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August 16, 2005

Oscar Peterson Celebrates His 80th Birthday!

Written by
cindy mcleod

Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday in Mississauga Ontario, marked by a performance by Diana Krall. The venerable Canadian born pianist was honoured with the issue of a Canada Post stamp featuring his image, the first ever to be issued celebrating a living Canadian’s lifetime achievements. It speaks of the enormous love and pride Canadians feel for this great musician.

Dr. Peterson was born Oscar Peterson in Montreal on August 15th, 1925 and began to study piano and trumpet at the age of five. Forced to give up the trumpet due to a lung ailment, he continued his piano studies with private tutors, and later at the Montreal Conservatory of Music. In his mid-teens, he was given his own radio show over the CBC network when he won first prize in an amateur contest. He spent five years with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra in Montreal, and during that time he began to perform concerts throughout the major cities of Canada. In 1947 he formed his first trio and played numerous nightclubs and concerts throughout Canada, and in 1950, the great impresario Norman Grantz persuaded him to appear at a trial concert at Carnegie Hall, where he was introduced to the legendary Ray Brown. He received rave reviews and went on to tour the USA with Ray Brown for Jazz at the Philharmonic. After the first two seasons Mr. Grantz suggested he expand to a trio format, first with drummer Charlie Smith. He soon changed his format to piano, bass and guitar, and hired guitarist Barney Kessel. When Mr. Kessel left the trio at the end of a tour, Oscar replaced him with the great Herb Ellis, and thus began one of the hardest working and greatest jazz trios in the history of jazz. The trio of Peterson-Ellis and Brown was recorded extensively during the years 1953-58, and in 1958, Herb Ellis reluctantly retired. It was at this time that Oscar called upon drummer Ed Thigpen to create his next stellar trio, which Oscar describes as “six years of unbelievable music”, in 1962 alone they recorded seven studio and four live albums on top of their tour schedules.

1964 was marked by the release of Oscar’s first major composition, Canadiana Suite, in honour of his native country. Shortly thereafter he was introduced to Hans Georg Brunner-Shaw, a German millionaire, whom recorded Oscar several times over the next year. These intimate sessions were some of the finest recordings of his work. In 1965 both Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen tired of life on the road and left the trio, and since that time Oscar has had several versions of his trio, featuring Louis Hayes, Bobby Durham, Sam Jones, Joe Pass, Jake Hannon and Niels Pederson, but perhaps the best known was the Peterson-Pass-Pederson trio.

Winner of twelve Down Beat Awards as best jazz pianist of the year, a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement, an International Jazz Hall of Fame Award, and many other nods of recognition including Metronome Magazine, numerous Playboy awards, and several European awards, his greatest honour was being officially recognized by his country when he was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 1984, Companion of the Order of Canada.

In 1993, Oscar suffered a serious stroke that sidelined him for two years, however he overcame this setback and is still recording, touring and composing as ever before. Happy 80th Birthday to you, Mr. Peterson, you are our pride and joy!

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