By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: December 24, 2007
Filed at 9:55 p.m. ET
Peterson died at his home in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga on Sunday, said Oliver Jones, a family friend and jazz musician. He said Peterson's wife and daughter were with him during his final moments. The cause of death was kidney failure, said Mississauga's mayor, Hazel McCallion.
''He's been going downhill in the last few months,'' McCallion said, calling Peterson a ''very close friend.''
During an illustrious career spanning seven decades, Peterson played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He is also remembered for the trio he led with Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar in the 1950s.
Peterson's impressive collection of awards include all of Canada's highest honors, such as the Order of Canada, as well as seven Grammys and a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1997.
''I've always thought of him as Canada's national treasure. All of Canada mourns for him and his family,'' said Jones.
''A jazz player is an instant composer,'' Peterson once said in a CBC interview. ''You have to think about it, it's an intellectual form.''
Peterson's stature was reflected in the admiration of his peers. Duke Ellington referred to him as the ''Maharajah of the keyboard,'' while Count Basie once said ''Oscar Peterson plays the best ivory box I've ever heard.''
Peterson's keyboard virtuosity, propulsive sense of swing, and melodic inventiveness influenced generations of jazz pianists who followed him.
Herbie Hancock, another legendary jazz pianist, said Peterson's impact was profound.
''Oscar Peterson redefined swing for modern jazz pianists for the latter half of the 20th century up until today,'' Hancock said in an e-mail message. ''I consider him the major influence that formed my roots in jazz piano playing. He mastered the balance between technique, hard blues grooving, and tenderness. ... No one will ever be able to take his place.''
Jazz pianist and educator Billy Taylor said Peterson ''set the pace for just about everybody that followed him. He really was just a special player.''
The 20-year-old jazz pianist, Eldar Djangirov, said he wouldn't have become a jazz musician if he hadn't heard Peterson's records as a boy growing up in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.
''He was the first I ever heard and my main artistic influence,'' said Djangirov, who included the fast-tempo Peterson tune ''Place St. Henri'' on his Grammy-nominated album ''re-Imagination.''
Peterson's death also brought tributes from notable figures outside the jazz world.
In a statement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was adored by the French. ''One of the bright lights of jazz has gone out.''
Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, a fan and friend of the pianist for decades, reminisced about inviting Peterson to a 2001 Ottawa event honoring South African leader Nelson Mandela.
Chretien recalled that Mandela glowed upon meeting the piano great.
''It was very emotional,'' said Chretien. ''They were both moved to meet each other. These were two men with humble beginnings who rose to very illustrious levels.''
Born on Aug. 15, 1925, in a poor neighborhood of Montreal, Peterson got his passion for music from his father. Daniel Peterson, a railway porter and self-taught pianist, bestowed his love of music to his five children, offering them a means to escape from poverty.
At 5 years old, Oscar Peterson learned to play trumpet and piano, but after a bout with tuberculosis, he chose to concentrate on the keyboards. During his high school years, he studied with an accomplished Hungarian-born classical pianist, Paul de Marky, who helped develop his technique and ''speedy fingers.''
He became a teen sensation in his native Canada, playing in dance bands and recording in the late 1930s and 1940s.
He quickly made a name for himself as a jazz virtuoso, often earning comparisons to jazz piano great Art Tatum, his childhood idol, for his speed and technical skill. He was also influenced by Nat ''King'' Cole, whose piano trio recordings he considered ''a complete musical thesaurus for any aspiring Jazz pianist.''
Jazz pianist Marian McPartland, who called Peterson ''the finest technician that I have seen,'' recalled first meeting Peterson when she and her husband, jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland, opened for him at the Colonial Tavern in Toronto in the 1940s.
''From that point on, we became such goods friends, and he was always wonderful to me and I have always felt very close to him,'' she said.
Jazz impresario and record producer Quincy Jones said it was a blessing to have worked with Peterson.
''He was one of the last of the giants, but his music and contributions will be eternal,'' Jones said.
In 1951, the pianist formed the Oscar Peterson Trio with a guitarist and bassist. When Ellis left the group in 1958, he replaced the guitarist with a series of drummers.
