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Profile: Oscar Peterson

Photo Credit: Music Tour

When people talk about Jazz legends, they often gravitate to those originating from New York, Chicago and New Orleans; however, Jazz Music can never forget the contributions of Canadian pianist and composer Oscar Emmanuel Peterson. Oscar Peterson was a Jazz pioneer who released over 200 recordings and won many awards and honors over the course of his 60-year long career. After meeting Duke Ellington for the first time, he was nicknamed the “Maharaja (“ruling prince”) of the keyboard”. Oscar lived from August 15, 1925-December 23, 2007 and played piano his entire life.

Oscar Peterson grew up in a small neighborhood called Little Burgundy in Montreal, Quebec. At 5 years old, he was taught piano as well as trumpet by his father, Daniel Peterson, and his older sister Daisy; however, at 7 years old, Oscar was diagnosed with tuberculosis which prevented him from playing the trumpet; so, Oscar directed his attention towards piano. By 9 years old, Oscar was playing piano exceptionally and began to surpass other children his age and even impressed many professional jazz artists. At 14 Peterson won the National Music Competition, which was organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; shorty afterward, he dropped out of school and started playing piano professionally, working for a weekly radio show, and even played at various hotels and music halls. At a young age, Oscar was inspired by Jazz artists such as Teddy Wilson, Nat “King” Cole, James P. Johnson and especially Art Tatum, who was a particular inspiration to him as a young performer.

As Oscar’s music grew more popular, he joined labels with impresario Norman Granz and worked with Granz’s “Jazz at the Philharmonic” project. In 1949, Granz introduced Peterson at a Carnegie Hall for the Jazz at the Philharmonic show in New York. In 1973, Granz’s Pablo Records was founded and Oscar immediately signed with them and went on to record various songs for them.

Out of the many records Oscar Peterson released, he rarely did piano solo albums. Peterson mostly directed his attention towards duets, trios and quartets. He has made a series of records with popular Jazz artists such as Herbie Hancock, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Jones and many more. He had even made music with popular pop groups such as The Beatles: playing on “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby”. As for his solo albums, he is best commemorated on a series of albums titled Exclusively for My Friends, which were recorded between 1963-1968.

Oscar Emmanuel Peterson will forever be known as one of the greatest Jazz pianists in history.

Thelonious Francis-Rowsell

Father Henry Carr Placement Student