Oscar Peterson, 1925-2007
I was lucky enough to have studied jazz at York University while Oscar Peterson was the school's chancellor. Even though our paths never crossed, his presence was almost palpable. I played in an ensemble under the tutelage of Don Thompson, a Canadian jazz giant in his our right, and every once in a while he'd make us put down our instruments and stop talking theory so we could listen to the masters. He'd play us records from his collection - Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, Bill Evans - but more often than not we'd find ourselves listening to Oscar Peterson.
It was obvious that Thompson had a warm spot in his heart for Peterson's music. When I asked him about it, he told me that Peterson simply played the most beautiful melodies imaginable. He likened Peterson to Art Tatum in his all-encompassing musical prowess, and said he thought Peterson was incapable of playing the wrong notes.
Born in Montreal in 1925, Peterson was touring North America by his early 20's, and shared the stage with such legends as Louis Armstrong, StĂŠphane Grapelli, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie. Among the slew of honours he earned in his lifetime were eight Grammy Awards and the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for lifetime achievement. He was also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest award our country has to offer.
Sadly, Oscar Peterson passed away today at his Mississauga home at the age of 82 from kidney failure, but he leaves behind a beautiful musical legacy that few could ever hope to match. He will be missed.
Photo from www.oscarpeterson.com
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