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Oscar Peterson Biography

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Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, CC, CQ, O.Ont. is a Canadian jazz pianist and composer. He was born on August 15, 1925 in Montreal, Quebec.

Oscar Peterson is considered by some critics as one of the greatest piano players of all time (Scott Yanow, 2004) [1].

He began learning trumpet and piano from his father at the age of five, but by the age of seven, after a bout of tuberculosis, he concentrated on the piano. Some of the artists who influenced Peterson during the early years were Teddy Wilson, Nat "King" Cole, James P. Johnson and the legendary Art Tatum, to whom many have tried to compare Peterson in later years. In fact, one of his first exposures to the musical talents of Art Tatum came early in his teen years when his father played an Art Tatum record to him and Peterson was so intimidated by what he heard that he didn't touch the piano for over a week.

He soon developed a reputation as a technically brilliant and melodically inventive jazz pianist, and became a regular on Canadian radio. His United States introduction was at Carnegie Hall, New York City in 1949 by Norman Granz; owing to union restrictions his appearance could not be billed.

Some of his musical associates have included Ray Brown, Ben Webster, Milt Jackson, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Ed Thigpen, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Louis Armstrong, Stéphane Grappelli, Ella Fitzgerald, Clark Terry, Joe Pass, Count Basie, and Stan Getz. An important step in his career was joining impresario Norman Granz's labels (especially Verve records) and Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic package, with which he was able to play with the major jazz artists of the time. Granz was also his manager for most of Peterson's career. Some cognoscenti assert that Peterson's best recordings were made for the MPS label in the late 'sixties and early 'seventies. For some years subsequently he recorded for Granz's Pablo Records after the label was founded in 1973 and in more recent years for the Telarc label.

In 1993, Peterson suffered a serious stroke that weakened his left side and sidelined him for two years. However he has overcome this setback and is today still working on a limited basis. In 1997 he received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and an International Jazz Hall of Fame Award, proof that Oscar Peterson is still regarded as one of the greatest jazz musicians ever to play.

In 2003, Peterson recorded a DVD 'A Night in Vienna' for the Verve label, which clearly shows that Peterson's age limits his technical powers. Even so, his playing has lost but little of its charm, and he still tours the US and Europe, though maximally one month a year, with a couple of days rest between concerts to recover his strength. His accompaniment consists of Ulf Wakenius (guitar), David Young (bass) and Alvin Queen (drums), all leaders of their own groups.

His work has earned him seven Grammy awards over the years and he was elected to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1978. He also belongs to the Juno Awards Hall of Fame and the Canadian Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame.

He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1972, and promoted to Companion, its highest rank, in 1984. He is also a member of the Order of Ontario, a Chevalier of the National Order of Quebec, and an officer of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

He has received the Roy Thomson Award (1987), a Toronto Arts Award for lifetime achievement (1991), the Governor General's Performing Arts Award (1992), the Glenn Gould Prize (1993), the award of the International Society for Performing Artists (1995), the Loyola Medal of Concordia University (1997), the Praemium Imperiale World Art Award (1999), the UNESCO Music Prize (2000), and the Toronto Musicians' Association Musician of the Year award (2001).

In 1999, Concordia University in Montreal renamed their Loyola-campus concert hall Oscar Peterson Concert Hall in his honor [2].

From 1991 to 1994 he was chancellor of York University in Toronto.

In 2004 the City of Toronto named the courtyard of the Toronto-Dominion Centre Oscar Peterson Square.

On August 15, 2005 Peterson celebrated his 80th birthday at the HMV flagship store in Toronto. A crowd of about 200 gathered to celebrate with him there. Diana Krall sang happy birthday to him and also performed a vocal version of one of Peterson's songs "When Summer Comes". The lyrics for this version were written by Elvis Costello, Krall's husband. Canada Post unveiled a commemorative postage stamp in his honour. This marked the first time that a Canadian postage stamp was created celebrating an individual who was still alive other than members of the British Royal Family. The event was covered by a live radio broadcast by Toronto jazz station, jazz.fm.

"Oscar Peterson is a M%$# F*%$# piano player!" Ray Charles, in Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues - Piano Blues (2003)

"I must tell you that this is a most unexpected and moving tribute. At one point I wish to offer thanks for this unexpected honour." Oscar Peterson, during the opening of the Oscar Peterson school [3], with his family in Mississauga, Ontario (2005).

Peterson's niece, former basketball star and Canadian Olympian, Sylvia Sweeney, is a Canadian journalist and documentary film producer. Her 1992 film In the Key of Oscar is about Peterson.

Peterson is a Freemason[4]

For a partial listing of Peterson's albums, see Oscar Peterson discography
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