Oscar Peterson grew up in the
neighborhood of Little Burgundy,
which at the time was an area filled with drugs, violence and poverty. It
was in this predominantly black neighborhood that he found himself
surrounded by the jazz culture that flourished in the early
20th century. At a time when racial tensions had their grip on America,
Little Burgundy was known as a haven for many African-American artists.
At 5 years old, Peterson began honing his
skills with the
However, by the age of seven, after a bout of
tuberculosis, he directed all his attention to the piano. Some of the
artists who influenced Peterson during the early years were
Nat "King" Cole,
James P. Johnson and the legendary
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 Art Tatum's
for him, and Peterson was so intimidated by what he heard that he allegedly
restrained himself from touching the piano for nearly two months.
More. . .
Published: 12/24/07, 2:11 PM EDT
By ROB GILLIES
TORONTO (AP) - Oscar Peterson, whose early talent and speedy fingers
made him one of the world's best known jazz pianists, died at age 82.
His death was confirmed by Hazel McCallion, mayor of
Mississauga, Ontario, the Toronto suburb where Peterson lived.
McCallion told The Associated Press that he died of kidney failure but
that she did not know when. The hospital and police refused to comment.
"He's been going downhill in the last few months, slowing up," McCallion
said, calling Peterson a "very close friend."
During an illustrious career spanning seven decades, Peterson played
with some of the biggest names in jazz, including
Count Basie and
Dizzy Gillespie. He is also remembered for touring in a trio with
Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar in the 1950s.
Peterson's impressive collection of awards include all of
Canada's highest honors, such as the Order of Canada, as well as
a Lifetime Grammy (1997) and a spot in the International Jazz Hall of
His growing stature was reflected in the admiration of his peers.
Duke Ellington referred to him as "Maharajah of the keyboard,"
Count Basie once said "Oscar Peterson plays the best ivory box
I've ever heard."
"The world has lost an important jazz player," said McCallion. "It isn't
just a loss for
Canada, he was world famous."
Born on Aug. 15, 1925, in a poor neighborhood southwest of
Montreal, Peterson obtained a passion for music from his father.
Daniel Peterson, a railway porter and self-taught musician, bestowed his
love of music to his five children, offering them a means to escape from
Oscar Peterson learned to play trumpet and piano at a young age, but
after a bout with tuberculosis had to concentrate on the latter.
He became a teen sensation in his native Canada, playing in dance bands
and recording in the late 1930s and early 1940s. But he got his real
break as a surprise guest at
Carnegie Hall in 1949, after which he began touring the United
He quickly made a name for himself as a jazz virtuoso, often compared to
piano great Art Tatum, his childhood idol, for his speed and technical
He was also influenced by
Nat King Cole, whose Nat King Cole Trio album he considered "a
complete musical thesaurus for any aspiring Jazz pianist."
Peterson never stopped calling
Canada home despite his growing international reputation. But at
times he felt slighted here, where he was occasionally mistaken for a
football player, standing at 6 foot 3 and more than 250 pounds.
In 2005 he became the first living person other than a reigning monarch
to obtain a commemorative stamp in
Canada, where he is jazz royalty, with streets, squares, concert
halls and schools named after him.
Peterson suffered a stroke in 1993 that weakened his left hand, but not
his passion or drive for music. Within a year he was back on tour,
recording "Side By Side" with Itzhak Perlman.
As he grew older, Peterson kept playing and touring, despite worsening
arthritis and difficulties walking.
"A jazz player is an instant composer," Peterson once said in a Canadian
Broadcasting Corp. interview, while conceding jazz did not have the mass
appeal of other musical genres. "You have to think about it, it's an
intellectual form," he said.
worked with Peterson for years