Jazz World Mourns Oscar Peterson



Jazz pianist and composer Oscar Peterson died near Toronto, Ontario, Canada, December 23, of kidney failure. He was 82. Often compared to Erroll Garner and Art Tatum, Peterson modernized the jazz piano. His career spanned more than 45 years, and included dozens of albums with trios and orchestras, as well as numerous appearances in concert halls and festivals around the world. VOA's Ed Kowalski has more on one of the jazz world's most accomplished artists, Oscar Peterson.

While best-known as a jazz soloist and the leader of his famous trio, Oscar Peterson was considered by many critics to be truly at his best when he accompanied other well-known soloists. A 1982 song, "Weaver Of Dreams," features Freddie Hubbard on trumpet with Oscar Peterson adding his soft touch on acoustic piano. When he wasn't backing such artists as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong or Coleman Hawkins, he performed on organ and clavichord, and even sang on a tribute album to Nat "King" Cole, titled "With Respect To Nat."

He was born Oscar Emmanuel Peterson on August 15, 1925, in Montreal, Canada. At age six, he began formal training in classical music. His jazz skills were first recognized in his late teens when he was hired to play piano on a weekly radio show. He said he learned jazz by listening to a combination of local and nationally-known musicians.

"I had to teach myself by influences and by being around the jazz that was being played in Montreal at that time," he said. "And there were a few, quite a few good players."

His favorites were piano greats Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Erroll Garner, artists whose recordings were beamed across the border from American radio stations. Peterson said his education in jazz came primarily from the airwaves and jukeboxes.

"We were working mainly on what we heard from on the American networks and records," he said. "And, of course, coupled with the occasional appearance of people like [Duke] Ellington, [Count] Basie, the big names in jazz. And at that time, certainly, there was no way that a young aspiring jazz pianist could go to anyone specifically and say, 'I'd like to take lessons in jazz piano.'"

Peterson's four-year stint in Canada's famed Johnny Holmes Orchestra led to his first American performance at Carnegie Hall in 1949. Under the management of jazz producer Norman Granz, he formed the Oscar Peterson Trio with Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar. Pleased with his work with Brown and Ellis, he once said, "At our worst, we have to sound better than the best guys out there." In 1958, Ellis was replaced by drummer Ed Thigpen, who remained in the trio until its demise seven years later.

Peterson continued to record as a soloist, releasing as many as five albums a year. He won the first of his seven Grammy Awards in 1974. After a long absence, the original Oscar Peterson Trio re-united in 1990 with drummer Bobby Durham for three consecutive evenings at the Blue Note nightclub in New York City. Each show was recorded live with two albums from those concerts winning Grammys in the Best Jazz Instrumental Performance categories. Record executive Donald Elfman says it was a weekend that made jazz history.

"The atmosphere was sort of electric in the club and on the stage," he said. "Everybody knew that they were witnessing this re-birth of what was once considered the best trio in the world, the best jazz group in the world. And they hadn't lost it. Every inch of the place was packed. People were screaming. Whatever people feel about Oscar Peterson - some people feel he's too technical and he plays too many notes - but you can't help but be dazzled by him."

In addition to leading various trios, Peterson was a prolific composer. His "Canadiana Suite" was nominated as one of the best jazz compositions of 1965. He was also a great admirer of America's most popular songwriters. His repertoire included compositions by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Duke Ellington and Richard Rodgers. Peterson often returned to the classical idiom, performing with various symphony orchestras throughout his lifetime. He once said that the difference between classical and jazz was improvisation.

"The classical pianist is a regimented, highly-trained musician which a jazz pianist is in some ways," Peterson said. "But it stops when you come to the improvisational end. At that point, the classical pianist is basically giving an interpretation of the music written. The jazz pianist is doing improvisationally what I would call 'instant composition.'"

Peterson published his autobiography, A Jazz Odyssey, in 2002. Three years later, he became the first living Canadian to be honored by that country with a postage stamp. Peterson is survived by his wife, Kelly, and a daughter, Celine.


This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs