“Oscar Peterson Didn’t Have to Think About Playing a C Chord, He Just Did It”

Monday marked the halfway point of our time in Portland. We had turned in our Audio
Documentaries the previous Sunday, and were ready to move on to the second segment of the
program: video.

Though Theo, Moira, and I had already captured a lot of footage at The Big Float (an
event encouraging public recreation in the Willamette River) on Saturday, we were just now
getting acquainted with the cameras which we were to use for the remainder of the program.
For some, this was a task not far from that of a scientist analyzing alien technology. As a more
audio-oriented person myself, I felt this whole-heartedly. I often found myself shifting my gaze
back and forth from the groupings of buttons spackling the side of the device to the rotating
dials on the lens, wondering if I had any hope of mastering this equipment in just four weeks.

Slowly, we made our way through the camera, learning of the iris dial to control
exposure, the focus dial to change the sharpness of our subject, and the zoom. As I fumbled
with the camera, our instructor, Tim, gave an insight I hadn’t thought of since my days in jazz
band: “Oscar Peterson didn’t have to think about playing a C chord, he just did it.” As a pianist
myself, who has spent hours upon hours studying Oscar Peterson and his uncanny ability to
move through changes with ease, Tim’s comment immediately clicked in my mind. For as much
classical training I’ve had in piano, I’ve found that just feeling my way around the keyboard is
one of the best ways to move through challenging changes. When I started thinking about this
in the context of recording video, it made perfect sense: in documentaries, we want the visuals
to give us a fluid entrance into the setting and move us through the scenes seamlessly. The
technical aspects of the camera work are less important than the “feel” or “vibe” one can make
come across through video.

Now, all I have to do is convince Theo and Moira to call ourselves the Willamette River

Above is a video of Oscar Peterson performing in his trio. If running low on
time, I would suggest listening to the second tune, “Satin Doll.”

–Atlas Finch