The Paul Keller trio, from left: Pete Siers, Paul Keller and Steve Richko.
There was only one Oscar Peterson.
The legendary jazz pianist who died Dec. 23 at age 82 had a personal sound that shone through, whether he was dancing as lightly as a feather over the keys or rumbling along like a freight train.
But Peterson's legacy lives on, not just through his prolific recordings but also as an influence and inspiration to countless jazz artists. Among them is Paul Keller, the Ann Arbor bassist who will lead his trio in a tribute to Peterson tomorrow night at Murphy's Place.
"All of our musical lives, we've been loving Oscar Peterson and heavily influenced by his music," said Keller. "I think Oscar appeals to a lot of people in that he's amazing to listen to, but he always gives you something you can hang your hat on. His music is loaded with technical fireworks, but there's still an element that everybody can understand. And he takes standards that are familiar to us and gives them to us in his own way, in his own style."
Keller said he had wanted for many years to pay tribute to Peterson, both on CD and in concert, but didn't feel it was possible until he met pianist Steve Richko, a 27-year-old native of Dearborn, Mich.
"I've worked with tons and tons of great piano players but it takes someone unique to be able to play in Oscar's style," Keller said.
He and Richko, along with Ann Arbor drummer Pete Siers, recorded the album "To Oscar with Love: A Tribute to Oscar Peterson," released last year on Keller's own label, PKO Records (www.pkorecords.com).
It features 13 songs designed to showcase Peterson's composing, performing, and interpretive skills.
"It was difficult selecting the songs because there are so many great ones that we love," Keller said. "And we wanted to get a mix of Oscar's compositions as well as standards that people recognize and play them in a style that Oscar would do."
Standards include "Let's Fall in Love" by Harold Arlen, "Maria" by Leonard Bernstein, and "People" by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, plus Peterson originals, including "Noreen's Nocturne," "Wheatland," and "Hymn to Freedom."
Peterson, born in Montreal, won an amateur piano contest at age 14 and became an international jazz star in his 20s. He recorded more than 70 albums in his illustrious career and the recordings are listed online at www.oscarpeterson.com.
"I've collected 50 or 60 of his records over the years," Keller said. "I like Oscar Peterson's style because it's accessible to the jazz purist as well as the novice listener."
Keller, who works occasionally playing bass with jazz star Diana Krall, also leads the 15-piece Paul Keller Orchestra and the seven-piece Paul Keller Ensemble, which perform regularly in Ann Arbor.
In November, 2006, he met Peterson at the opening of the Rose Theatre in the Toronto suburb of Brampton, Ontario.
"Oscar was one of the attendees sitting in the front row. I thought, 'What's wrong with this picture? I should be sitting in the audience watching him perform,' " Keller said.
He said he had the chance to chat with Peterson afterward.
"We talked for about 10 minutes together and he was super gracious, really warm and very complimentary. He said he loved the performance and said we must play together. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to follow up on it. It was a sad day when he passed."
The Paul Keller Trio will perform a tribute to Oscar Peterson at 9 and 11 p.m. tomorrow at Murphy's Place, 151 Water St. Admission is $10, $15, and $20. Information and reservations: 419-241-7732.
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.