Oscar Peterson, great jazz pianist, dies at 82
He played with big names such as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie.
Published December 25, 2007
TORONTO - Oscar Peterson, whose early talent, speedy fingers and musical genius made him one of the world's best known jazz pianists, has died.
Mr. Peterson, 82, died at his home in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga on Sunday (Dec. 23, 2007), said Oliver Jones, a family friend and jazz musician. The cause of death was kidney failure, said Mississauga's mayor, Hazel McCallion.
During an illustrious career spanning seven decades, Mr. 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.
Mr. Peterson's impressive collection of awards includes 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."
In a statement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said "one of the bright lights of jazz has gone out."
"He was a regular on the French stage, where the public adored his luminous style," he said.
Born on Aug. 15, 1925, in a poor neighborhood southwest of Montreal, Mr. 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.
Mr. 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.
In 2005, he became the first living person other than a reigning monarch to obtain a commemorative stamp in Canada, where he was jazz royalty, with streets, squares, concert halls and schools named after him.
Survivors include his wife, Kelly, and their daughter, Celine.
[Last modified December 24, 2007, 22:53:40]
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