Peterson never stopped calling Canada home despite his growing international reputation, and probably his best known major composition is the ''Canadiana Suite'' with jazz themes inspired by the cities and regions of his native country.
But at times he felt slighted in Canada, where he was occasionally mistaken for a football player, at 6 foot 3 inches and weighing more than 250 pounds.
In 2005 he became the first living person other than a reigning monarch to be honored with a commemorative stamp in Canada, where streets, squares, concert halls and schools have been named after him.
Peterson suffered a stroke in 1993 that weakened his left hand, but not his passion or drive for music. After a two-year recuperation, he gradually resumed performances, and made a series of recordings for the U.S. Telarc label.
He kept playing and touring, despite worsening arthritis and difficulties walking, saying in a 2001 interview that ''the love I have of the instrument and my group and the medium itself works as a sort of a rejuvenating factor for me.''
''Until the end, Oscar Peterson could tour the world and fill concert halls everywhere,'' said Andre Menard, artistic director and co-founder of the Montreal International Jazz Festival where Peterson often performed.
''This is something that never diminished. His drawing power, his mystique as a musician, was so big that he remained at the top of his game until the end.''
Peterson is survived by his wife, Kelly, and daughter, Celine.
AP writers Charles J. Gans and Lily Hindy in New York contributed to this story.
On the Net:
Oscar Peterson home page: http://www.oscarpeterson.com/
Canadian Broadcasting Corp. interview: www.cbc.ca/news/background/peterson--oscar
By RICHARD SEVERO
Published: December 25, 2007
The cause was kidney failure, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported. Mr. Peterson had performed publicly for a time even after a stroke he suffered in 1993 compromised movement in his left hand.
Mr. Peterson was one of the greatest virtuosos in jazz, with a piano technique that was always meticulous and ornate and sometimes overwhelming. But rather than expand the boundaries of jazz, he used his gifts in the service of moderation and reliability, gratifying his devoted audiences whether he was playing in a trio or solo or accompanying some of the most famous names of jazz. His technical accomplishments were always evident, almost transparently so. Even at his peak, there was very little tension in his playing.
One of the most prolific major stars in jazz history, he amassed an enormous discography. From the 1950s until his death, he released sometimes four or five albums a year, toured Europe and Japan frequently and became a big draw at jazz festivals.
Norman Granz, his influential manager and producer, helped Mr. Peterson realize that success, setting loose a flow of records on his own Verve and Pablo labels and establishing Mr. Peterson as a favorite in his touring Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts in the 1940s and ’50s.
Mr. Peterson won eight Grammy awards, as well as almost every possible honor in the jazz world. He played alongside giants like Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Roy Eldridge, Nat King Cole, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald.
Duke Ellington referred to him as “maharajah of the keyboard.” Basie said, “Oscar Peterson plays the best ivory box I’ve ever heard.” The pianist and conductor André Previn called Mr. Peterson “the best” among jazz pianists.
In a review of a performance in 1987, Stephen Holden, writing in The New York Times, said, “Mr. Peterson’s rock-solid sense of swing, grounded in Count Basie, is balanced by a delicacy of tone and fleetness of touch that make his extended runs seem to almost disappear into the sky.” He added, “His amazing speed was matched by an equally amazing sense of thematic invention.”
But many critics found Mr. Peterson more derivative than original, especially early in his career. Some even suggested that his fantastic technique lacked coherence and was almost too much for some listeners to compute.
Billy Taylor, a fellow pianist and a jazz historian, said he thought that while Mr. Peterson was a “remarkable musician,” his “phenomenal facility sometimes gets in the way of people’s listening.”
Whitney Balliett, the jazz critic of The New Yorker, wrote in 1966 that Mr. Peterson’s playing “continues to be a pudding made of the leavings of Art Tatum, Nat Cole and Teddy Wilson.”
The critical ambivalence was typified in 1973 in a review of a Peterson performance by John S. Wilson of The Times. Mr. Wilson wrote: “For the last 20 years, Oscar Peterson has been one of the most dazzling exponents of the flying fingers school of piano playing. His performances have tended to be beautifully executed displays of technique but woefully weak on emotional projection.”
