People Behind the Music

The Legendary Jazz Music of Oscar Peterson

By Calm Radio

Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, or often known as “The King of inside swing”, was one of the most influential and successful jazz music artists of the twentieth century. With the ability to create divine and harmonious melodies, this jazz pianist and composer had magic in his music.

With his soul-soothing and harmonious melodies, he ruled the hearts of millions of people, creating music that transcended cultural boundaries and made people experience pure bliss. His music portrayed powerful emotions and messages, which were aimed to spread positivity, hope, and connect people with his marvelous musical creations. Considered as one of the greatest jazz pianists, he had a remarkable career that lasted more than six decades. Influencing and impacting the jazz music genre, Oscar Peterson gave the world some of the best jazz that people had never experienced.

Early Years of Oscar Peterson

Born and brought up in Montreal, Quebec, he was raised by his family who were immigrants from the West Indies. His father worked as a porter for the Canadian Pacific Railways. Growing up in the neighborhood of Little Burgundy in Montreal, jazz music and its culture had embedded its roots deep within Oscar from the beginning. At the tender age of five, Oscar had perfected and honed his skills on the trumpet and piano, but due to a bout of tuberculosis at age seven, he could not play the trumpet anymore and thus focused all his energies on the piano. His initial music teachers included his father, who was an amateur trumpeter and pianist, and his sister, who taught him classical piano.

During his early years, Oscar studied with Hungarian-born pianist Paul de Marky, who was a student of Istvan Thoman, and thus his initial learning with the piano was focused more towards the classical side. But soon his attention was caught by traditional jazz and boogie-woogie, which inspired him to learn various ragtime pieces. And soon after, by the age of nine, Oscar Peterson had perfected his craft and could play the piano with grace and elegance, which even impressed professional musicians. In the coming years, he studied and learnt the piano and practiced for four to six hours daily. He was truly passionate and was dedicated towards music with all his heart. In 1940, when Oscan was fourteen, he won the national music competition organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

With an ear attuned towards music, Oscar has decided that he would become a professional musician. And soon after he dropped out of school, where he also used to play in a band with Maynard Ferguson. After dropping out of school, Oscar became a professional pianist and starred in a weekly radio show, and alongside used to play at music halls and hotels. During his teens, he was also a member of the Johnny Holmes Orchestra. But as his music career progressed, his focus started to shift towards boogie-woogie and swing, driven by inspiration from artists like Nat King Cole and Teddy Wilson. From 1945 to 1949, Oscar worked in a trio and recorded for Victoria Records. And by the time he had reached his early twenties, Oscar had created an impressive image for himself due to his incredible musical talents, and was often regarded as a technically brilliant and melodically inventive pianist.

The Music Career of Oscar Peterson

The manner in which Oscar met Norman Granz was nothing short of a movie scene. On the way to the airport, Norman Granz heard the radio which was broadcasting from a local club and was mesmerized by the amazing jazz piano music he heard. He then told the cab driver to take him to that particular club so that he could meet the talented jazz pianist. And that is where he met Oscar Peterson. Later on, he also introduced Oscar in New York City at a “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concert. Norman was the manager for Oscar for most of his music career. In 1950, Oscar worked in a duo with double bassist Ray Brown, and later on proceed to add guitarist Barney Kessel. Soon after, Herb Ellis replaced Barney Kessel and the trio was together from 1953 to 1958, often touring with “Jazz at the Philharmonic”. This trio was considered as the most sensational and stimulating collaboration, whether it was at public performances or in studio recordings.

Soon after, Oscar formed a trio with guitarist Joe Pass and bassist Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen, and recorded their legendary album “The Trio” which went on to win the 1974 Grammy Award for the best jazz music performance by a group. The trio went on to create some of the most blissful and soothing jazz music and jazz piano music ever created. And in 1974, Oscar added the British drummer Martin Drew to his band. Their quartet was a successful collaboration and toured and recorded extensively worldwide. Later on, Oscar Peterson also released his solo piano recordings, which featured his solo jazz piano, and released a series of albums called “Exclusive for My Friends”. Oscar recorded several hit albums with various musicians throughout this period until he had a stroke. In the late 1980s and 1990s, after recovering from the stroke, he performed and recorded with his protégé Benny Green. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, he went on to record several gorgeous albums and gave the world of jazz music some remarkable solo piano creations.

Inspirations and Influences

Music had inspired and attracted Oscar from a very young age. When his father played a record of Art Tatum’s “Tiger Rag”, he was mesmerized and awe-struck by the melodious music. He was influenced by legendary artists like Teddy Wilson, James P. Johnson, Nat King Cole, and Art Tatum. He also credits his sister for teaching him the piano like no other teacher, and how she taught and influenced his music career. Under the guidance of his sister, Oscar Peterson mastered the core classical piano music and learned everything ranging from scales to preludes and fugues.

Health and Oscar’s Later Years

While Oscar Peterson was an incredible and amazing musician, he suffered from arthritis from his youth. And later on, having suffered from a stroke in 1993, it weakened his left side and left him away from music and the piano for nearly two years. Although Oscar recovered and improved his left side after the stroke, his piano playing and the ability to perform to his fullest declined. He then adjusted his playing, and his music relied majorly on his right hand. Later on, in 2007, Oscar’s health started deteriorating and on December 23, 2007, he passed away at his home in Mississauga, Ontario due to kidney failure.

The Jazz Piano Legend and His Remarkable Journey

Music is a language that doesn’t speak in words, it speaks in emotions. And jazz is one such style of music that goes in through the ears and leads straight to the heart. Oscar Peterson was one of the most influential jazz musicians of our time and he truly gave the world of jazz some incredible and stellar creations. Often called “The Maharaja of the Keyboard”, he was a master of his craft and performed at thousands of concerts worldwide. Throughout his amazing music career, Oscar Peterson released over 200 recordings, won eight Grammy awards, which included the “Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award”, and various other awards and honors like the “International Lifetime Achievement Award”. Regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time, Oscar Peterson is truly a legend. Listen to the wonderful solo jazz piano music of Oscar Peterson and many other jazz musicians on Calm Radio. We have also created a Light Jazz Piano music playlist with only the lightest, most soothing solo jazz piano music tracks, and the Be Bop music channel for easy listening relaxing jazz.

Happy listening!

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