I’m amazed how often I hear folks question if Oscar Peterson could really swing. I first heard Oscar live in 1984 at the Fox Theater in St. Louis when I was 13 years old. I knew he was swinging, even if I wasn’t quite sure exactly what swing was back then. And every time I heard him live or on record since, swing has been the dominant feeling in his playing to me. Everyone always talks about his incredible technique, but it’s Oscar’s feel that’s always done it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in awe and admiration of his pure pianistic abilities, but his deep sense of groove, time and feel have always resonated deepest with me.
So I’m starting to think that folks that have trouble hearing Oscar’s swing are perhaps blinded by his dizzying technical prowess at the piano, and they can’t comprehend how someone can play all those notes while still maintaining a swinging groove. Well, Oscar Peterson did exactly that…and with great regularity and consistency. His time was impeccable, and his feel was outrageous. And time is not objective - one can check time against a metronome, or by other artists with impeccable time. Feel on the other hand is somewhat objective, but for me feel is simply and easily defined as the ability to get my foot tapping and me smiling while one grooves on their instrument. Oscar always does that for me.
Enough talk about how hard Oscar Peterson actually swung, it’s better to just listen to him — and feel free to apply my swing test yourself: are you feet tapping and are you smiling? Then yes, he’s swinging. Swinging hard!