Note Productions, in association with the National Concert Hall, present
OSCALYPSO - The Music of Oscar Pettiford
Friday 3rd & Saturday 4th February 2017
The Kevin Barry Recital Room @ the National Concert Hall
Erik Friedlander: cello
Michael Blake: saxophones
Trevor Dunn: bass
Michael Sarin: drums
OSCALYPSO is a celebration of the music of bassist Oscar Pettiford who according to Friedlander was innovative on the cello too. “When I look to history for a role model, it’s Pettiford” says Friedlander. “He’s such a savvy and joyful composer, you can’t help but smile when you play.”
When you are an improvising cellist there is not so much history to look back upon and contemplate. Unlike saxophone players or guitar players, who have a long list of titans to measure themselves against, jazz cello players have relatively sparse list of players. Besides Fred Katz, Abdul Wadud and more recent players like Hank Roberts and Ernst Reijseger, cellists are more or less on their own. However, there is Oscar Pettiford. Pettiford played the cello with such swing and melody. He’s always been a hero of mine and I thought I was ready to tackle some of his beautiful compositions. It is said that Pettiford came to the cello because of an injury sustained while playing softball with his bandmates from the Woody Herman Band. Out of action for a while, a friend lent him a cello because Pettiford had time on his hands, and the smaller cello seemed like it might be easier to get around while healing from the injury. Pettiford tuned the cello like a bass so he was instantly familiar with where the notes lay, and he quickly became fascinated the instrument, first using it on the bandstand in the Woody Herman band as a kind of joke (a baby bass).
But then Pettiford went beyond the jokes using it often in crucial sessions under his own name--if it was an Oscar Pettiford recording, the cello was often there in a central role. So, it’s true that Pettiford wasn’t a schooled cello player but I would contend that it is with Pettiford that we cellists have the first truly great jazz player and composer to lead a band from behind the cello. (I must pause to give ample credit to Harry The Bear Babasin, who was likely the first bassist to record a jazz record on cello when he played on Up at Dodo's Room in 1947. As good as Babasin is as a player, his writing isn't as great as Pettiford's work.)
Pettiford was passionate about the instrument. The cello seemed to touch something inside of him. He named one of his twin daughters Cellina (the other Celesta.) The recorded output under his name, created mostly in the last ten years of his life (the 50s), includes track after track of cello features. And finally, after his death in September of 1960 Debut Records released “My Little Cello” with a cover photo of Pettiford with his infant son named appropriately, Cello!