Oscar Peterson

Dr. Oscar Peterson

August 15, 1925 – December 23, 2007
(Dr. Oscar Peterson was featured in the 1st & 2nd editions of
Who’s Who in Black Canada. In recognition of his many outstanding contributions to Jazz music and the Canadian landscape, we would like to honour his legacy.)

Jazz Pianist / Composer, Regal Recordings Ltd., Mississauga, ON. Born: Montreal, QC.

Considered one of the greatest piano players of all time, Dr. Oscar Peterson was a world-renowned jazz pianist and composer. He has been acknowledged in Canada and around the world with awards including 16 honorary doctorates, 8 Grammy Awards, induction into the American Jazz Hall of Fame, and was designated a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Oscar began playing piano at an early age, as did all his siblings, under his father’s instruction and that of his sister, Daisy. As he grew older and his abilities improved, he trained under the Hungarian classical pianist, Paul de Marky. In his early teens and at his sister, Daisy’s, urging, he entered and won a CBC amateur competition, which led to appearances on local and national radio shows, including, The Happy Gang, The Light Up and Listen Hour. By 1942, he was playing at clubs around Montreal, and by 1947, he had formed his first trio. After being heard by jazz-producer Norman Granz, during a live broadcast from the Alberta Lounge, he was invited to make a guest appearance at Carnegie Hall with the all-star Jazz at the Philharmonic; this appearance took place in 1949 and a year later he joined the group as a member and began recording for Granz under his Verve label.

Highlights: Oscar formed his first U.S. trio with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis, touring extensively in North America, Europe and Asia, and performing many live and studio recordings. In 1958, Ellis retired from the group and was replaced by Ed Thigpen. This trio remained together until 1965, creating more music. In 1960, Oscar and a number of like-minded musicians, opened the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto, which attracted students from around the world. The year 1962 was considered the most gruelling for Oscar and his trio; in addition to touring, they recorded 7 studio and 4 live albums. In 1964, the Canadiana Suite was composed and released. He recorded with jazz greats including Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and many others. By 1965, the trio had disbanded, and Oscar went on to tour, record, and spend more time composing. His “Hymn to Freedom” became one of the anthems used during the civil rights movement in the U.S. He composed for films such as Big North and Silent Partner, and for the National Film Board (NFB) he composed for films Begone Dull Care and Fields of Endless Day (a story of the Underground Railroad). He was commissioned by Les Ballets Jazz du Canada, to produce a ballet and include a special waltz for Toronto, which he titled, “City Lights.” He completed a commission marking the 300th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, which was performed at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.

Other: Oscar has starred in a number of TV specials and hosted at least 6 shows where he interviewed guests Anthony Burgess, Andrew Lloyd Webber, former UK Prime Minister Edward Heath, and many others. He also performed at many Canadian and European jazz festivals, such as the Festival international de jazz de Montréal and the Montreux Festival in Switzerland.

Honours: Several including 8 Grammy Awards; Down Beat Award, Best Jazz Pianist (awarded 13 times); Keyboard Award, Best Jazz Pianist (award 5 times); induction into the Hall of Fame for UCLA, the Junos, Canadian Jazz & Blues, American Jazz; Chancellor Emeritus, York University; Glenn Gould Prize; Praemium Imperiale; UNESCO International Music Prize; President’s Award, International Association for Jazz Education; Oscar Peterson Day proclaimed in Florida & Baltimore; Companion & Officer, Order of Canada; Order of Ontario; Chevalier, Order of Quebec; Oscar Peterson Scholarship established, Berklee School of Music, Boston; Officer, Order of Arts & Letters, France; Governor General Lifetime Achievement Award; Harry Jerome Award; Lifelong Contribution Award, BTW; Genie Award for The Silent Partner; Lifetime Achievement Award, UMAC, ACAA; inclusion in Who’s Who in Black Canada (1st & 2nd editions; 2002 & 2006).

Works: Over 200 recordings; compositions including, “Canadiana Suite”; “African Suite”; “Hallelujah Time”; “Blues for Big Scotia”; “Blues for Smedley”; “The Smudge”; “Bossa Beguine”; and “Hymn to Freedom.”

Reviewed in: Several including Oscar Peterson, The Will to Swing; NFB documentary, In the Key of Oscar; profiled in Some Black Men; Millennium Minds; WWIC.

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