Starting with Oscar Peterson’s farewell tour and reaching back to the Florentine workshops of the early 18th-century instrument-maker Bartolomeo Cristofori, Stuart Isacoff has written a remarkable book that captures the interactions between craftsmen, composers, performers and the public in a style that is informative and entertaining. He explores the careers of classical and jazz musicians and their relationships with their instruments across three hundred years, and intersperses them with insights from distinguished performers, among them Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Billy Joel and Emanuel Ax. His multidirectional approach is daring but is held together by his enthusiasm and many astute observations on the ways in which different traditions overlap. Not every book places C P E Bach and the performances of the piano-burner Jerry Lee Lewis a sentence apart.
‘Oscar [Peterson] is our Liszt and Bill Evans is our Chopin,’ observed Lalo Schifrin, placing classical and jazz legends side by side. Isacoff unravels this comparison by exploring Peterson’s training, showing that there was a clear reason to equate these pianist-composers. The teacher of Peterson’s teacher, Paul de Marky, had