Oscar Peterson Day

August 15, 1925 – December 23, 2007

 

The dazzling pianist is celebrated

Pianist Oscar Peterson was born on August 15, 1925 in Montreal, Canada.

At the age of five, Peterson began playing trumpet and piano, but when he caught tuberculosis two years later, he had to give up the trumpet.

Extensively trained in classical music, Peterson loved swing and boogie-woogie and developed very quickly as a jazz pianist, helped by practicing four to six hours each day.

At 14 he was a professional pianist, performing at hotels and having a weekly radio show.

By 1945 when he was 20, Peterson was heading his own trio and leading recording sessions for the Victor label.

In 1949 he was discovered by producer Norman Granz who soon presented him for his American debut as a surprise guest at a Jazz At The Philharmonic concert.

Granz became Peterson’s manager, O.P. became a regular with JATP, he put together a duo with bassist Ray Brown that soon became a trio with guitarist Barney Kessel and (during 1954-59) Herb Ellis, and he began recording very prolifically for Granz’s labels which included Norgran, Clef, Verve, and (in the 1970s and ‘80s) Pablo.

A brilliant virtuoso most influenced by Nat King Cole but also inspired by Art Tatum, Peterson’s technique was phenomenal as was his endurance, and he could outswing anyone.

He led a trio with Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen during 1959-64, recorded a series of brilliant solo piano albums, and toured the world with his trios (which later on included bassist Niels Pederson) until 1993 when he suffered a serious stroke.

Peterson, who never completely recovered the use of his left hand, returned to playing in 1995, compensating for his handicap with his unimpaired right hand.

While he declined in his later years, Oscar Peterson stayed active until shortly before his death in 2007 and he will always be remembered as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time.

Here is Peterson, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen performing “C Jam Blues” at a Denmark concert in 1964.

-Scott Yanow

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