(Photo: Danny Turner)
Colorado Symphony Music Director Andrew Litton’s new disc finds the conductor transcribing and recreating 12 live improvisations of jazz standards by one of his heroes, pianist Oscar Peterson.

Litton, who fell in love with Peterson’s music as a teenager, told CPR Classical he spent about two years listening to and reproducing Peterson’s takes on songs by Theolonius Monk, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Hoagy Carmichael.

The conductor, who’s also a distinguished classical pianist, told CPR Classical he approached “A Tribute to Oscar Peterson” as a “recreator,” not a jazz improviser.

“The only idea that makes this project classical in any way is the guy attempting to play the notes is a classical pianist,” he said. “I can’t improvise.”

Still, Litton wears his love of jazz on his sleeve. He’s recorded orchestral Gershwin arrangements as both a conductor and soloist and collaborated with friend and saxophonist Branford Marsalis on the symphony’s opening night this season.

While the new disc clearly belongs in the jazz section rather than a classical section, the maestro said the music could easily appeal to fans of composers like Debussy or Ravel.

“You play Oscar Peterson’s harmonies and you realize how much he got from impressionist composers -- all those ninth chords and 11th chords,” Litton said. “So much of this stuff is symbiotic and related that it’s very hard to have a clear delineation sometimes.”

For more on Litton’s new disc, click the audio above to hear highlights from a recent chat between Litton and CPR Classical’s Jon Pinnow on the recording of the album and Peterson’s incredible gifts as an interpreter.