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Oscar Peterson was regarded as one of the leading jazz pianists and composers of the twentieth century, as well as being among the most prolific. During his sixty year long career, Peterson released over 200 recordings, and was awarded no less than eight Grammy Awards. “OP” as he was known was renowned for this discipline that saw him practice an average of four hours every day and maintain a demanding concert schedule which ran into the thousands over his long and succesful career.



Peterson  was born in Montreal, Canada,  a child of West Indian immigrants. Oscar grew up in a neighborhood where the population was predominantly colored and where  jazz could be heard on every street corner. For a very early age, thanks to  tremendous encouragement from his parents, Peterson began to display a desire to  becoming a musician, initially playing the trumpet, although he soon switched his allegiances  to the piano.


 The Petersons were a very musical family with Oscar’s  father and sister both very proficient pianists.  Ever the  diligent student, Oscar would spend hours daily practicing scales and classical scales.

So rapidly did his talents develop that pretty soon it became obvious to the family  that learning “in house” was no longer an option, and  expensive  private tuition with one of the foremost piano teachers in Montreal was called for as his astonishing virtuosity and talents grew from strength to strength.


When he was just fourteen years old, Peterson took the first prize in a national music competition organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Winning such a prestigious victory, was the catalyst that helped Oscar and his family to decide that his career lay in music and he dropped out of school to become a professional pianist.

Oscar’s  first professional  booking was on a weekly radio show in Montreal, supplementing the poor salary  that the radio station were prepared to pay by appearing at local hotels and music halls.


Being that  Montreal was not exactly a focal  point of jazz action  Oscar’s reputation was slow to  spread, only really moving forward when he was had reached his twenties, and was recording regularly on the then highly popular Victor record label. 



Norman Granz, a leading jazz impresario of that era, heard one of Peterson’s recordings and was interested enough that he  later when to see him play.  Granz was impressed and decided that Oscar was worthy of major exposure to a wider audience, and made it happen by featuring him in one of his Jazz at the Philharmonic concert  held  at the famous  Philharmonic Auditorium, Los Angeles, to tremendous acclaim.

Granz also recognized that Peterson’s preference to record solo might have been costing him a potential audience. From the early fifties  onwards,  Granz convinced Peterson to appear as well as  record as part of a duet, with Oscar’s intricate piano playing style being ideally offset alongside a top class bass player. Two of the best known bassists that Paterson was to partner with were   Ray Brown and Major Holley Paterson’s style appeared to gel better with Brown and soon they became something of  a feature, even  growing to become a trio in 1952 when guitarist Herb Ellis joined the pair. 


Hardly the biggest band on the jazz scene of the fifties, but certainly one of the tightest, the Peterson-Ellis-Brown trio enjoyed great success and appreciation in the recording studio and on the road.  Meanwhile Granz had taken his highly successful Jazz at the Philharmonic formula and taken it on the road as touring band, featuring such greats of the fifties as Gene Krupa, Charlie “ Bird Parker, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins and Dizzy Gillespie  to name but a few, with Oscar Peterson also appearing in almost every concert.

The concerts that this assembly of jazz superstars put on in the fifties were the stuff of legends, among the finest ever recorded.

Towards the end of the fifties, guitarist Herb Ellis called it quits with the Oscar Peterson, and was surprisingly replaced by not another guitarist but by drummer, Ed Thigpen. The thinking behind this musical strategy was that by replacing a guitarist with a drummer  meant that Peterson’s piano playing became a  more dominant feature in the trio’s overall sound. This formula was to remain in place till towards the end of the sixties, when bassists began to feature in the lineup once again, making the Oscar Peterson trio once again a quartet.



During the Seventies, Oscar Peterson began to record as a guest artist on several albums with his close friend,  ace trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Even more interesting was the series of piano duets that he made with Count Basie during the seventies.

Towards the end of his career, and especially after suffering a serious stroke that left him totally incapacitated for almost two years, and left him partially disabled, Peterson slowed down considerably, concentrating on composing and even displaying the fact that he had an excellent singing voice.

Although he never really retired from playing, Peterson would appear only sporadically until he passed away in Ontario, Canada in 2007 at the age of 82. 

Oscar Peterson  will be remembered as a clean living, hard working genius blessed with a remarkable talent which he did his best throughout a long and exemplary career to use to its best advantage.


Please take a moment to click through the links below and pick out a particular Oscar Peterson song. It may even be one that you may have not heard before, Take a moment to remember the magical piano playing of a musical genius.


  Blues Etude Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Bossa Begune Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Gal in Calico Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Honey Dripper Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Love for Sale Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Night Train Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Someday my Prince will Come Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Willow Weep for Me Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Woody n' You Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Younger than Springtime Listen to this song on You Tube