News

Jazz World Mourns Oscar Peterson

Multimedia

Audio

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.
Comments
     
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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs