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 Thursday, 26 November 2015
Oscar Peterson PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Monday, 12 July 2004
Image Oscar Peterson needs little introduction to the community of jazz enthusiasts. For much of the 1950s through 1980s, at least, he was the definition of mainstream jazz for many, and his incredible discography alone assures his place in the history of jazz piano and composition. Nearing 80, and a decade past a stroke that threatened to end his career, Peterson selectively maintains a touring and recording schedule that belies both his years and physical limitations that thankfully have little if any impact on his ability to swing hard with that trademark touch that gives the piano romantic, playful, or majestic voice.

Highly influenced by Art Tatum, Montreal native (now Toronto resident) Oscar Peterson rose to fame as part of Norman Granz’ Jazz at the Philharmonic in the late 1940s and 1950s, more or less melding swing and bop while defying more specific classification: “Too many jazz pianists limit themselves to a personal style, a trademark, so to speak. They confine themselves to one type of playing. I believe in using the entire piano as a single instrument capable of expressing every possible musical idea. I have no one style. I play as I feel.” With a ferocious physical command of the piano, many have criticized Peterson as a showy technician rather than emotional artist, yet the response he generates from the audience and the esteem of his colleagues counters that view, and anyone who sees Oscar Peterson live will be carried away, not by his amazing dexterity, but by his long lines and the joy and passion so evident in his music. “Some people try to get very philosophical and cerebral about what they’re trying to say with jazz. You don’t need any prologues, you just play. If you have something to say of any worth then people will listen to you.”

Over the years, Oscar Peterson has been most associated with the piano trio, from his classic threesome of Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen and his drumless renditions with Barney Kessel or Herb Ellis, and later Joe Pass. In recent years he has more often used a quartet format: “I use the quartet with guitar, bass, and drums more than anything now, which is the best of both worlds. You have all of the rhythmic impetus, plus the backing and counterpoint of the guitarist” (1995, Jazz Times). Since his early successes under Norman Granz in the 50s, Peterson has primarily enjoyed the role of leader rather than sideman or accompanist, while frequently featuring such outstanding guest soloists as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Clark Terry, Benny Carter, and Milt Jackson. In the past decade, his recordings have featured such rising stars as Roy Hargrove and Ralph Moore. He has released hundreds of recordings too numerous to mention, particularly for Pablo, Verve, and most recently Telarc.

Peterson has also been committed to jazz education and is quick to spot new talent, most notably promoting the budding career of Benny Green. Among a long list of awards throughout his career, Peterson received the Order of Canada in 1972, the Glenn Gould International Prize in 1993, and the President's Award of the International Association for Jazz Education in 2003.

Peterson devotes at least as much time to composing as performing. In addition to the international acclaim received for the Canadiana Suite (1963), other works include African Suite, Hallelujah Time, Blues for Big Scotia, Blues for Smedley, The Smudge, Bossa Beguine, Love Ballad, and the recent Trail of Dreams suite. His Hymn to Freedom was one of the crusade hymns of the Civil Rights Movement as presented by the National Film Board, the BBC, and other film and television projects. He has also composed the scores for several films, including The Silent Partner, which won a Canadian Film Award in 1978.

Despite curtailing his touring somewhat since his stroke, Oscar Peterson performs at Canadian and European jazz festivals each year, continues international concert tours such as his 2003 tour of Japan, and maintains an online journal of his impressions of music and life on his website. Renewed public interest in Oscar Peterson followed the release of his autobiography and accompanying CD, A Jazz Odyssey (2002), and he makes a few club and concert hall appearances each year in the U.S. More information about Oscar Peterson and his discography is available at

Jazz Odyssey: The Life of Oscar Peterson
Jazz Odyssey: The Life of Oscar Peterson

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