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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs