Oscar Emmanuel Peterson (15 August 1925 – 23 December 2007)
Oscar Peterson, in my opinion, was the greatest jazz pianist of all time. Duke Ellington reffered to him as the "Maharaja of the keyboard". He will be dearly missed, but always remembered.
He released over 200 recordings, won seven Grammy Awards, and received hundreds of other awards and honours over throughout his 65 year + jazz career. Not just me, but many believed him to have been one of the greatest pianists of all time.
I have included some classic numbers in this post, hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
oscar peterson biography
Oscar Peterson grew up in the neighbourhood of Little Burgundy, Montreal. It was in this predominantly black neighbourhood that he found himself surrounded by the jazz culture that flourished in the early 20th century. At the age of five, Peterson began honing his skills with the trumpet and piano. However, by the age of seven, after a bout of tuberculosis, he directed all his attention to the piano. His father, Daniel Peterson, an amateur trumpeter and pianist, was one of his first music teachers, and his sister, Daisy, taught young Oscar the classical piano. Young Oscar was persistent at practicing scales and classical etudes daily, and thanks to such arduous practice he developed his astonishing virtuosity.
As a child, Peterson also studied with Paul de Marky, a student of Franz Liszt, so his training was predominantly based on classical piano school. Meanwhile he was captivated by the traditional jazz and learned several ragtimes and especially the boogie-woogie. At that time Oscar Peterson was called "the Brown Bomber of the Boogie-Woogie."
At age nine he played piano with control that impressed professional musicians. For many years his piano studies included four to six hours of practice daily (only in his later years did Oscar Peterson decrease his daily practice to just one or two hours). In 1940, at age 14 Oscar Peterson won the national music competition organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. After that victory, he dropped out of school and became a professional pianist working for a weekly radio show, and playing at hotels and music halls.
oscar peterson night train video
Oscar Peterson Influences
Some of the artists who influenced Oscar Peterson's musicianship during the early years were Teddy Wilson, Nat "King" Cole, James P. Johnson and the legendary Art Tatum, to whom many have tried to compare Peterson in later years. One of his first exposures to the musical talents of Art Tatum came early in his teen years when his father played Art Tatum's Tiger Rag for him, and Peterson was so intimidated by what he heard that he became disillusioned about his own playing, in his own words "Tatum scared me to death" and Peterson was "never cocky again" about his mastery of the piano. Tatum was a model for Peterson's musicianship during the 1940s and 1950s. Tatum and Peterson eventually became good friends, although Peterson was always shy about being compared with Tatum, and rarely played the piano in Tatum's presence.
Oscar Peterson has also credited his sister Daisy Sweeney — a noted piano teacher in Montreal who also taught several other noted Canadian jazz musicians — with being an important teacher and influence on his career. Under his sister's tutelage, Oscar Peterson expanded into classical piano training and broadened his range while mastering the core classical pianism from rigorous scales to such staples of every pianist's repertoire as preludes and fugues by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Building on Art Tatum's pianism and aesthetics, Oscar Peterson also absorbed Tatum's musical influences, notably from piano concertos by Sergei Rachmaninov. Rachmaninov's harmonizations as well as direct quotations from his second piano concerto, are thrown here and there in many recordings by Oscar Peterson, including his work with the Ray Brown and Herb Ellis trio, such as "When Your Lover Has Gone" and other pieces. During the 1960s and 1970s Oscar Peterson made numerous solo recordings that reveal more of his eclectic style that absorbed influences from various genres of jazz, popular and classical music.
oscar peterson girl from ipanema video
An important step in his career was joining impresario Norman Granz's labels (especially Verve Records) and Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic project. Granz discovered Peterson in a peculiar manner: as the impresario was being taken to the Montreal airport by cab, the radio was playing a live broadcast of Oscar Peterson at a local night club. Granz was so smitten by what he heard that he ordered the driver to take him to the club so he could meet the pianist. So was born a lasting relationship, and Granz remained Peterson's manager for most of his career. In 1949 Granz introduced Peterson at a Carnegie Hall Jazz at the Philharmonic show in New York.
This was more than a managerial relationship. Oscar Peterson praised Granz for standing up for him (and other black jazz people) in the segregationist south of the 1950s and 1960s. For example, in the Canadian Broadcasting Company's two-part documentary video Music in the Key of Oscar, Peterson tells how Granz stood up to a gun-toting southern policeman who wanted to stop the trio from using "white-only" taxi cabs. The entire documentary is a fascinating account of Peterson's life from his Montreal childhood, to his career, to his family relations (with its ups and downs), and includes interviews with Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones and Ella Fitzgerald. Its narrative ends in 1993, just before Peterson's debilitating stroke.
In the course of his career, Peterson developed a reputation as a technically brilliant and melodically inventive jazz pianist, and became a regular on Canadian radio from the 1940s. His name was already recognized in the United States; however, his 1949 debut at Carnegie Hall, New York City, arranged by Norman Granz, was uncredited: owing to union restrictions his appearance could not be billed.
Through Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic he was able to play with the major jazz artists of the time: some of his musical associates included Ray Brown, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Milt Jackson, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Ed Thigpen, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Louis Armstrong, Stéphane Grappelli, Ella Fitzgerald, Clark Terry, Joe Pass, Anita O'Day, Fred Astaire, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Stan Getz.
Peterson made numerous duo performances and recordings with bassists Ray Brown, Sam Jones, and Niels-Henning Pedersen, guitarists Joe Pass, Irving Ashby, Herb Ellis, and Barney Kessel, pianists Count Basie, Herbie Hancock, Bennie Green, and Keith Emerson, trumpeters Clark Terry and Louis Armstrong, and many other important jazz players. His 1950s duo recordings with bassist Ray Brown mark the formation of one of the longest lasting partnerships in the history of jazz. Oscar Peterson's 1970's duo with guitarist Joe Pass has been considered one of the highest standards in the genre.
Some of Oscar Peterson's best playing was as an understated accompanist to singers Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and trumpeter Roy Eldridge.
A very young oscar peterson i got rhythm video showing out of this world stride piano playing.
oscar peterson trio
Oscar Peterson redefined the jazz trio by bringing musicianship of all three members to the highest level. The definitive trio with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis was, in his own words "the most stimulating" and productive setting for public performances as well as in studio recordings. In the early 1950s, Peterson began performing with Ray Brown and Charlie Smith as the Oscar Peterson Trio. Shortly afterward the drummer Smith was replaced by guitarist Irving Ashby, formerly of the Nat King Cole Trio. Ashby, who was a swing guitarist, was soon replaced by Barney Kessel. Kessel tired of touring after a year, and was succeeded by Herb Ellis. As Ellis was white, Peterson's trios were racially integrated, a controversial move at the time that was fraught with difficulties with segregationist whites and blacks.
"Oscar Peterson trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival" is widely regarded as the landmark album in Peterson's career, and one of the most influential trios in jazz. Their last recording, "On The Town with the Oscar Peterson trio", recorded live at the Town Tavern in Toronto, captured a remarkable degree of emotional as well as musical understanding between three players. All three musicians were equal contributors involved in a highly sophisticated improvisational interplay. When Herb Ellis left the group in 1958, Peterson and Brown believed they could not adequately replace Ellis.
In the 1970s Oscar Peterson formed another landmark trio with virtuoso guitarist Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass. This trio emulated the success of the 1950's trio with Brown and Ellis, gave acclaimed performances at numerous festivals, and made best-selling recordings, most notably the 1978 double album recorded live in Paris. In 1974 Oscar added British drummer, Martin Drew, and this quartet toured and recorded extensively worldwide.
Quartet was a less permanent setting for Oscar Peterson, after the trio, or duo, as it was hard to find equally powerful musicians available for a tightly knit arrangement with him. After the loss of Ellis his next trio eventually turned into a quartet after he added a drummer — first Gene Gammage for a brief time, then Ed Thigpen. In this group Peterson became the dominant soloist. Later members of the group were Louis Hayes, Bobby Durham, Ray Price, Sam Jones, George Mraz and Martin Drew.
Oscar Peterson often formed a quartet by adding a fourth player to his existing trios. He was open to experimental collaborations with jazz stars, such as saxophonist Ben Webster, trumpeter Clark Terry, and vibraphonist Milt Jackson among others. In 1961 Peterson trio with Jackson recorded a highly praised album titled "Very tall."
From the late 1950s, when Oscar Peterson gained worldwide recognition as one of the leading pianists in jazz, he played in a variety of settings: solo, duo, trio, quartet, small bands, and big bands. However, his solo piano recitals, as well as his solo piano recordings were rare, until he chose to make a series of solo albums titled "Exclusively for my friends." These solo piano sessions, made for the MPS label, were Peterson's response to the emergence of such stars as Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner.
Some cognoscenti assert that Peterson's best recordings were made for the MPS label in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For some years subsequently he recorded for Granz's Pablo Records after the label was founded in 1973. In the 1990s and 2000s he recorded several albums accompanied by a combo for the Telarc label.
In the 1980s he played successfully in a duo with pianist Herbie Hancock. In the late 1980s and 1990s, after the stroke, Peterson made performances and recordings with his protégé Benny Green.
Composer and teacher
Oscar Peterson wrote pieces for piano, for trio, for quartet and for big band. He also wrote several songs, and made recordings as a singer. Probably his best-known composition is "Canadiana Suite."
Oscar Peterson taught piano and improvisation in Canada, mainly in Toronto. He also published his original jazz piano etudes for practice. However, he asked his students to study the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, especially the Well Tempered Clavier, the Goldberg Variations, and the The Art of Fugue, considering these piano pieces essential for every serious pianist. Pianists Benny Green and Oliver Jones were among his students.
Stroke and later years
Peterson had arthritis since his youth, and in later years could hardly button his shirt. Never slender, his weight increased to 125 kg (275 pounds), hindering his mobility. He had hip replacement surgery in the early 1990s. Although the surgery was successful, his mobility still was not good. Somewhat later, in 1993, Peterson suffered a serious stroke that weakened his left side and sidelined him for two years. Also in 1993 incoming Prime Minister and longtime Peterson fan and friend Jean Chrétien offered Peterson the position of Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, but according to Chrétien he declined, citing the health problems from his recent stroke.
After the stroke, Peterson recuperated for about two years. He gradually regained mobility and control of his hand. However, his virtuosity was never restored to the original level. In 1995 he returned to public performances on a limited basis, and also made several live and studio recordings for the Telarc label. In 1997 he received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and an International Jazz Hall of Fame Award, another indication that Peterson continued to be regarded as one of the greatest jazz musicians ever to play.
In 2003, Peterson recorded the DVD A Night in Vienna for the Verve label, with Niels Pedersen, Ulf Wakenius and Martin Drew. He continued to tour the U.S. and Europe, though maximally one month a year, with a couple of days' rest between concerts to recover his strength. His accompanists consisted of Ulf Wakenius (guitar), David Young (bass) and Alvin Queen (drums), all leaders of their own groups.
Peterson's health declined rapidly in 2007. He had to cancel his performance at the 2007 Toronto Jazz Festival and his attendance at a June 8, 2007 Carnegie Hall all-star performance in his honour, owing to illness. On December 23, 2007, Oscar Peterson died of kidney failure at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, a western suburb of Toronto. He leaves seven children, his fourth wife (Kelly, several decades younger than him), and their 16-year-old daughter, Celine.
Awards and recognition
Musical awards and recognition
Begone Dull Care is an abstract film presentation of Oscar's music, released in 1949.
His work earned him seven Grammy awards over the years and he was elected to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1978. He also belongs to the Juno Awards Hall of Fame and the Canadian Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame.
Peterson received the Roy Thomson Award (1987), a Toronto Arts Award for lifetime achievement (1991), the Governor General's Performing Arts Award (1992), the Glenn Gould Prize (1993), the award of the International Society for Performing Artists (1995), the Loyola Medal of Concordia University (1997), the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1997), the Praemium Imperiale World Art Award (1999), the UNESCO Music Prize (2000), and the Toronto Musicians' Association Musician of the Year award (2001).
In 1999, Concordia University in Montreal renamed their Loyola-campus concert hall Oscar Peterson Concert Hall in his honour.
In 2005, Peterson celebrated his 80th birthday at the HMV flagship store in Toronto, where a crowd of about 200 gathered to celebrate with him. Diana Krall sang happy birthday to him and also performed a vocal version of one of Peterson's songs "When Summer Comes". The lyrics for this version were written by Elvis Costello, Krall's husband. Canada Post unveiled a commemorative postage stamp in his honour. The event was covered by a live radio broadcast by Toronto jazz station, JAZZ.FM.
Peterson received the BBC-Radio Lifetime Achievement Award, London, England.
"Technique is something you use to make your ideas listenable," he once told jazz writer Len Lyons. "You learn to play the instrument so you have a musical vocabulary, and you practice to get your technique to the point you need to express yourself, depending on how heavy your ideas are."
"Some may criticize Peterson for not advancing, for finding his niche and staying with it for an entire career, but while he may not be the most revolutionary artist in jazz, [the documentary] Music in the Key of Oscar demonstrates that breaking down barriers can be accomplished in more ways than one."
Ray Charles, in Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues - Piano Blues (2003), said "Oscar Peterson is a mother fucking piano player!"
"Miles Davis once commented, 'Nearly everything Peterson plays, he plays with the same degree of force. He leaves no holes for the rhythm section.' But this merely describes the difference between the two players; Davis did not have Peterson's powerful technique, and found a different kind of expression."
Recognition in Canada
Stamp issued by Canada Post in 2005While Oscar Peterson was recognized as a great jazz pianist throughout the world, in Canada he was also seen as a leading personage and statesman. This can be seen in the acclaim and awards he received, especially in the last twenty or so years of his life.
He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1972, and promoted to Companion, its highest rank, in 1984. He was also a member of the Order of Ontario, a Chevalier of the National Order of Quebec, and an officer of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
From 1991 to 1994 Peterson was chancellor of York University in Toronto. The chancellor is the titular head of the university.
He received honourary doctorates from many Canadian universities: Carleton University, Queen's University, Concordia University, McMaster University, Mount Allison University, the University of Victoria, the University of Western Ontario, York University, the University of Toronto, and the Université Laval, as well as from Northwestern University in the United States.
In 2004 the City of Toronto named the courtyard of the Toronto-Dominion Centre "Oscar Peterson Square".
In 2005, the Peel District School Board (in suburban Toronto) opened the Oscar Peterson school in Mississauga, Ontario. Peterson said, "I must tell you that this is a most unexpected and moving tribute.... I wish to offer thanks for this unexpected honour."
Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien wanted to appoint Peterson to the titular post of Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario in 1993, but Peterson felt that his health could not stand up to the many ceremonial duties that this position would require. "He was the most famous Canadian in the world," said Chrétien. Chrétien also said that Nelson Mandela glowed when meeting Peterson: "It was very emotional. They were both moved to meet each other. These were two men with humble beginnings who rose to very illustrious levels."
I hope you enjoyed this post and videos, may the name Oscar Peterson live on for ever more!
RIP Oscar Peterson