Oscar Peterson

Image: Oscar Peterson (courtesy Canada Post Corporation)

Oscar Peterson played the piano in a way that very few others have matched. Regarded by many in his lifetime as the greatest jazz pianist in the world, he had a profound influence on Canadian music. Peterson was born in Montreal of Caribbean parents in 1925. His father, Daniel, a CPR porter, led the family band in concerts in Montreal church and community halls. Oscar played trumpet at age five but switched to piano at eight after a battle with tuberculosis. He attended the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal. As a teenager he won an amateur contest and began his own radio show, "Fifteen Minutes' Piano Rambling," in Montreal. His early records earned him the nickname "The Brown Bomber of Boogie-Woogie."

Peterson formed a trio (piano, guitar, and bass) in 1951 and rose during the 1950s to the forefront of jazz musicians, performing and recording throughout the US and Europe. Despite his travels he kept his home base in Montreal and later Toronto. He was a teacher and wrote four volumes of exercises for jazz pianists. Peterson's busy performing schedule was slowed by arthritis in the 1980s and he suffered a stroke in 1993 while performing in New York.

After a two-year recuperation, Peterson continued to tour, compose and record. He was a frequent performer and host on radio and television. Critics continued to marvel at his playing. One described it as "electrifying," with brilliant runs "like streams of sparks."

Peterson was also a composer. His best-known compositions were his Canadiana Suite (1963), with jazz themes inspired by regions of Canada, and his Hymn to Freedom. He also composed music for the Ballets Jazz de Montréal and for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

Among Peterson's innumerable awards and honours were Grammy Awards, the International Jazz Hall of Fame Award, Junos, the Order of Canada, the Order of Arts and Letters in France, the Governor General's Performing Arts Award (1992), and numerous honorary degrees. Few Canadians can match his accomplishment or his recognition. Peterson died in 2007.

Oscar Peterson - A Jazz Sensation
A superb website about one of Canada’s greatest jazz musicians. Features a biography, articles, photos, and music samples. From Library and Archives Canada.

Oscar Peterson Fonds
Information page about the Oscar Peterson fonds at Library and Archives Canada. Click on the link to view a photo of the young Oscar Peterson.

Oscar Peterson - "You Look Good To Me"
Watch an Oscar Peterson performance of "You Look Good to Me." From YouTube.

Sweet Georgia Brown
Watch Oscar Peterson's solo performance of "Sweet Georgia Brown." From YouTube.

Oscar Peterson
Extensive biography of the legendary Oscar Peterson. From the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

Oscar Peterson: A Jazz Giant
Vintage CBC audio and video clips featuring Oscar Peterson.