The complaints evoked those heard in the 1940s about the great concert violinist Jascha Heifetz, who was occasionally accused of being so technically brilliant that one could not find his or the composer’s heart and soul in the music he played.
The jazz critic Gene Lees defended Mr. Peterson as “a summational artist.”
“So was Mozart. So was Bach,” Mr. Lees wrote in his biography of Mr. Peterson, “The Will to Swing” (1990). “Bach and Mozart were both dealing with known vocabularies and an accepted body of aesthetic principles.” He noted that just as Bach used material that he first heard in Vivaldi, “Oscar uses a curious spinning figure that he got from Dizzy Gillespie.”
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson was born in the poor St. Antoine district of Montreal on Aug. 15, 1925, one of five children of Daniel Peterson, a West Indian immigrant, and the former Olivia John, whom Daniel had met in Montreal. Daniel Peterson, who worked as a sleeping-car porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway, had taught himself how to play the organ before he landed in Halifax, N.S., in 1917. Mr. Peterson’s mother, who also had roots in the Caribbean, encouraged Oscar to study music.
By his own account, Oscar believed he had become quite accomplished by age 14. Then he heard a recording by Art Tatum.
“I gave up the piano for two solid months,” Mr. Peterson later recalled, and had “crying fits at night” because he thought nobody else could ever be as good as Tatum.
The same year, however, he won an amateur competition sponsored by the CBC, prompting him to drop out of Montreal High School so he could spend all his time playing the piano.
By 1942, Oscar Peterson was known in Canada as the “Brown Bomber of Boogie-Woogie,” an allusion to the nickname of the boxer Joe Louis and also to Mr. Peterson’s physical stature — 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds.
Mr. Peterson became the only black member of the Johnny Holmes Orchestra, which toured Canada and the United States. In parts of the United States, he discovered that he, like other blacks, would not be served in the same hotels and restaurants as the white musicians. Many times they would bring food out to him as he sat in the band’s bus, he recalled.
For a time, Mr. Peterson was so identified with popular dance boogie-woogie that he was denied wider recognition as a serious jazz musician. In 1947, Mr. Granz, the jazz impresario, was on his way to Montreal’s airport in a taxi when he heard a live broadcast of Mr. Peterson playing at a local lounge. He ordered the driver to turn the taxi around and take him to the lounge. There he persuaded Mr. Peterson to move away from boogie-woogie.
Mr. Peterson eventually became a mainstay of the Jazz at the Philharmonic series, which Mr. Granz created in the 1940s. In 1949 Mr. Peterson made his debut at Carnegie Hall, becoming a sensation. A year later he won the Down Beat magazine readers’ poll for best jazz pianist for the first time. He would go on to win it more than a dozen times, the last in 1972.
Over the years his albums sold well, and he recorded with Billie Holiday, Fred Astaire, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Buddy DeFranco and many others. He also occasionally sang.
Among his more notable long-playing recordings were the so-called Song Books of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Harry Warren, Harold Arlen and Jimmy McHugh.
His format of choice was the trio. Perhaps his most famous threesome, which lasted from 1953 to 1958, was with the guitarist Herb Ellis and the bassist Ray Brown.
Though best known as an interpreter of other people’s work, Mr. Peterson cultivated a second identity as a composer. In 1964 he recorded “The Canadiana Suite,” an extended work written for his home country; he later wrote “African Suite” and “A Royal Wedding Suite,” for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
Mr. Granz’s Verve and Pablo labels released most of Mr. Peterson’s work, but he also recorded for the MPS and Telarc labels, among others.
Mr. Peterson was frequently invited to perform for heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth II and President Richard M. Nixon. In 2005 he became the first living person other than a reigning monarch to obtain a commemorative stamp in Canada, where streets, squares, concert halls and schools are named after him.
Mr. Peterson’s autobiography, “A Jazz Odyssey: The Life of Oscar Peterson,” was published in 2002 by Continuum.
According to the CBC, Mr. Peterson was married four times. He had a daughter, Celine, with his fourth wife, Kelly. He also had six children from his first and third marriages: Lyn, Sharon, Gay, Oscar Jr., Norman and Joel.
