To my way of thinking, every major genre of music has its quintessential forms. There is the three minute pop song sung by a group of three or four young freaks with long hair. There is the large scale Classical/Romantic Symphony. And in Jazz, there is the piano trio or quartet. With all due respect to the other instrumentalists, there is something about the piano trio that connects with the part of my brain that enjoys Jazz and just makes it tingle in a particular way that other records don’t.
I own a lot of piano records. I have the classic Bill Evans groups. I have the pre-Columbia Monk recordings because I’m a snob. I have the Monk-like Jessica Williams. I have the post-Coltrane uber-hard-bop Mccoy Tyner. I have the the Sun Ra records from Saturn and the Cecil Taylor records that sound like a hallucinogenic drug on tape. I have the completely original and unlike anything else Herbie Nichols records. And of course, there are the small group Ellington and Count Basie records. There are dozens of others.
I would recommend any of these records to anyone who will listen, and if you send me email I can give you a list of the best ones. But, for the pure pleasure of performance art, there is one artist that you should investigate first. Stop reading this now and go pick up some Oscar Peterson records. Then just put the CD in the player, or the iPod headphones in your ears and just let the pure unadulterated swing, drive and absolutely unbounded virtuosity wash over you. Consider this humble clip:
And that’s before they really get cranked up. Peterson combines three phenomenal abilities into a single unmatched package:
1. He can play fast. He plays faster than should be physically possible. He’s so fast that even after he had a stroke in the early 90s he’s still so fast you can’t believe it.
2. He seems to effortlessly generate and endless stream of interesting ideas.
3. He has an unfailing sense of swing. You cannot listen to this music without your feet wanting to move around in a happy dance.
I don’t have any specific recommendations. I would say that you should buy everything he ever recorded in whatever order you like. I will say that the above clip is from a trio recording featuring Peterson, Joe Pass and the bassist who has recorded with everyone: NHOP. I think the original set was on Pablo. It’s as good a place as any to start. You’ll be hooked.