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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.