Oscar Peterson was influential in the world of jazz especially due to his refined swing in his later years. He is considered by many as the foundation of modern piano skills since he had mastered to balance tenderness and hard blues grooving. His music style was significant and will remain so in generations to come making it difficult for any one to take his place.
His career started at a very early age. Though initially as a suggestion by his father, Oscar developed a love for classic music and ended up more biased to the piano. With his father and sister as his early teachers, he got so good that formal training had to be incorporated. Peterson was influenced by great pianists and at one time, he was intimidated by pianist Art Tatum’s performance that he shunned his piano for almost one month.
After his first trio performance in 1947, Norman Granz a famous producer, invited to perform in New York City. After, this, the two build a long lasting relationship and Granz became Peterson’s manager. In late 1952, Peterson’s recorded concert of him playing his version of “Tenderly” has been described as a classic performance that not only beats the rest, but also as one that shows his ability in playing a piano.
Throughout his career, Peterson collaborated with quite a number of jazz artists such as Sam Jones, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Irving Ashby, Herbie Hancock, Louis Armstrong, just to mention a few. His trio with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown was the most successful in his career and was praised by many.
Due to his prowess and technique, Peterson was referred to as the “Maharaja” of the keyboard by Duke Ellington. Dave Brubeck, a jazz modernist said that the moment he heard Peterson’s performance, he knew, it was not going to be long before the world knew what a Master he was.
Born to Immigrants from West Indies in August 15, 1925, in Quebec Canada, Oscar Peterson grew up to be a great Pianist and made a name for himself in the world of music. As a fourth born in a family where their father insisted on every child learning how to play a musical instrument, Oscar put his love on the trumpet but due to bouts of tuberculosis, he was forced to move to the piano. He learned the piano under the coaching of his father and sister but as his talent grew, he was more than just a home tutelage student and needed advanced teaching.
A teacher had to be found, and this was Paul deMarky, a talented Hungarian classical pianist. With the skills of his teacher and the talent boiling within him, there developed a tight relationship between the two, which was the foundation below the success of one of the most prolific stars in the world of jazz. Oscar had incomparable prowess with the piano and though there were critics for not having his own style, the fact that he was musically influence by the likes of Count Basie, Nat King Cole and Art Tatum, allowed him play easy to follow yet exquisite performances all through his career.
The 1950s were the greatest years in the career of Oscar Peterson because this is the period when he received worldwide recognition and was one time referred to as the “Maharaja” of jazz by Duke Ellington. Through his success, Oscar played in quite a number of settings: big hands, small hands, solos, duos, trios, and quartets. Due to the emergence of stars doing solo performances Oscar recorded solo piano sessions at MPS label and titled the albums “Exclusive for my friends”. Oscar played with Herbie Hancock, another established and successful pianist in the 1980s, and later in the 80s and early 90s, he recorded and performed alongside Benny Green, his protégé.
Through out his career running for more than 5 decades, Oscar Peterson managed to scoop 8 Grammys. His name still remains in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canadian Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame and the Juno Awards Hall of Fame. In 1986, Oscar received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Award, in 1987; he received the Roy Thomson Award, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, among many other awards all through his performance career. In Oscar Peterson’s honor, the Concordia University, Montreal, renamed their concert hall in 1999 to “Oscar Peterson Concert Hall”.
Oscar was a recognized pianist locally in Canada and internationally. The awards he received and the recognition shows that he was a respectable and popular public figure at home. With the ability to play different instruments exceptionally, he bagged 8 Grammys, 16 honorary degrees and numerous awards.
As a young man, Peterson had arthritis and in his later years his mobility was hindered by this condition. In 1993, Peterson had a serious stroke that took him off the industry for two years, but after recuperation, he came back and continued playing. In 2007, his health deteriorated rapidly, which forced him to cancel a major performance at the Toronto Jazz Festival. December 23, 2007, Oscar Peterson rested in peace in Mississauga, Ontario as a result of Kidney failure.
Almost 6 decades was the time Oscar Peterson enjoyed the light of popularity in the world of music, to be more specific, Jazz. All the fame and recognition was because of his endless melodic invention, jazz piano and rhythmic swing, which can only be described as incredible and relentless. Oscar Peterson was a huge man, not only physically but artistically. He was a hero who even after a stroke in the early 90s, still came back and showed his personal dignity and grace.
At the age of six, Oscar Peterson was under formal training in the field of classical music. Though there was someone to tutor him, he had his own liking and favorite pianists, who seem to have influenced his style at early age. Nat King Cole, Albert Ammons, and Fats Waller were top in his list of favorite pianist. Albeit there were critics that he had taken too much of his role models’ style, Peterson had something of his own in his performances that kept people loving his art.
There were many pianists all with great talent but Peter incorporated a more conventional style on Stride, boogie-woogie, and other different techniques of four-to-the-bar. Later in his career, he would include bebop, which was perceived as a more aggressive and angular style of modern jazz. With the new style and pieces of the traditional techniques, his style remained a great influence in modern jazz.
In the span of his career, Oscar Peterson collaborated with quite a number of great pianists such as Keith Emerson, Benny Green, Count Basie, and Herbie Hancock. He also made duo recordings with famous bassists, such as Sam Jones, and Ray Brown, Guitarists Irving Ashby, Herb Ellis, and many other jazz heavy weights. Oscar played music according to what he thought it should sound like, and due to his music principles, his techniques and style can still be seen in the jazz music of today.
Videos and Recordings
Oscar Peterson playing Blues Etude from the recording Two Originals
Oscar Peterson plays Summertime: