Henry Santoro Meets Oscar Peterson

Henry Santoro Meets Oscar Peterson

WGBH host/anchor Henry Santoro talks to Al Davis, a producer/announcer at the station, and Tyler Alderson, WCRB’s operations director, about his meeting with an all-time jazz great.

Al Davis: So, Henry told me this story the other day and I just couldn’t believe it. I said, “We’ve got to get him on the newsletter.”

Tyler Alderson: I’m excited!

Henry Santoro: Well, the story is that at the tender age of eight years old, I was an Oscar Peterson fan. My parents’ friends used to come over to our house on Friday and Saturday nights, and they would hang out in the living room. They would be drinking highballs and listening to jazz. And I took a real liking to this guy, Oscar Peterson. They called him “the man with 15 fingers” because that’s how he would play. You would think that the way that he’s hitting those keys, man, this guy’s got more than 10 fingers. So, in 1963 this club opened up on Route One in Danvers. It was called Lennie’s On The Turnpike, and it was a jazz club, but it was really just an old roadhouse. It was dark, it was dank, but Lennie turned it into a world-class jazz club. And my parents would go up with their friends and they would come home and tell us what a great time that was and who they saw and all that.

Well, this one particular time they said to my sister and I, “We’re getting a babysitter, we’re going out to Lennie’s to see Oscar Peterson.” And I said, “I want to go.” I was eight years old! My mother asked me, “You really want to see Oscar Peterson? Let me see what I can do.” And so she called Lennie and she said, “Look, here’s the story: I got this kid, he’s eight years old, he really loves jazz, he digs it, he gets it.”

Lennie was unsure about letting an eight-year old in, but he didn’t say no! He went back and forth with my mom and finally he said, “Here’s the deal: Come early and I’ll seat you in the back corner of the club where it’s nice and dark and nobody will even know he’s there.” And so we all get in the car on the night of the show. We barrel up to Route 1 in Danvers. We go up into Lennie’s. It’s nice and early. And Lennie is extremely gracious, he met us out front, “Come on in, I got your table all set up.”

He put us back in the far corner and the club filled up for Oscar Peterson. I remember they were a trio, Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. And when they got up on stage, they just started to perform like it was nobody’s business. I was out of my mind, you know, a live jazz show! After a while, Oscar Peterson says, “This is our last song of the first set and we’re going to take a 20 minute break.”

Before they could leave, my mother runs right up to the stage and starts gabbing away with Oscar Peterson. All of a sudden, they’re looking back in the corner towards me. And sure enough, Oscar Peterson comes back and he says, “I understand you’re eight years old and you like my music.” I said, “I love your music!” He was just so gracious and so great.

After a short introduction they go to their break and as they come back on stage for set number two, Oscar comes over to our corner and he says, “Come with me.” And so I had to, you know, wiggle out of the corner seat, and he picked me up in his arms and he carried me up on stage. He held me up in front of the crowd saying, “I want to introduce you to this young man named Henry. He’s with his parents and some of their friends, and he loves jazz. This kid is eight years old!” And then he sat me down on the piano bench right next to him and they just ripped into the second set. It was funny, I was in celebrity shock. I just couldn’t believe it. They played a couple of songs and then sent me back to my parents. I wish I had a picture of it, me and Oscar Peterson, how great would that be?

My parents brought me up to Lennie’s from that point on. I saw Stan Getz when he had this young local kid named Chick Corea just starting out in the band. I saw Stan Kenton. Lennie was great, I don’t know if he ever made a penny from that place. He just loved the music and wanted to share it.

Tyler: That’s amazing! Al, did you ever get to Lennie’s?

Al: I did, I saw Art Blakey there once! Got to talk to him, shake his hand. He had massive hands! But that’s a whole other long story…

(By Henry Santoro as told to Al Davis of WGBH and Tyler Alderson of WCRB)

Published On: February 24, 2023