Oscar Peterson Big 6
Oscar Peterson was born on August 15, 1925, in Montreal. His parents were immigrants from the British West Indies and the Virgin Islands. His father, Daniel Peterson, boswain, on a sailing vessel, met his mother, Olivia Johnson at the time, in Montreal where she had landed as a cook and housekeeper for an English family. They decided to remain in Canada, get married and start a family.
Oscar was the fourth of five children in the Peterson household, and their father wasted no time in starting each member of the Peterson clan on the piano. They were later farmed out to various teachers when they surpassed father Peterson's teaching capabilities.
Oscar Peterson studied with the gifted Hungarian classical pianist, Paul deMarky, and a warm respectful musical and personal friendship developed between the two.
During this period, Peterson won the Ken Soble amateur show and made various appearances on local radio shows as guest artist and appeared on national radio shows such as the Happy Gang, and the Listen Hour.
Shortly after this period, he was signed by RCA Victor Records and made varied tours across Canada playing concerts. At the same point in time, Peterson did a stint in the Johnny Holmes Orchestra as a featured pianist.
In 1947 Peterson formed his first Canadian trio and retained this format of performance for the next couple of years. During this time he remained dedicated to establishing a true trio sound. It was during one of these appearances that impresario Norman Granz heard him and enticed him into making an appearance with his all-star concert troupe known as "Jazz at the Philharmo-nic." After a successful Carnegie Hall debut in 1949, Peterson returned home for a year, and rejoined the group as a steady member in 1950. He then commenced recording for Norman Granz under his Verve record label and formed his first U.S. duo with bassist Ray Brown.
In 1950 he was awarded the Down Beat award for being voted the best jazz pianist for the year, an award he would, as history shows, garner for twelve years. He continued on his many tours of the United States and they expanded to include Europe, Africa, South America, the Far East and even Russia as a musical ambassador for the Canadian Government.
During these busy times and tours, Peterson still somehow found the time to form a jazz school in Toronto which became known as the Advanced School of Contemporary Music, which attracted students from all over the world. During this time, he composed his Canadian Suite, which depicted musical scenes of his homeland. The Suite was recorded by the trio and released all over the world. He also conducted seminars throughout his travels.
He has recorded with most of the jazz greats over the years. His varied albums with these giants include recordings with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and on and on. His recordings with his award winning trios have brought recognition from numerous places throughout the world. He has won at least four Grammys and has been nominated at least ten times for the award.
In recent years Peterson seems to be devoting more time to composition. His "Hymn to Freedom" actually became one of the crusade hymns during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. His earlier musical collaboration with Norman McLaren titled "Begone Dull Care" won awards all over the world. His more recent endeavor was "Fields of Endless Day" which traced the escape railroad used by the blacks escaping to Canada during the slavery era. Peterson followed this with a ballet commissioned by Les Ballets Jazz du Canada in which he wrote a special waltz for the city of Toronto called "City Lights." Apparently Peterson remains enthralled with the compositional modes because he has since started A Suite called Africa. He completed a commission by the BBC of London to do a jazz version of the Easter Pageant, which was performed by the trio on Good Friday, 1984 via nationwide television. He recently completed a commission to do a salute to Johann Sebastian Bach as a tribute to his 300th birthday for trio and orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.
Oscar Peterson's first recording for Telarc Jazz, The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio: Live at the Blue Note, was the recipient of the 1990 Grammy Award for the Best Jazz Group Instrumental Performance. In 2000, Peterson teamed up with Michel Legrand for The Trail of Dreams: A Canadian Suite, Orchestrated and conducted by Legrand. The Trail of Dreams premiered in April 2000 at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. In 2001, Telarc released Oscar's Ballads, a compilation focused on the hauntingly beautiful ballads written by Peterson over the past 10 years. The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio—Live at the Blue Note, a historic 4 CD collection of the pianist's most treasured live recordings, is set for September 2004.
Peterson continues his yearly pattern of concerts and television appearances throughout the world and endeavors to find enough time at home to enable him to continue his greatest hobby—music.