Oscar Pettiford has always been one of the “What ifs” of jazz music. He was a bassist/cellist who played with Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach and was considered a pioneer of the Bebop movement. He helped to establish the bass as a lead solo instrument but his career was tragically cut short on September 8, 1960, when he died of a viral infection that may have been connected to injuries he sustained in an auto accident.
In addition to fronting his own group during the 1950s, he played with some of the leading jazz musicians of the day including Thelonious Monk, Herbie Mann, Art Tatum, Milt Jackson, and Sonny Rollins.
It was his move to Germany during the second half of the 1950s that found him reaching his potential as a musician. Now, 16 tracks recorded in 1958 and 1959 have been gathered together and released under the title Lost Tapes: Germany 1958/1959.
The album is a good example of Pettiford’s bass style and prowess. He not only provides a foundation for the music but steps forward and contributes to the melodies. In addition, there are some fine examples of him fusing the cello with jazz music. The best ones are “All the Things You Are” and “My Little Cello.” The cello is usually associated with classical music and it provides a unique experience when transferred to a jazz format, especially when he places it out front as a solo instrument.
His bass interaction with trumpet player Dusto Goykovich when trading leads is also ground breaking.
Pettiford was always adept at improvisation and such tunes as Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies,” Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You,” and a live version of Jerome Kern’s “Blues in the Closet,” are all fine examples of his ability to take flight from the basic melodies of a song. The other live track, a concise version of “All the Things You Are,” provides a rare glimpse of his stage presence just prior to his death.
Oscar Pettiford’s place in jazz music is secure because of his bass innovations and his making the cello a viable jazz instrument. For any fan of jazz and its history, his Lost Tapes: Germany 1958/1959 is a must-have release.