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In Memoriam Richard Palmer (1947 – 2014)


O.P. mit R. Palmer

Richard Palmer übergibt Oscar Peterson das
endgültige Manuskript von "A Jazz Odyssey"
Foto wahrscheinlich von Kelly Peterson

In the 70ths I was a subscriber of Jazz Journal International, and since I was writing myself as reviewer, and writer of articles for several (jazz)magazines, I was always an admirer of Dr. Richard Palmer, who wrote these fine articles and reviews about my hero : Oscar Peterson.

So I decided I should write him, as I was compiling my huge "The Oscar Peterson Discography”, mainly based on my own large collection, and contacts with other "Petersonians”.

Richard not only answered my letter, but from this first letter on, many followed from both sides of the Channel, and a great friendship began.

We didn’t always agree, and disagreed completely about Oscar’s Songbooks, but we certainly shared the same feelings about the music of this great piano player, and his records. (cd’s were invented in 1982 and there was no Internet or email, so we did it the old way, just using a pen or an old typewriter.)

Later also a fax, but that was all we needed, and our friendship grew. And many letters and musiccassettes followed.

In the 80ths I started to do not only marketing and advertising for a store called "Jazz Inn” in Amsterdam (had my own agency in Amsterdam), but also started writing for the (by far) largest jazz magazine in Holland, from that on the store (this had nothing to do with my writing) grew to three (also new stores were opened in The Hague and Rotterdam).

And on a certain year started to re-do the "old” concerts, most jazz lovers treasured with great memories: the nightconcerts at the Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw, I had visited myself, from the moment I had entered highschool.

Those new concerts known as "Jazz Inn Tuschinski” (Tuschinski is still the most beautiful theater in art deco style in Amsterdam, and still used as filmtheater), was a great success, and I was lucky to be a part of the team that organized the series that started with Tania Maria, after the intermission and McCoy Tyner before that.

Of course we announced these concerts in "our” magazine with articles about the participating artists, followed by raving reviews and interviews and announcing what was next month in Tuschinski.

The series became a fine success, and we got more and more famous artists.

Important for me was: I did all the writing and promotion, did all (many) interviews, and we had the habit to have a splendid Indonesian dinner with our jazz musicians, and I loved that, and treasure that period.

The interviews I started with some hesitation, because the very first was with Tania Maria, a difficult lady everybody warned me, but I gave her a box of fine Dutch chocolate, and she loved that, and from that moment on we were friends.

So I not only met all these famous men and women, had dinner with them and interviews, but often it started a fine friendship, and a lot of writing.

Since my other great hobby is photography, I combined both, and took a lot of pictures sitting on the first row in the theater. (not to upset anybody, using high speed film in my Nikon, so I never flashed and used available light, combined with a firm hand to keep the camera steady at these difficult shutterspeeds).

In 1989 "Jazz Inn” had her 15th Anniversary, and to celebrate this the team decided to invite a high paid star: Oscar Peterson.

Of course I invited Richard, since Oscar had agreed to do an interview with me, to come to Amsterdam, because although Richard had written a (small) book about him in 1984, he had never met him.

So I phoned him: this was his chance to meet him, and we would do the interview together.

Richard was excited about all this (we had never met too), and I arranged a good hotel in Amsterdam for him.

Of course I wrote raving articles about O.P., before the concert, and although a ticket was rather expensive, the theater was sold out!

On D-Day we had a lot of trouble with O.P.’s roadmanager, because Oscar never did interviews, and he knew nothing about all of the faxes I had send to Mrs. Doreen Davey, Oscar’s secretary in Canada.

So I admit I was a bundle of nerves, and I noticed that Richard was nervous too, since we were only allowed to do 20 minutes interview.

After Richard’s arrival from England, we re-arranged the prepared questions, and after several changes in time, we finally entered the most expensive hotel where our hero had a suite: the Amstel Hotel.

438. O.P. mit Fotoapparat Booklet Paris-Konzerte

Foto aus dem Booklet der "Paris-Konzerte", 6-CD-Box

We were of course like schoolboys "invited” by the headmaster, but we were greeted by a nice lady:

Kelly (probably his secretary?), and a friendly, large Oscar, who was very interested in my new F-4 Nikon, since photography was his hobby too.

I gave him some photographs I had took from earlier concerts and an antique camera as a gift, as I said:

"You never failed to enrich my life”.

After that the interview started, but somehow I felt that it didn’t interest the maestro much, and was afraid that we would be out of the door in 20 minutes.

So without any warning I changed subject, and started talking about ”apartheid”, Nelson Mandela, who was still on Robben Island at that time, and about that stupid separation.

At once the atmosphere changed, and we had great discussions about television ("That thing should have done more”), and when it came to the Cosby show, Oscar said: "A typical negro family: a funny doctor, and a beautiful lawyer.”

About the movies about jazz, he said: "Jazz is always pictured as heavy drugs users, always in trouble, and although the music in "Bird” was great and Dexter Gordon did a great job in "Round Midnight” as actor, he wondered why jazz musicians were always pictured like that.

