Album Review: Oscar Pettiford — Baden-Baden 1958/1959

Not for the first time, Music Hound: Jazz has let me down. Jazz novitiate that I am, I was unfamiliar with the name Oscar Pettiford. So to that weighty tome I went, in hopes of gathering a bit of background to assist in my understanding of another in Jazzhaus‘ Lost Tapes series, Baden-Baden 1958/1959. Seeing as it’s jazz with which we’re concerning ourselves here, an old-school approach (turning to a reference book rather than an online resource) seemed appropriate. But there is no entry for Pettiford. (There’s no listing for Jutta Hipp in Music Hound: Jazz, either.) was far more helpful; while also mentioning Charles Mingus, its bio calls Pettiford the “top bassist of the 1945-1960 period.” Okay, good enough for me to explore further. Not counting compilations, there are some twenty albums by the bassist with his various combos and orchestras. Ulli Pfau‘s succinct bio of Pettiford graces the back cover of the LP version of Baden-Baden 1958/1959 (and the booklet accompanying the CD version).

Joined by some of his regular musicians plus a number of German players who turn up on other Jazzhaus archival recordings (among these tenor saxophonist Hans Koller), the bassist runs through an assortment of standards, originals and numbers from his accompanists. The standards include George Gershwin‘s “But Not for Me,” Duke Ellington‘s “Sophisticated Lady,” and Hoagy Carmichael‘s” The Nearness of You.” These studio recordings – taken from four dates Pettiford did in Germany, each with a different lineup – are rendered in flawless audio quality and show the facility with which Pettiford could lead his ensembles. From close-miked trios to scaled-down arrangements of big band numbers (most notably Helmut Brandt‘s “Atlantic”), the set is a delight.

One of the earliest musicians to introduce the cello into jazz, Pettiford brings that instrument out for “My Little Cello.” This number is available on a handful of other recordings, but all date from the months surrounding this particular Baden-Baden studio date of February 24, 1959.

Pettiford’s recording career under his own name began in 1954, but by the time of these recordings he had relocated to Europe, settling in Copenhagen. By 1960 he was dead, from injuries sustained in an auto accident. Though there are many other Pettiford albums, most of the songs cut on the Baden-Baden dates are tunes he never recorded elsewhere. (The CD version includes six tracks not on the LP version, including two live cuts that often figured into his live sets: the Pettiford original “All the Things You Are,” and Jerome Kern‘s “Blues in the Closet.”)

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.