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    Peterson, Oscar (15 August 1925 – 23 December 2007)

    Pianist from Montreal, Quebec, who started playing the piano and trumpet when he was only five years old and was studying classical piano at the age of six.  He suffered from tuberculosis, however, and put the trumpet aside in order to concentrate solely on the piano.  His early teachers included his father and sister and Paul de Marky, a direct descendant of the Franz Liszt School. 


    While still in high school, Oscar was already something of a teenage idol, playing in the school band alongside Maynard Ferguson and playing piano for his fellow co-eds during lunchtime.  His sister Daisy encouraged him to enter a radio contest with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and he won. 


    Shortly thereafter, in spite of his father’s protestations, Oscar quit high school to perform professionally, in hotels and other venues, and on radio programs, such as Fifteen Minutes’ Piano Rambling and The Happy Gang.  He also did a stint with Johnny Holmes’ big band and other dance outfits, and scored some recording dates as early as the late ‘30s.  Between 1945 and 1949, he laid down over thirty tracks on Montreal’s Victor label. 


    He was discovered by Norman Granz, who was on his way to the airport in a taxi when he heard Oscar on the radio and immediately told the driver to change tack and drive him to whatever night club Oscar was playing at.  Norman recruited Oscar into his Jazz at the Philharmonic touring group, and by 1949, he was already playing at Carnegie Hall.  Thus began one of the most enduring manager-musician partnerships of all time. 


    In 1950, another important partnership began, when Oscar and Ray Brown recorded some duets.  Thus, two-thirds of The Oscar Peterson Trio was born.  They added Charlie Smith to the mix in the early ‘50s, the first in a revolving door of third musicians that saw Irving Ashby and Barney Kessel come and go until the group was finally solidified by Herb Ellis.  It is this incarnation of the group that is most famously associated with “The Oscar Peterson Trio”. 


    They stayed together from 1953 to 1958, when Herb Ellis left, and he was supplanted by Ed Thigpen.  This version of the trio stayed together until 1965.   Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen left and were eventually supplanted by Bobby Durham and Sam Jones.  They carried on for another five years culminating with the Jimi Hendrix-Janis Joplin tribute album, Tristeza on Piano. 


    Oscar put together yet another trio, this time with Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and they performed live and recorded throughout the ‘70s on albums such as Live in Paris, a double-LP set.  In 1978, The Canadian Music Hall of Fame voted Oscar into their ranks.  He would continue working during the ‘80s with fellow jazz men, Benny Green and Herbie Hancock. 


    In 1993, he had a stroke and it crippled the left side of his body.  It did not keep him out of commission for long, however.  Soon he was back on the road and in the recording studio, collaborating with Itzhak Perlman on the album, Side by Side. 


    In 1997, he won a pair of awards, one from the International Jazz Hall of Fame and the other a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.  These were but a couple of honours he would receive, before and after his death.  In 1999, the concert hall at Montreal’s Concordia University was emblazoned with a new name, the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall.  Likewise, in 2004, the Toronto-Dominion Centre courtyard was renamed Oscar Peterson Square. 


    It was in Toronto, Ontario, where Oscar, along with approximately 200 friends and colleagues, would celebrate his 80th birthday.  Diana Krall serenaded him with “Happy Birthday” and “When Summer Comes”, with new lyrics by her husband, Elvis Costello. 


    In 2005, Oscar was immortalized on a postage stamp, the only person to be honoured in such a way in Canada while still alive, excepting a ruling monarch.  The Oscar Peterson School was also christened in his home town of Mississauga, Ontario.  Oscar donated quite a bit of music equipment to the school and visited it often during his short remaining time on earth.  He died of kidney failure on 23rd December 2007. 


    On 12th January 2008, a packed house at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall commemorated his life.  A couple of months later, Oscar Peterson Hall was unveiled at The University of Toronto-Missassauga.  At President Barack Obama’s inauguration on 20th January 2009, one of Oscar’s compositions, “Hymn to Freedom”, was performed by The San Francisco Boys and Girls choruses. 


    During his lifetime, Oscar received eight Grammys and recorded 200+ albums.  He has been inducted into The Canadian Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame and The Juno Awards Hall of Fame.  The BBC also conferred their Lifetime Achievement Award upon him. 


    Oscar Peterson is regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time, who took jazz piano playing into the stratosphere, performing some of the most technically brilliant and rapid-fire swing sets to ever touch vinyl.



    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Peterson
    2. http://www.oscarpeterson.com/bio/
    3. http://www.amazon.com/Oscar-Peterson/e/B000APY9BQ
    4. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22389614/
    5. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/25/arts/25peterson.html
    6. http://oscarpeterson.com/news/












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