path, but on your insistence that all who travel must follow what lies in your view (or not be taken seriously). You and I both are on to something, but it's not what rattles around in our heads; rather it's that which comes to us. And if we keep growing, we can become better stewards. Oscar Peterson doesn't define "jazz", Oscar Peterson defines Oscar Peterson. And, to me, the Glory of God is in view.