Mr. Peterson continued playing after his stroke in 1993 because, as he told The Chicago Tribune, “I think I have a closeness with the instrument that I’ve treasured over the years.” Before long he was back on tour and recording, among other albums, “Side by Side” with Itzhak Perlman, having learned to do more playing with his right hand. As he told Down Beat in 1997: “When I sit down to the piano, I don’t want any scuffling. I want it to be a love affair.”
(BBCNews: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3622921.stm) Obituary: Oscar Peterson
As a child, Oscar Peterson - who has died at the age of 82 - began learning to play the trumpet, but a bout of tuberculosis caused him to switch to the piano.
This proved to be a blessing, since he was to become one of the most popular virtuoso jazz pianists.
He made more than 200 albums and won eight Grammy awards, including a lifetime achievement honour in 1997.
His hallmark was the capacity to play at lightning speed, while maintaining the ability to swing. What's more, he could play in a variety of jazz styles.
His father, a strict disciplinarian with a love of music, had him classically-trained, both at the Montreal Conservatory and by private tutors.
Oscar Peterson was known for playing jazz in many different stylesHe switched to jazz after listening to Benny Goodman on the radio and, at the age of 14, he won first prize in a talent competition for amateur acts.
This led to spots on Canadian radio and to work with dance orchestras around Quebec and Ontario.
His first record, at 19, was the single I Got Rhythm, arranged in a boogie-woogie style.
Peterson then joined one of Canada's most popular bands, the Johnny Holmes Orchestra.
He resisted offers from the United States, most notably from Count Basie, until he was picked up by the impresario Norman Granz, who was in a taxi when he happened to hear Peterson playing live on the radio.
Granz stage-managed Peterson's New York debut, calling him up from the audience at Carnegie Hall. The speed and vitality of his subsequent performance won him a standing ovation.
Influenced by the virtuosity of jazz pianist Art Tatum, and the silky vocals of Nat "King" Cole, Peterson explored a wide spectrum of American songwriters with his trios and quartets over the next 40 years.
The critic Leonard Feather once wrote of him: "Peterson's capacious hands can extract the gentlest whimper, the profoundest roar or the deepest indigo wails from his keyboard."
Peterson had his critics too, however.
Some avant-garde jazz artists in the 1960s found him improvisationally shallow. But a tour of Europe in the 1970s convinced him that he was right to ignore the suggestions that he was "in a rut".
Arthritis and a stroke affected Oscar Peterson's later yearsJazz critic Benny Green wrote in 1971 that "in addition to incisiveness and clarity of mind, Peterson has developed a most subtle command of dynamics".
"The ebb and flow of his attack can suggest orchestral influences quite distinctly," Green continued.
In 1982, Peterson began performing with Herbie Hancock, as a piano duo.
On stage, he was relaxed and friendly, although he insisted on silence during his concerts, once walking off for half an hour when he felt the audience was not listening.
He was increasingly troubled by arthritis and in 1993 he had a stroke which restricted the movement in his left hand.
Some critics felt, nevertheless, that this made his music more emotionally compelling.
And he continued to leave a lasting impression right up until his death.
Only last month, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame announced it was to present the star with its Founder's Award in 2008, to celebrate "a brilliant jazz pianist and composer" who showed "musical dexterity and energetic performances".
Peterson, who died at his home in Toronto, was married four times and had five children, all by his first wife.
The Independent (UK) (http://news.independent.co.uk/people/obituaries/article3284870.ece ): Oscar Peterson: Virtuoso pianist who dominated jazz piano in the second half of the 20th century
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, pianist: born Montreal, Quebec 15 August 1925; married first Lillie Fraser (deceased; two sons, three daughters; marriage dissolved), second 1958 Sandra King (marriage dissolved 1976), third 1977 Charlotte Huber (one daughter; marriage dissolved), fourth Kelly Green (one daughter); died Mississauga, Ontario 24 December 2007
Published: 26 December 2007
Following Oscar Peterson on stage at a concert in 1967, Duke Ellington remarked: "When I was a small boy my music teacher was Mrs Clinkscales. The first thing she ever said to me was, 'Edward, always remember, whatever you do, don't sit down at the piano after Oscar Peterson'."
