Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jazz great Oscar Peterson dies at 82

Oscar Peterson, whose early talent, speedy fingers and musical genius made him one of the world's best known jazz pianists, has died. He was 82.

Peterson died at his home in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga on Sunday, said 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.

During an illustrious career spanning seven decades, Peterson played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. He is also remembered for touring in a trio with Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar in the 1950s.

"One of the bright lights of jazz has gone out," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said. "He was a regular on the French stage, where the public adored his luminous style."

Peterson's impressive collection of awards include all of Canada's highest honors, such as the Order of Canada, as well as a Lifetime Grammy (1997) and a spot in the International Jazz Hall of Fame.

His growing stature was reflected in the admiration of his peers. Duke Ellington referred to him as "Maharajah of the keyboard," while Count Basie once said "Oscar Peterson plays the best ivory box I've ever heard."

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," Hancock said. "I consider him the major influence that formed my roots in jazz piano playing. ... No one will ever be able to take his place."

Jazz impresario 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.

Jazz pianist Marian McPartland called Peterson "the finest technician that I have seen."
McPartland said she first met Peterson when she and her husband, jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland, opened for him in Toronto in the 1940s.

Born on Aug. 15, 1925, in a poor neighborhood southwest of Montreal, Peterson obtained a passion for music from his father. Daniel Peterson, a railway porter and self-taught musician, bestowed his love of music to his five children, offering them a means to escape from poverty.
Oscar Peterson learned to play trumpet and piano at a young age, but after a bout with tuberculosis had to concentrate on the latter.

He became a teen sensation in his native Canada, playing in dance bands and recording in the late 1930s and early 1940s. But he got his real break as a surprise guest at Carnegie Hall in 1949, after which he began touring the United States and Europe.

He quickly made a name for himself as a jazz virtuoso, often compared to piano great Art Tatum, his childhood idol, for his speed and technical skill.

He was also influenced by Nat King Cole, whose Nat King Cole Trio album he considered "a complete musical thesaurus for any aspiring Jazz pianist."

In 2005 he became the first living person other than a reigning monarch to obtain a commemorative stamp in Canada, where he is jazz royalty, with streets, squares, concert halls and schools named after him.

Peterson suffered a stroke in 1993 that weakened his left hand, but not his passion or drive for music. Within a year he was back on tour, recording "Side By Side" with Itzhak Perlman.

Peterson leaves behind his wife, Kelly, and their daughter, Celine.

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