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OSCAR PETERSON: 1925 - 2007

Staff Report

NEW YORK, 24 DECEMBER 2007 - Canadian jazz legend Oscar Peterson died yesterday of kidney failure at age 82, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp reported. His death was confirmed by Hazel McCallion, mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, the Toronto suburb where Peterson lived.

Pianist and composer Oscar Emmanuel Peterson was born 82 years ago, on 15 August 1925 in Montréal, Canada. He first learned music from his self-taught father, a West Indian immigrant who worked as a railway porter, then studied under both the gifted Hungarian classical pianist, Paul deMarky and old-time jazz musicians. Oscar Peterson's break came when he won a CBC amateur contest, followed by appearances on a weekly Montréal radio show and with The Happy Gang.

Heavily influenced by Art Tatum, James P. Johnson, and many other pianists of the day, Peterson brought his talents to the United States in 1949 with his Carnegie Hall debut after being discovered by jazz impresario Norman Granz. From the early 1950s until his death, Peterson performed with his trios and quartets all over the world.

The Canadian pianist later performed or recorded with many of the greats of American jazz including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker , Roy Eldridge, Stan Getz and Milt Jackson. Often compared to piano virtuoso Art Tatum, Peterson recorded close to 200 albums, but his best-known works remain the Canadiana Suite and Hymn to Freedom, one of the Crusade Hymns during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. He also composed music for motion pictures. He suffered a stroke in 1993, but within a year was performing and touring again, despite a severely weakened left side.

For his three Telarc recordings at the Blue Note, Peterson won three Grammy awards; the first two for his group and solo performance on the 1990 release "The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio Live at the Blue Note," the second for the group performance on the 1991 release "Saturday Night at the Blue Note." In February 2007, Telarc released "What's Up? The Very Tall Band" featuring Peterson with the original trio of Milt Jackson and Ray Brown, recorded live at the Blue Note in November of 1998.

Oscar Peterson's awards are numerous and include: multiple Grammy and Juno winner, Companion of the Order of Canada, recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize (whose namesake is considered Peterson's only rival among Canadian pianists of international renown), Japan's Praemium Imperiale (the Arts equivalent of the Nobel Prize), the UNESCO International Music Prize, member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and recipient of the "lifetime achievement" award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, parent body to the (US) Grammy Awards. In 2005 Canada Post issued a 50-cent commemorative stamp for his contribution to music. Additional information about Dr. Peterson and his career can be found at www.oscarpeterson.com.

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