Oscar Peterson is an honorary associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre. His career as a jazz pianist has spanned over five decades through which he has played with, and come to know, many of the genre’s greatest contributors, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Roy Eldridge, Stan Getz and Charlie Parker, just to name a few. Let’s take a quick look at some of the highlight’s of Oscar’s illustrious career starting in 1942.
Internationally renowned, Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson has entertained the world with his mastery and prowess over the piano for over 40 years. Born in a limestone house on Montreal's Delisle Street on August 15, 1925, he was the fourth of five children to his parents, Daniel and Kathleen. All of the Peterson children (Fred, Daisy, Charles, Oscar and May) were introduced to music in a good way before any of them can remember. Their father, a porter with Canadian Pacific Railways who learned to play piano on his own while in the merchant marine, taught his children all he could until they achieved a certain proficiency. It was at this point, during his high school years, that Oscar came to study with an accomplished classical pianist, Hungarian Paul de Marky, who taught Oscar "technique and speedy fingers". He also helped Oscar come to believe that he had something special to give to the music world.
Art TatumSome of the artists who influenced Oscar during the early years were Teddy Williams, Nat (King) Cole, James P. Johnson and the legendary Art Tatum, who many have tried to compare Oscar to in later years. In fact, one of Oscar's 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 Oscar was so intimidated by what he heard that he didn't touch the piano for over a month.
In his last years of high school, Oscar played in a band called the Montreal High School Victory Serenaders with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. He got permission to play the baby grand piano during the lunch hours and in his words this was "the best way to have a bunch of girls come down. I became the guy."
At 14 years of age, Oscar's older sister Daisy got him to audition for a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) national amateur contest which he went on to win. This opened the doors to performances on a weekly broadcast show, on a Montreal radio station, called Fifteen Minutes' Piano Rambling and later performances on a national CBC broadcast called The Happy Gang. Finally, when algebra couldn't banish musical arrangements, Oscar asked to drop out of high school. His father told him that he couldn't "let him leave high school to be a jazz piano player. You have to be the best, there is no second best." And so his music career began....
For more in depth looks at Oscar Peterson’s life and career the book by Gene Lees, Oscar Peterson, The Will to Swing and the National Film Board’s documentary, In the Key of Oscar are both excellent resources. Oscar's official website is http://www.oscarpeterson.com
Photo: Edward Gajdel. Biography from http://www.oscarpeterson.com