In 1953, Nat King Cole said to Peterson, "I'll make a deal with you, Oscar. You don't sing and I won't play the piano." Peterson had just recorded his first album of vocals, accompanying himself on the piano. His voice sounded remarkably like Cole's and his piano style had also evolved so that it sounded close to Cole's work with Cole's own trio. The two jazz musicians agreed, and Oscar Peterson gave up singing, while Nat King Cole recorded piano-less vocals backed by huge orchestras.
Earlier, in 1945, a 16-year-old John Williams, later to be Stan Getz's pianist, was on tour in Canada with the Mal Hallett band and was playing in Montreal. "All the talk in the crowd was of a brilliant local pianist," said Williams, "and as we played, suddenly, between numbers, the packed audience in the dance hall parted like the Red Sea and this huge guy came up towards the bandstand. With some insight, I vacated that piano bench quick and he sat down. He played, and we were stunned. I had never heard anyone play like that."
Peterson could overwhelm any style of jazz piano and he could swing harder than any other player. In fact, the best way to define the elusive quality of "swing" might be to use a Peterson performance as an illustration. He had a deep knowledge of jazz history and could play two-fisted stride, or complex and intricate bebop. His timing and imagination also made him one of the great ballad players. He had everything, with only an occasional penchant for rococo decoration to detract from his achievements.
Such a talent attracted every award going and among his seven Grammies was one in 1997 for Lifetime Achievement. "Oscar Peterson is head and shoulders above any pianist alive today," said another doyen of the instrument, Hank Jones, in the early 1990s. "Oscar is the apex. He is the crowning ruler of all the pianists in the jazz world. No question about it." The pianist Marian McPartland described him as "the finest technician that I have seen."
Outside of his friend Art Tatum, Peterson had the most prodigious piano technique in jazz. He made it sound so easy to play the complex note-perfect and lightning runs with which he turbo-charged the piano keyboard that a lot of people took him for granted. The less aware regarded him as facile and his formidable bustling runs as showing off. In fact, he was riding an inspiration that seldom flagged to explore some of the more complex harmonic depths of the instrument.
Beginning in 1950 when he won the Down Beat magazine poll as the year's leading pianist, Peterson topped every one of the major magazine polls, some of them many times over. But it was by no means all roses. Miles Davis was one of his critics. "Nearly everything he plays," said Davis, "he plays with the same degree of force. He leaves no holes for the rhythm section." Distinguished writers such as the musicologist Max Harrison and the New Yorker columnist Whitney Balliett thought Peterson's playing to be glib and superfical.
The most important and effective years of Peterson's career from 1949 until 1986 were spent working for the impresario Norman Granz. Granz carefully nurtured the Canadian's career. He was an imaginative record producer and had a stable of stars that had Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald at its root. Peterson was the pianist on more than 200 of the many hundreds of jazz albums that Granz supervised and recorded, and at the height of his career he was making half a dozen albums a year under his own name.
Despite a genius that allowed him to express a thought through his fingers as soon as it arrived in his brain, Peterson could play, and loved to play, straightforward down-home jazz. He was one of the best-ever blues pianists in jazz and also, despite the huge urgency of his solo skills, one of its cosmopolitan accompanists. Just as well, for he worked with most of the giants of jazz from Louis Armstrong to Charlie Parker, from Coleman Hawkins to Ella Fitzgerald, from Lester Young to Stan Getz. So universally was he acclaimed that all he had to do to receive a standing ovation from an audience was to walk on stage.
Oscar Peterson's father was a former boatswain on a sailing boat who came from the West Indies to work as a railway porter in Montreal. His mother, from the Virgin Islands, had arrived in the city as cook and housekeeper for an English family. It was there that they met and married, and where Oscar was born in 1925.
His father taught music to all his five children, and Oscar began to learn piano and trumpet when he was five. Two years later, severe tuberculosis ended his trumpeting and he concentrated on the piano. His elder sister Daisy helped with his tuition and three years later Oscar began taking lessons in classical piano. In an interesting link, he studied with Paul de Marky, a Hungarian pianist who had been a student in Budapest of Istvá* Tomá*, whose teacher was Franz Liszt.
