Young lions and jazz icons gathered Friday to pay homage to the master, Oscar Peterson, at a Carnegie Hall jazz fest — a mannered and polite affair that seldom soared despite an abundance of pleasantries. The tribute failed to cite the vastness of Peterson’s immense contribution to his art. A prevailing positive spirit, however, emerged from performances individually, in pairs and as small units.
Perhaps the most lofty performance was rendered by Marian McPartland, whose poetic performance of “Tenderly” revealed her wholly melodic sense of piano poise and inventiveness. She joined Clark Terry for the aural pleasures of “The Nearness of You,” and McPartland’s grace and gentility nicely complemented Terry’s witty growl. Terry also encored his humorous trademark, “Mumbles,” with bracing assist by Hank Jones.
In the spirit that recalled the great collaboration of Peterson and memorable jazz fiddler Stephane Grappelli, Mulgrew Miller teamed with Florin Niculescu for “Someone to Watch Over Me.” The violinist added decided vigor and a real sense of involvement, while Miller provided a lithe and graceful assist.
Cellist Borislav Strulev blended with Roger Kellaway for a virile take on “Sweet Lorraine.” Stylistically, Borislav has his own identity on the instrument, and he made a boldly vigorous musical statement, while Kellaway’s piano framed a tidy melodic mood.
Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, paired with Miller for “Just Friends.” As usual, his playing was beautifully clean and direct, and for a finish, he edged across the stage to the exit, blowing a teasing and sinuous diminishing tone.
Bassist David Finck recalled meeting Peterson’s Danish bass player, Nils-Henning Orsted Pedersen, abroad and playfully begged him not to come to the States. Finck, accompanied by Renee Rosnes, rendered a dazzling display with the melodic structure of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?”
Singers also joined the fray, recalling the frequent Peterson vocal collaborations. Dee Dee Bridgewater did the scat honors with “How High the Moon” and belted a rather overstated “Midnight Sun,” while Roberta Gambarini, richly bolstered by the keenly tailored keyboard designs of Jones and the gritty tenor of Jimmy Heath, reached back to 1916 for a plaintive “Poor Butterfly.” With Kellaway at the piano and an embracing cello turn from Strulev, Hilary Kole revealed the smoldering passion of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.”
In a musical statement that beautifully reflected purity and restraint, Freddie Cole sang “Blame It on My Youth,” cushioned in the velvet tone of Houston Person’s tenor sax.
The spirit of Oscar Peterson prevailed throughout in a concert that reflected his own impeccable sense of good taste. Peterson was originally scheduled to appear, and his presence was sadly missed. Dr. Billy Taylor assured the capacity aud that the master is very much alive and well but, approaching the age of 82, was unable to make the arduous trip from Canada to Gotham. The pianist’s wife and daughter made a brief appearance to express Peterson’s words of gratitude.