Professor Peter O'Brien
is described in the notes for "Jazz Piano of a Celtic Soul"
as an Irish national treasure. As an extraordinarily gifted and honored classical pianist and composer, O'Brien earned membership in the Royal Irish Academy of Music. But in his late teens, he heard the music of Fats Waller for the first time and so began a lifetime obsession with Harlem stride piano. His accomplishments as a stride pianist included a twenty-five year relationship with his mentor, the late great stride pianist Ralph Sutton, as well as gigs with prominent swing players such as Bud Freeman, Stephane Grappelli, Wild Bill Davison, and Harry Allen, and finally being proclaimed the top stride pianist in Europe.
This CD, a solo effort, of course contains large and quite satisfying doses of stride piano work, but also includes opening and concluding statements from the classical realm - J.S. Bach's "Prelude No. 9 in E" opens the CD, and two Mozart pieces, "Ronda A La Turca" and "A Little Jig" end the set. O'Brien's stride improvisation on Mozart's "Ronda" is particularly refreshing, and seems to indicate that if they would have had the chance, both Wolfgang Amadaeus and Thomas P. Waller would have enjoyed great conversation, a plentiful amount of beer, and a mutual admiration for one another as keyboard artists.
O'Brien also treats us to two non-jazz songs traditionally associated with Ireland - a delightful stride arrangement of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and the haunting "Macushla." And then there are the tunes that one would expect to hear from O'Brien - "Ain't Misbehavin'", "After You've Gone", "I Found A New Baby", and a wonderful medley of tunes associated with Fats Waller.
As a final note, O'Brien dedicated this album to the memory of Ralph Sutton who, after traveling to Ireland in 1977 to play with O'Brien, discovered that his grandfather was originally born in County Wicklow. Sutton's grandfather immigrated to America, but he retained the spirit of the music in a Celtic soul, and we can be thankful that he was willing to impart it on Peter O'Brien.