Oscar Peterson – Piano Moods – I Love You Porgy (with sheet music)
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, (August 15, 1925 – December 23, 2007) was a Canadian jazz pianist, virtuoso and composer. He was called the “Maharaja of the keyboard” by Duke Ellington, but simply “O.P.” by his friends. He released over 200 recordings, won eight Grammy Awards, and received numerous other awards and honours. He is considered one of the greatest jazz pianists, and played thousands of concerts worldwide in a career lasting more than 60 years.
Peterson was born in Montreal, Quebec, to immigrants from the West Indies; his father worked as a porter for Canadian Pacific Railway. Peterson grew up in the neighbourhood of Little Burgundy in Montreal. It was in this predominantly black neighborhood that he encountered the jazz culture. At the age of five, Peterson began honing his skills on trumpet and piano, but a bout of tuberculosis when he was seven prevented him from playing the trumpet again, so he directed all his attention to the piano. His father, Daniel Peterson, an amateur trumpeter and pianist, was one of his first music teachers, and his sister Daisy taught him classical piano. Peterson was persistent at practising scales and classical études.
As a child, Peterson studied with Hungarian-born pianist Paul de Marky, a student of István Thomán, who was himself a pupil of Franz Liszt, so his early training was predominantly based on classical piano. But he was captivated by traditional jazz and boogie-woogie and learned several ragtime pieces. He was called “the Brown Bomber of the Boogie-Woogie”.
At the age of nine Peterson played piano with a degree of control that impressed professional musicians. For many years his piano studies included four to six hours of daily practice. Only in his later years did he decrease his practice to one or two hours daily. In , at fourteen years of age, he won the national music competition organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
After that victory, he dropped out of the High School of Montreal, where he played in a band with Maynard Ferguson. He became a professional pianist, starring in a weekly radio show and playing at hotels and music halls. In his teens he was a member of the Johnny Holmes Orchestra. From to he worked in a trio and recorded for Victor Records. He gravitated toward boogie-woogie and swing, with a particular fondness for Nat King Cole and Teddy Wilson. By the time he was in his s, he had developed a reputation as a technically brilliant and melodically inventive pianist.
Duos, trios, and quartets
In a cab on the way to the Montreal airport, Norman Granz heard a radio program broadcasting from a local club. He was so impressed that he told the driver to take him to the club so he could meet the pianist. In he introduced Peterson in New York City at a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert at Carnegie Hall. He remained Peterson’s manager for most of his career. This was more than a managerial relationship; Peterson praised Granz for standing up for him and other black jazz musicians in the segregationist south of the s and s. In the documentary video Music in the Key of Oscar, Peterson tells how Granz stood up to a gun-toting southern policeman who wanted to stop the trio from using “whites-only” taxis.
In Peterson worked in a duo with double bassist Ray Brown. Two years later they added guitarist Barney Kessel. Then Herb Ellis stepped in after Kessel grew weary of touring. The trio remained together from to , often touring with Jazz at the Philharmonic.
He considered the trio with Brown and Ellis “the most stimulating” and productive setting for public performances and studio recordings. In the early s, he began performing with Brown and drummer Charlie Smith as the Oscar Peterson Trio. Shortly afterward Smith was replaced by guitarist Irving Ashby, who had been a member of the Nat King Cole Trio. Ashby, who was a swing guitarist, was soon replaced by Kessel. Their last recording, On the Town with the Oscar Peterson Trio, recorded live at the Town Tavern in Toronto, captured a remarkable degree of emotional as well as musical understanding between three players.
When Ellis departed in , they hired drummer Ed Thigpen because they felt no guitarist could compare to Ellis. Brown and Thigpen worked with Peterson on his albums Night Train and Canadiana Suite. Both left in and were replaced by bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes (and later, drummer Bobby Durham). The trio performed together until . In Peterson recorded Motions and Emotions with orchestral arrangements of “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles. In the fall of , Peterson’s trio released the album Tristeza on Piano. Jones and Durham left in .
Peterson formed a trio with guitarist Joe Pass and bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. This trio emulated the success of the s trio with Brown and Ellis and gave acclaimed performances at festivals. Their album The Trio won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance by a Group. On April , , Peterson performed in the interval act for the Eurovision Song Contest that was broadcast live from the Palais des congrès de Paris. In he added British drummer Martin Drew. This quartet toured and recorded extensively worldwide. Pass said in a interview, “The only guys I’ve heard who come close to total mastery of their instruments are Art Tatum and Peterson”.
Peterson was open to experimental collaborations with jazz musicians such as saxophonist Ben Webster, trumpeter Clark Terry, and vibraphonist Milt Jackson. In , the Peterson trio with Jackson recorded the album Very Tall. His solo recordings were rare until Exclusively for My Friends (MPS), a series of albums that were his response to pianists such as Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner. He recorded for Pablo, led by Norman Granz, after the label was founded in . In the s he played in a duo with pianist Herbie Hancock. In the late s and s, after a stroke, he made performances and recordings with his protégé Benny Green. In the s and s he recorded several albums accompanied by a combo for Telarc.
Peterson had arthritis since his youth, and in later years he had trouble buttoning his shirt. Never slender, his weight increased to kg ( lb), hindering his mobility. He had hip replacement surgery in the early s. Although the surgery was successful, his mobility was still inhibited. In a stroke weakened his left side and removed him from work for two years. During the same year incoming prime minister Jean Chrétien, his friend and fan, offered him the position of Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. According to Chrétien, Peterson declined the job due to ill health related to the stroke.
Although he recovered some dexterity in his left hand, his piano playing was diminished, and his style had relied principally on his right hand. In he returned to occasional public performances and recorded for Telarc. In he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and an International Jazz Hall of Fame Award. His friend, Canadian politician and amateur pianist Bob Rae, said, “a one-handed Oscar was better than just about anyone with two hands.”
In his health declined, he canceled his plans to perform at the Toronto Jazz Festival and a Carnegie Hall all-star concert that was to be given in his honour. Peterson died on December 23 2007 , of kidney failure at his home in Mississauga, Ontario.
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