Friday, 17 April 2015

P is for Peterson

Here's another Canadian post.  Oscar Peterson was born in 1925 in Montreal to immigrants from the West Indies.  The population of his home neighbourhood of Little Burgundy was at the time predominantly black, so he grew up influenced by the jazz culture.  A bout of tuberculosis made it more difficult for him to play wind instruments such as the trumpet that he favoured; thereafter he focused on piano. Although he was trained in Classical music he was captivated by jazz and ragtime, and quickly earned the nickname "Brown Bomber of the Boogie Woogie".

At 14 years old, after winning a national music competition, he dropped out of school to begin working as a professional pianist.  His music was inspired by musicians like Teddy Wilson, Nat King Cole, and Art Tatum.  In 1949, while performing at a club, Peterson was discovered by impresario Norman Granz who quickly arranged for Peterson to perform at Carnegie Hall.  The two became friends and Granz was Peterson's manager for most of his career.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Peterson formed and performed with many duos and trios comprised of some of the best musicians of the time.  Most had both black and white performers, a controversial move in the times of segregation, but it worked.  Their performances and recordings were considered some of the most influential in modern jazz.  By this time Peterson had gained worldwide recognition as a leading jazz pianist as well as a composer for piano, small groups, and big band.  When not on tour he taught piano in Toronto and mentored the York University jazz program.

He continued to perform through his later years, but was sidelined by hip replacement surgery and health issues caused by his weight.  In 1993 he suffered a stroke which required two years to recuperate from and he never regained the full motion of his left hand.  Even so, he returned to public performing on a limited basis and friends commented that "a one-handed Oscar was better than just about anyone with two hands".  He toured the U.S. and Europe for one month out of every year and continued to record albums.

In 2007 his health declined dramatically, forcing him to cancel a number of engagements.  He died of kidney failure in December of that year.  He left an enormous legacy of music and recognition, including eight Grammy Awards, election to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the BBC Radio Lifetime Achievement Award, and membership in the Order of Canada.  The concert hall at the Loyola campus of Montreal's Concordia University is named for him.

Oscar Peterson plays his interpretation of "Body and Soul" with the Boston Pops Orchestra.
Oscar Peterson - Body and Soul

1 comment:

  1. Cool. I always find it inspiring how God can change our plans (the fact that the tb thwarted his desire to play wind instruments) and replace them with something far greater than we could imagine..