Oscar Peterson - RIP
Posted 24 December 2007 - 02:02 PM
Dec 24, 2007 01:26 PM
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Jazz legend Oscar Peterson, widely counted among the most accomplished pianists in the world for his seemingly magical hands, reportedly died Sunday night in Mississauga.
CBC said Peterson died at his home of kidney failure, at the age of 82.
His storied 50-year career took Peterson from the jazz clubs of 1950s Montreal to the bright lights of New York's Carnegie Hall and beyond.
The keyboard titan, who recorded almost 200 albums, played alongside the greats of the jazz world: Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald.
"It makes you want to sing," the late Fitzgerald once said of Peterson's piano work.
Peterson's style, somewhere between swing and bop, was considered technically dazzling, keenly aware of the roots of jazz and fearless in its improvisational scope. While some critics said he used too many notes in his music, others said the 100-plus notes allowed for a dazzling work of art.
"There's an extreme joy I get in playing that I've never been able to explain," Peterson said in a 1996 interview. "I can only transmit it through the playing; I can't put it into words."
Throughout his life, Peterson was showered with awards, honorary degrees and national honours.
He collected eight Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award in 1997, hundreds of prizes from the jazz community, the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for lifetime achievement and was a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 2005 Canada Post marked his contribution to music with a 50-cent stamp.
The world-renowned pianist toured extensively during his career, bringing his easy-swinging sounds to virtually every major concert hall around the globe, and recording some of the country's most distinctive music including "Canadiana Suite" and "Hymn to Freedom."
Peterson was frequently invited to perform for various luminaries including the Queen and U.S. President Richard Nixon.
"The piano is like an extension of his own physical being," composer Phil Nimmons, who helped create "Canadiana Suite," said in 1975 of his long-time friend.
"I'm amazed at the speed of his creativity. I am not talking about mere technical capabilities, although his are awesome. I'm speaking of the times when you find him under optimum conditions of creativity. His mind can move as quickly as his fingers and that is what is so astounding."
Peterson began playing the piano and trumpet as a young boy under the stern tutelage of his father, Daniel Peterson, a West Indian immigrant who worked as a railway porter.
He continued with his piano studies under the watch of his older sister Daisy after tuberculosis damaged Peterson's lungs at age six.
At 14, Peterson earned his first break, winning the CBC's national amateur contest (and $250). With his father's permission, Peterson dropped out of school to focus on his budding career.
As the only black member of a dance band, he was frequently subjected to the racism of the decade. One of the first black artists to achieve prominence in the white-dominated music industry of the 1950s, Peterson spent a great deal of his life acting as a spokesman for minority rights, drawing on his experiences growing up in the impoverished St. Antoine district of Montreal.
Once, the manager of Montreal's Ritz-Carlton Hotel phoned band leader Johnny Holmes two days before a big event to declare that blacks weren't welcome in the hotel. The manager eventually backed down after Holmes threatened to put a notice in local newspapers saying the hotel barred blacks.
"In all the years that Oscar and I have been friends, he'd never really lamented or even discussed the discrimination that he suffered as a child and as a young man," said Gene Lees, a long-time friend of Peterson's who also penned the musician's biography, The Will to Swing. "(It's) a magnificent triumph of the human spirit."
International exposure came in 1948 when Norman Granz, producer of Jazz at the Philharmonic, heard Peterson on Montreal radio and later invited the 24-year-old to New York to play as a surprise guest at the prestigious Carnegie Hall. After the performance, the young talent joined the troupe and toured North America with them for two years.
Peterson, whose career was managed by Granz for over 30 years, formed a trio in 1951 with Ray Brown on bass and Charlie Smith on drums and continued playing with the prestigious group.
His most famous threesome was with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown who were often cited as one of the world's finest jazz combos.
"You saw the greatness immediately," Ellis once said of Peterson. "He was awesome right away – always."
Although Peterson was one of Canada's leading artistic exports, he was frequently mistaken as an American because of his Jazz at the Philharmonic performances.
"I've achieved a funny kind of status in Canada," he once said. "Most of it comes because I went to the United States and other places, and as a result of Canadians having seen me repeatedly on the television shows of people like Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin ... I think that has weighed heavily with Canadians."
But he loved his home country and had lived in Mississauga since the late 1950s.
He was also well known for his kindness towards young artists, having tutored many an aspiring pianist.
Diana Krall credits Peterson for prompting her to pursue a musical career after catching one of his concerts as a young girl.
"You inspire me to no end every day," she told him in 2005 during a ceremony unveiling a Canada Post stamp in his honour.
In his efforts to coach youth, Peterson helped open Toronto's Advanced School of Contemporary Music in 1960 only to see his beloved project fail due to financial difficulties three years later. He didn't give up, serving as an adjunct music professor at York University in the mid-1980s and as its chancellor in the early 1990s.
Arthritis became a problem for the charming musician in the 1980s, causing him some pain in his hands and difficulty in walking yet he never seemed to slow down.
In 1993, at 68, he suffered a stroke which incapacitated his left hand. Peterson recovered and resumed performing two years later.
He then released A Summer Night in Munich, a live recording of old and new material; an instructional CD-ROM; and Trail of Dreams, a musical portrait of Canada commemorating the Trans Canada Trail.
"Age doesn't seem to enter into my thought to that great an extent," he said in 2001. "I just figure that the love I have of the instrument and my group and the medium itself works as a sort of a rejuvenating factor for me."
Peterson leaves behind wife, Kelly, and their daughter Celine.
Posted 24 December 2007 - 02:16 PM
My mom will be upset - she really loved his playing.
The short AP announcement, via the NY Times site
Oscar Peterson, Jazz Pianist, Is Dead at 82
Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
TORONTO (AP) -- Oscar Peterson, whose early talent and speedy fingers made him one of the world's best known jazz pianists, died at age 82.
His death was confirmed by Hazel McCallion, mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, the Toronto suburb where Peterson lived. McCallion told The Associated Press that he died of kidney failure. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said he died Sunday.
"He's been going downhill in the last few months, slowing up," McCallion said, calling Peterson a "very close friend."
During an illustrious career spanning seven decades, Peterson played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. He is also remembered for touring in a trio with Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar in the 1950s.
Peterson's impressive collection of awards include all of Canada's highest honors, such as the Order of Canada, as well as a Lifetime Grammy (1997) and a spot in the International Jazz Hall of Fame.
His growing stature was reflected in the admiration of his peers. Duke Ellington referred to him as "Maharajah of the keyboard," while Count Basie once said "Oscar Peterson plays the best ivory box I've ever heard."
"The world has lost an important jazz player," said McCallion. "It isn't just a loss for Canada, he was world famous."
Posted 24 December 2007 - 03:01 PM
You know, I've never been a fan of his music but I always give him utmost respect.
"Like" him or not, his history in the music is undeniable, large, and impossible to avoid confronting/dealing with (in such a way that to deny respect of one kind or another is, I think, impossible and/or dishonest) as one explores the works of so many masters.
RIP indeed. The legacy will loom large for years to come.
Posted 24 December 2007 - 03:14 PM
Posted 24 December 2007 - 03:14 PM
In 1996, I bought my first jazz CD: a Lionel Hampton/Oscar Peterson comp--a blind buy--and I loved it. My second jazz CD also had OP on it. For years, he was the standard against which I judged all jazz pianists, right or wrong. After years of not listening to his music much, I've been been spinning a few of his discs (especially "We Get Requests") quite frequently again.
Thank you, OP, for introducing me to this wonderful world of music. RIP
Posted 24 December 2007 - 03:16 PM
you have left a magnificent legacy, oscar
way back in the 50's, a station in louisville (whas) played a whole peterson album just before midnight, which is precisely when my long impassioned love affair with jazz began.
Edited by alocispepraluger102, 24 December 2007 - 03:30 PM.
Posted 24 December 2007 - 03:59 PM
Posted 24 December 2007 - 04:34 PM
It's been hip for many years now to put down O.P., and there's substance to the various criticisms that have been voiced of his playing--but damn, he brought joy to a lot of jazz listeners, and he's someone I came to enjoy as well... particularly the London House sessions, the Porgy & Bess album, and the Stratford Festival. RIP, O.P., and here's hoping the next generation of pianists will carry on the swing in new and inventive ways.
A couple OP recordings I've always enjoyed are "Tristeza" and "We Get Requests". I've long thought that his slow version of Have You Met Miss Jones on the latter could be transcribed and converted to a great big band arrangement.
He had an amazing sense of time, and always had a tight, swinging group. I'm glad we have so many recordings to enjoy.
Posted 24 December 2007 - 04:59 PM
And when legions of young players follow in your footsteps, or more appropriated "fingersteps". Eldar, natch.
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