I opened my email today and found an alert from the CBC stating that this true piano playing genius has left this earth to go join that incredible jam session in the sky.
For those of you unfamiliar with jazz, Oscar was one of the legends of jazz piano. He was born in Montreal and went on to play the world. He was a performer in the Jazz at the Philharmonic sessions and concerts (which had to cancel shows in the 40s and 50s rather than play in front of a segregated audience)
Oscar came from the rough and tumble segregated streets of Montreal's Little Burgundy. But in addition to a rough and tumble atmosphere, it was home to jazz culture. Oscar had started on piano and trumpet, but piano lovers thank the tuberculosis that led Oscar to focus his attention only on the piano. Oscar played a jazz piano to sound not like a trumpet or clarinet but like a piano. Reading his history one of his teachers had studied under Franz Liszt - which explains why he had a such a classical styled virtuosity of the entire piano. Oscar also strived to reach the jazz piano levels set by Art Tatum. He (along with his trio of Herb Ellis and Ray Brown) were a tour de force. You watched him play and wondered if he had six fingers on each hand. In 1993 he had a stroke, but he came back and still played better than most who never had a stroke.
Oscar holds a special piece in my heart. Not only since he's one of the best ever Canadian musicians (to play on my patriotic strings) or since I'm a piano player since I was 5 (sitting and playing in a Sheraton hotel bar in suburban Vancouver in October after 10 months of not playing, I still was at a level good enough to get a complimentary scotch from the bar). He was part of my growing into adulthood - from watching "Oscar Peterson: Music in the Key of Oscar" in a first year Canadian Studies course at university, to his helping me indirectly learn more about the jazz masters, to finding a book of his standards in a German bookstore...and then proceeding to play "Hymn to Freedom" for an Australian girl I liked at the time, to being there when I at peaks and pinnacles of life but also at nadirs and valleys. His showmanship and ability to just shred a piano was something that often left me in jaw-dropping awe. And for my own jazz playing riffs, I played and replayed his CDs numerous times after hearing a "Did he play what I thought he did?" moments and copied some of them as an homage.
Goodbye - and may you join the jazz jam with those who went before you, while at the same time joining all those classical virtuosi who are likely giving a great concert.
Other information on Oscar
CBC Photo gallery:
CBC Archives "Oscar Peterson: A Jazz Giant":
National Library of Canada:
Some Concert footage
You Look Good to Me
A piece from his TV show
A concert after his stroke - still amazing