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Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson

1978

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

The performance career of Oscar Peterson began while he was still a young teenager in high school, as pianist with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra in Montreal. After a few years with the Orchestra, he formed his own trio, the first in a format he maintained throughout his lifelong career. With the trio, he quickly gained fame and popularity throughout Canada. His appearances at the Alberta Lounge in Montreal were broadcast live on the radio. In 1949 impresario Norman Granz heard one of those broadcasts, went to the Alberta Lounge and enticed Mr. Peterson into making a surprise guest appearance with Granz’ all-star “Jazz at the Philharmonic” at Carnegie Hall later that year. Leaving the audience awestruck, Oscar joined JATP in 1950 as a full-time touring member. He formed a piano-bass duo with Ray Brown as well, and began recording for Granz at the same time. He also added Barney Kessel as the first of the guitarists with whom he would create trios, returning to the group format he loved.

He was voted Jazz Pianist of the Year in 1950 by the Downbeat Readers’ Poll, a title he garnered for an additional twelve years. He toured the globe extensively with Jazz at the Philharmonic as well as with his own trio.

Oscar Peterson began composing while still a member of the Johnny Holmes Orchestra, and as time progressed he devoted more and more time to composition, while still maintaining a vigorous performance schedule. His “Hymn To Freedom” became one of the crusade songs of the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States. It is still performed frequently by choirs worldwide. He also composed a salute to his beloved Canada, “The Canadiana Suite,” in the early 1960s.

Oscar Peterson has an extensive discography of his trio and quartet recordings, as well as his recordings with many of the other jazz greats. His varied albums include recordings with Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Joe Pass. His worldwide performances and his recordings, particularly those with his trios and quartets, brought him recognition from numerous places all around the world.

During his life and career Mr. Peterson received many awards and honours. These include the Praemium Imperiale (the Arts equivalent of the Nobel Prize, presented by the Japan Art Association), the UNESCO International Music Prize, eight Grammy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Grammy), the 1993 Glenn Gould Prize, of which he was the third recipient, the first chosen by unanimous decision and the first ever non-classical musician, and many honorary degrees.

His passion for life, love and music remained strong for his entire life, and he continued to perform until shortly before his death. Oscar Peterson passed away at his home on the morning of December 23, 2007. His legacy lives on through his music.

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