Peterson recalled: "I guess I was about 10 or 11 when my Dad thought I was getting too pleased with myself. So he brought home a friend with some Art Tatum records." One of the records was Tatum's "Tiger Rag". Tatum's improvising was so complex and multi-layered that Peterson thought there was more than one pianist involved. "And when I found there wasn't, I was so discouraged that I didn't play for a month. When I heard him live? Same thing. Only worse. No one plays like Art Tatum."
Peterson was a high-school classmate of the trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, and the two of them played together in a band led by Ferguson's brother Percy. Then, when he was 14, Peterson won a local talent contest, and was given his own weekly 15-minute show on a Montreal radio station. With some reluctance his father allowed him to drop out of high school to concentrate on music. By 1947 he was working in the top Canadian band led by Johnny Holmes. Peterson formed his own trio in 1948 and recorded for several Canadian record companies.
Travelling to Montreal airport in a taxi in 1949, Norman Granz heard a live broadcast by Peterson from the Alberta Lounge on the car radio. He told the driver to turn around and head for the Alberta. Between sets he persuaded Peterson to come to New York and appear in a Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) concert he was about to present at Carnegie Hall on 18 September. The bill was to include Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Rich, Ray Brown and Ella Fitzgerald.
Granz found it impossible to get the pianist a US work permit in such a short time so decided that Peterson would appear as an apparently unpaid guest. At a prearranged point in the programme Granz announced that Peterson just happened to be in the audience and called him up on stage from his seat. Seldom have there been such momentous and public turning points in jazz.
In an explosion of talent, Peterson played three numbers accompanied by Ray Brown on bass. They unveiled to the world an amazing jazz player, fully fledged, who was to dominate jazz piano for the rest of the century. The recordings are encapsulated, along with three more of Peterson's performances at Carnegie Hall during the early Fifties, on an album on the Giant Steps label. Originally appearing on Granz's Clef label, the music is now out of copyright – it seems unbelievable that such fresh sounding and advanced playing is more than five decades old, and can be issued by anybody on CD without cost.
After the concert recording, Granz first took Peterson into the studio for his Clef label in 1950. He enrolled the pianist into his JATP unit and it toured for two seasons with Peterson appearing with accompaniment solely from the bassist Ray Brown. But, on Granz's advice, Peterson added a guitarist for the third season. The pianist had other Granz stablemates in his trio, and formed musical and personal associations with people like Brown and the guitarists Barney Kessel and Herb Ells that were to last for most of their lives.
In one of the concerts recorded on 13 September 1952, Peterson plays a version of "Tenderly" which is not just a classic performance but also a potted summary of his abilities. It begins with a lush solo rubato statement of the theme, so designed to make a contrast with the break into tempo when the guitarist Kessel and bassist Brown come in to give support. The music then moves to a sparse, almost Count Basie-like swing which builds to a juggernaut of rhythm climax before subsiding again to the rubato theme. This is a superb demonstration of how to swing that has rarely been matched on record.
It was also in 1952 that Granz had the imaginative and highly successful idea of recording an album with Fred Astaire singing and Peterson accompanying him.
Each JATP tour usually began in the autumn and finished at Christmas. Granz spent the summers in the recording studios. His output and income was phenomenal, and he was soon to become the most powerful figure in the jazz field. He fought hard for the rights of his musicians and Peterson's career flowered under his protection. "When I came to the United States, I came at a very bad time if you're talking about career launching," said Peterson.
I came in when there had been a swarm of pianists headed for their peaks. Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, George Shearing. And it was pretty rough fighting my way through those names. And no matter what you played, you were compared with or against them – the comparison bit is a human trait. There's always been that thing with pianists, of the gun-fighters coming to town, you know. You open up and you see six or eight pianists giving you the scan to find out what the weaknesses are or the improvements, as the case may be. There's a certain kind of personal challenge, keeping your edge going.
