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Erik Friedlander's Oscalypso; In Concert

  • Shea Center for the Performing Arts 300 Pompton Road Wayne, NJ, 07470 United States (map)
photo by  Rachel Stern

photo by Rachel Stern

with Michael Sarin, drums; Trevor Dunn, bass; Erik Friedlander, cello; and Michael Blake, saxophones.

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Erik Friedlander began playing the cello at age 8 when the public elementary school he attended offered violin or cello to third graders who passed a music test.  The great Oscar Pettiford began playing cello as an adult in his 30s when an injury prevented him from playing his bass. Friedlander will pay homage to his improvising, cello-playing forefather with a set of Pettiford tunes and an amazing group of musicians.

When you are an improvising cellist there is not so much history to look back upon and contemplate. Unlike saxophone players or guitar players, who have a long list of titans to measure themselves against, jazz cello players have relatively sparse list of players. Besides Fred Katz, Abdul Wadud and more recent players like Hank Roberts and Ernst Reijseger, cellists are more or less on their own. However, there is Oscar Pettiford.

“Pettiford played the cello with such swing and melody,” says Friedlander, “He’s always been a hero of mine and I thought I was ready to tackle some of his beautiful compositions.”

It is said that Pettiford came to the cello because of an injury sustained while playing softball with his bandmates from the Woody Herman Band. Out of action for a while, a friend lent him a cello because Pettiford had time on his hands, and the smaller cello seemed like it might be easier to get around while healing from the injury. Pettiford tuned the cello like a bass so he was instantly familiar with where the notes lay, and he quickly became fascinated the instrument, first using it on the bandstand in the Woody Herman band as a kind of joke (a baby bass).

But then Pettiford went beyond the jokes using it often in crucial sessions under his own name--if it was an Oscar Pettiford recording, the cello was often there in a central role. Friedlander says, “So, it’s true that Pettiford wasn’t a schooled cello player but I would contend that it is with Pettiford that we cellists have the first truly great jazz player and composer to lead a band from behind the cello.”

Pettiford was passionate about the instrument. The cello seemed to touch something inside of him. He named one of his twin daughters Cellina (the other Celesta.)  The recorded output under his name, created mostly in the last ten years of his life (the 50s) , includes track after track of cello features.  And finally, after his death in September of 1960 Debut Records released “My Little Cello” with a cover photo of Pettiford with his infant son named appropriately..Cello!