Monday Notes

Oscar Peterson, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

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[Monday’s Notes No. 108] Oscar Peterson was one of the greatest jazz piano virtuosos. His long solos are legendary, as are his fast and perfect lines. Under his skilled hands, the piano keyboard often becomes hot, but not in the interpretation of this splendid ballad, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.

Like much great American music, this song has a perfect blend of lyrics and music. The subject is nocturnal meditation: in the early hours of the morning, the lover stays awake and thinks about his beloved, amid regrets, nostalgia and hopes.

More than one great jazz musician has stated that he never plays songs of which he cannot remember the words. In fact, in a ballad, the lyrics are always at the centre, even in an instrumental performance.

Oscar Peterson confirms this approach: the man of exuberant and breathtaking solos, here is enraptured by the song, he plays its theme first alone as an introduction (1’14”), and then again together with the rhythm section (2’48”).


The piece lasts over eight minutes, yet there is very little improvisation and definitely no trace of the funambolic pianism that Peterson often exhibits. The piano almost seems to speak, telling a story of tenderness and melancholy.

Again in the long coda, Oscar Peterson lingers almost as if he does not want to end the song. Just like the lover who, even though he suffers from the absence of his beloved, has no intention of giving in to sleep: he prefers to lull himself in his thoughts, some sweet, some bitter. Who has not experienced such a moment, at least once?

Until next Monday!

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