Swing Magic

I once hired a lawyer to sue Oscar Peterson.

Why ?

He cost me 400,000 dollars, that's why.

Amidst all the tributes ... all the acknowledgments ... all the respect - let's keep in mind that he was one tough, old dude who boycotted the CBC because Life and Times edited a performance of his to keep it inside their TV hour.

Years later (and still angry) he said to me ... "You wouldn't trim a Picasso to make it fit the frame would you?"

Married four times. Distanced from family and friends. Living in a modest middle class home. He may have played like Art Tatum but he negotiated like Sid Vicious.

Here's how Playback described the show we were going to do together:

Ottawa-based Almadon Productions is swinging into action on a multi-tiered project. "Swing Magic" which celebrates Canada's legendary jazzman Oscar Peterson. The project kicks off in Ottawa Sept. 16 with a six-city North American tour covering Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

The tour featuring Peterson and his Big Band playing 1940s swing music will be documented for a behind-the-scenes feature called The Will To Swing.

Don Young will direct; Gene Lees will write. The film will tell the personal and professional stories of the artists featured on the tour. In addition to Young's film, the project will spawn a double live cd, and a commemorative book of tour photos.

Our project collapsed THE MONTH before it was due to start. Not over "creative differences". Not over music. Not even over money - after all, we were paying Oscar 100k per show and we had the cash.

We fell out over THE FILM.

At the 11th-and-a-half hour I was asked to give Oscar - and his estate - VETO (his word not mine).. VETO - over the film plus control of all the out-takes in perpetuity.

I baulked. He walked.

We never did proceed with the law suit. Which in retrospect was the only smart thing I did on the whole damn project.

But I ended up spending another 14k in legal fees to be advised that suing a man who in his younger days carried a baseball bat in his piano bench was probably not a good idea.


Amanda said...

Wow. How long was the performance and how much editing had to be done?

The Book of Don said...

Not sure Amanda. I wasn't involved in that CBC project. But the director was a buddy of mine (David Langer) and I think he "trimmed" Oscar playing by 4 or 5 mins simply due to the nature of the Life and Times program format. Oscar went ballastic and swore he'd never appear on the CBC again.

You can read about it on line.

Allan said...

Have you heard "Blue Train"?

That was a great story Don, and I'm glad you didn't hold it back.
Stuff that makes you think.
Thanks for sharing.

He comes off as unreasonable in both cases.
It's the pits when we run into people who are bigger assholes than ourselves.
Even worse when it's someone whose skill we admire so much.

So where is this film now?
Are you able to re-negotiate?
Don't answer. It has nothing to do with me.

I couldn't get into Oscar the person.
But to listen to him play was perfection.

The Book of Don said...

that project is long gone now Allan. The personal cost was incredibly high - my marriage.


Allan said...

Quadruple ouch.
Fuck Oscar Peterson.
His toilet is saying thank god that's over.

It was shocking to learn where he lived. Shouldn't he have been in Florida?
I did buy his last DVD, and one of an earlier concert. Can't really say that it was worth it.
Hearing him play is enough.
His playing was so good.
Sane in the brain.

The Book of Don said...

yes...his playing WAS truly other-wordly....he once played "Sweet Georgia Brown" for me...and I swear, it sounded as if THREE guys were playing the damn tune.

he just played...without looking at the keys..bouncing around behind his big piano...laughing.