But on a lighter side Peterson was an impressive prankster, often in partnership with Ray Brown. On one occasion, as the trombonist Bill Harris was about to play a ballad solo on "But Beautiful" at a 1953 JATP concert, Brown had put a handful of small steel balls into the piano. These produced an impressive cacophony when Peterson tried to play and he had to reach over with one hand to try and pick the balls out of the instrument while accompanying Harris (badly) with the other. Harris, a giant of the trombone but a nervous player, was paradoxically a master joker. As he stepped back from the microphone he turned to Peterson and said, "One day. One day."
That day came on tour at the Rome opera house the following year. Peterson was due to sing a number with the trio. Harris had collected a tray full of glasses and empty bottles and put it on top of a ladder behind the back curtain of the stage. When Peterson began to sing "Tenderly", Harris waited for the title word, pushed the ladder over and ran. The subsequent crash was satisfyingly cataclysmic. The stage sloped and so the bottles and glasses rolled down towards the footlights. Granz was so enraged that no one dared to identify the culprit.
Granz drew all the giants of jazz that he personally enjoyed into the bounds of his empire. He sought out and recorded Art Tatum. Tatum, blind since early childhood, was a piano genius and until the day he died an astoundingly prodigious beer drinker. He and the more fastidious Peterson became close friends although Peterson remained perpetually intimidated by the older man's piano playing.
For many years Peterson confessed to being scared of playing in Tatum's presence. The ultimate Tatum follower, he also became the pianist who reached closest to Tatum's attainments. But Peterson was more direct. The rhythmic power of his playing and the use of block chords with the trio let him build up the impact of a big band.
He suffered a double blow when, in November 1956, learning that Tatum was dying, he flew to Los Angeles to be with him. Tatum died before he got there and when he did arrive Oscar was given a message telling him that his own father had also died that day.
He spoke often about Tatum, most eloquently on a British television special he recorded with Count Basie in 1975. It was part of a brief series that Peterson made for the BBC, which showed him to be an articulate presenter and raconteur.
Peterson's playing was less abstruse than Tatum's. Tatum tended to take away the listener's breath, but impressed rather than involved his audiences. He had originality and harmonic brilliance but rhythmically he didn't swing as Peterson could, and he was too involved with himself to be able to accompany other soloists. Peterson, even in his most complex work, was primarily accessible to his audiences, and he was able to accompany anyone well, be it Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie.
He also had gifts as a composer and in 1965 his "Canadiana Suite" was nominated by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as one of the best jazz compositions of the year.
Between 1968 and 1971 Peterson made an extraordinary series of solo studio recordings for the German MPS label, later to be sued over the material by Norman Granz. Encouraged by the remarkable sound quality of the recording techniques, the pianist put down some of his most impressive work. In this period he found an affinity with another Granz player, the guitarist Joe Pass, and the two recorded and appeared in concerts together. In 1972 Peterson began to give solo recitals.
In the mid Seventies a new trio came into being with the Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and the English drummer Martin Drew.
Peterson returned to television in 1980 with the American series Oscar Peterson and Friends, to which he brought a wide range of musicians including Mary Lou Williams and Dizzy Gillespie. At the beginning of the decade Granz had recorded a number of duo albums pairing Peterson's piano and various trumpeters such as Clark Terry and Freddie Hubbard.
In 1984 Peterson joined the faculty of York University in Toronto, one of several Canadian universities that gave him an honorary doctorate. In 1991 he as made chancellor of the university.
Poor health and marital problems were the only blot on his success. Months before he suffered a serious stroke in 1993 he had had a hip replacement, and he continued to be afflicted by the arthritis he'd had since childhood. After the stroke he thought he would never play again. It took many months of therapy before he was able return to the concert platform. He resumed his recording career in January 1995. "I've learned something about patience," he said.
From that time his use of his left hand was severely limited and his recordings now tended to involve trumpet and saxophone players who could take some of the solo burden. In May 1995, with use of the left hand restored, he returned to Carnegie Hall once more. He toured Britain again, playing in London at the Barbican in 1996 and at the Albert Hall in 2005. Despite worsening arthritis that made it difficult for him to walk, he kept touring.
In 1984 Peterson was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honour, and in 2005 he became the first living Canadian to be depicted on a postage stamp.