"If you go to the South in the U.S., you will not believe that slavery is over”, and he later told me that even in his own town Toronto (his home was in Mississauga a town next to Toronto) he was recently refused by a cabdriver, and got this angry he threw the door out of that car.

Oscar has large hands, but is also a strong man, but he pitied he even did that, and of course paid all the damage he had done.

But the atmosphere had changed completely, and Oscar asked for our government, the art in Holland (he admired Van Gogh), and those twenty minutes became two-and-a-half hours!

We were also invited to dinner, and that very first meeting was the base for a long ongoing friendship.

444. O.P. mit Kelly

Kelly und Oscar Peterson
zu Hause im Studio
Foto wahrscheinlich von Richard Palmer

To my good fortune, Oscar and Kelly were back in several months in Amsterdam, and this time he insisted I would be there, and although Richard couldn’t make it, we spent the whole afternoon together, had again Indonesian dinner (Oscar just loved that food), I was allowed (to Kelly’s surprise) to make pictures in his dressingroom, and was even invited to come over to his suite in L’Europe (the Amstel Hotel was under construction this time) after the concert at the Concertgebouw. From this moment on our friendship grew and grew, and the next time (again with Richard) was in the Hague, where Oscar introduced me to his "bloodbrother” Ray Brown, and also to Herb(ie) Ellis and Jeff Hamilton.

Our (Richard and me) meetings became longer, and a steady subject was Oscar’s autobiography.

My interviews led to "vignettes” that should be in the book, Oscar asked for our opinion, and at the same time we send not only letters, faxes, later mails, but I always received his latest (signed) CD’s, and handwritten card for Christmas and had long Transatlantic phonecalls.

Before I had my presscard for the annual Northsea Jazz Festival, I had also a backstage card of Oscar, although a lot of my (jazz-)friends didn’t believe I was this close with Oscar (he refused to have interviews with anybody else in Holland).

Richard wrote about our meetings with Oscar in Jazz Journal often in articles like "Second opinion”, and since we had rooms in the same (cheeper) hotel, we spend a lot of time during those three days of the Festival in the Hague together.

His lovely wife: Ann came over, and we became good friends too.

We all enjoyed this period in our life very, very much, also my good and dear friend Richard.

Born in Hampstead, London, 25 February 1947 and educated at Dulwich College and Emmanuel College, Cambridge where he read English, he received a PhD from the University of East Anglia for his thesis about Norman Mailer and the Romantic Imagination.

Hearing Oscar Peterson’s "Night Train” album at 17 was decisive.

119a. A Jazz Odyssey The life of O.P. gross

He was writing numerous articles and reviews for Jazz Journal as well as books on Peterson (Spellmount, 1984), although he had never met Oscar, Stan Getz (Apollo, 1988), and Sonny Rollins (University of Hull, 1998) and liner notes.
Oscar soon found out that Richard’s English was just great and was smart enough to hire him as editorial consultant for "A Jazz Odyssey: The life of Oscar Peterson” (Continuum, 2002) and to finish the book, he finally flew to Canada.

Oben sehen Sie das Cover der von Richard Palmer redigierten Autobiographie

Later he wrote for Lalo Schifrin’s Mission Impossible: My life in music (Scarecrow Press, 2008).

And I think Michael Tucker is right when he wrote in J.J.I.: "His work with these two giants of the music, Peterson especially, gave Richard some of the happiest times of his life.”

I vividly remember the touching story Oscar told us during a complete afternoon about his marriages and divorces, following the question: "It’s part of my life, should it be in it or not?” Well Oscar told us an honest, long and touching story, and the results you can find in his book.

According to Michael Tucker (and I know he is right) he was a successful and much-loved teacher and Open University tutor, was Director of General Education at Bedford School, and Head of English during his 29 years there.

He wrote 18 books in all, most about English and style and did much to underline jazz’s crucial yet overlooked contribution to culture at large.

As with Oscar, beside all other communication, I met him once or twice every year in The Hague, Amsterdam or at my home, although I had often meetings with Oscar (and Kelly) alone.

His last years were difficult for him: First there was the divorce of his beloved Ann, his second wife, although I never knew he was married before.

Later I heard he had cancer, and our contacts became rare.

What worried me a lot (they said that his prostate cancer was something he could beat), was the fact that he lost his humour.

During the years we met annual, we had often talked about writing a book on Oscar together, but when I brought that subject up again, he said he wanted to correct his book alone.

Earlier he had often consulted me in discographical matters, knowing very well that my collection was huge (Richard only had a small O.P. Collection, compared to mine), and often asked for my opinion, since my taste was slightly different than his.

He lost his fight against prostate cancer on 7 August, 2014, but he will never be forgotten, and I will always treasure our long and close friendship.

Now that he and Oscar are gone (O.P. in 2007) I feel the task of passing Oscar’s musical legacy to the next generation, resting on my shoulders more than ever.

I will continue doing that, but I will always miss Richard as my "camarade in arms”, who could express my feelings about jazz in general and certainly Oscar’s better than I ever can.

© Arnold van Kampen 2015


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