Oscar Peterson has delighted music lovers as a solo pianist, playing in his trio, and even with large orchestras. He joined the Boston Pops Orchestra for a performance that was broadcast December 23, 1980 as part of Evening at the Pops, produced by PBS member station WGBH-TV between 1970 and 2005. Though the concert took place decades ago, and Peterson passed away in 2007, his performance of the popular tune “Sweet Georgia Brown” is still giving us life.
Originally composed in 1925 by Ben Bernie and Maceo Pinkard, “Sweet Georgia Brown” may be most well-known today as the theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters. But the song has been performed by many of America’s greatest musicians from Count Basie to Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald to Ray Charles.
Oscar Peterson plays “Sweet Georgia Brown” in a way that only he could, by combining his talents playing music of many styles and time periods. In a 2002 interview with International Musician, Peterson explained that he first began playing and listening to classical music as a young child, stating “I only first really heard jazz somewhere between the ages of 7 and 10.” Peterson received piano lessons in his hometown of Montreal, and the influence of composers past can be heard in his work throughout his career. In recordings, we can hear him perform piano works by Chopin and Bach-inspired works with the Oscar Peterson Trio. He also recorded an album with internationally renowned violinist, Itzhak Perlman.
If the electricity of Peterson’s playing isn’t enough, the person behind the podium certainly adds to the excitement. John Williams is perhaps best known for composing a long list of award-winning film scores for blockbuster hits like the Star Wars films, Schindler’s List, the Indiana Jones series, and three movies in the Harry Potter series. But Williams was also the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra between 1980 and 1993, and also currently serves as laureate conductor. Recently, the orchestra paid tribute to him with a performance that featured his works and guest artist Queen Latifah.