With his elegant bio-doc Oscar Peterson: Black + White, director Barry Avrich discreetly (perhaps too discreetly) sniffs around the question of Peterson’s legacy and whether he truly received the respect he deserved in his lifetime.
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“Black + White” does feature plenty of Peterson’s music, including several cover renditions performed in tribute for the film by a contemporary ensemble. But at almost every opportunity, Avrich undermines these numbers by cutting to one of an endless lineup of talking heads, usually to repeat predictable platitudes about Peterson’s brilliance.
There’s enough here in the sheer wealth of material that fans of Peterson’s or jazz could find this documentary worth the runtime. But it’s unfortunate that Avrich and his team were not able to shape this material into an overall stronger narrative.
As noted in the thoroughly entertaining Oscar Peterson : Black + White, the jazz giant never seemed to struggle, not musically: He arrived on the scene “fully formed,” someone notes, a technical wonder, a master of swing who reigned over the jazz keyboard for 60 years.