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Culture

Oscar Peterson - Jazz Legend

Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson is a legend in music circles. For over five decades he has delighted audiences everywhere with his prowess at the piano.

In the year 2000, Oscar Peterson won the UNESCO Music Prize. This annual award is presented to musicians who have worked towards the goals of peace and better human understanding through their music. Recipients in the past have included Yehudi Menuhin, Herbert von Karajan and Dimitri Shostakovich. The ceremony takes place each year in the German city of Aachen, which lies on the border of Belgium and Holland.

Today 75-year-old Oscar Peterson is one of the great names in contemporary jazz. He has played with, and come to know, many of the genre's greatest contributors, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz and Charlie Parker.

Born on August 15, 1925 in Montreal, Oscar Peterson first learned to play the piano as a child from his father. During his high school years, he trained under the accomplished, classical Hungarian pianist Paul de Marky, who taught Oscar "technique and speedy fingers". Some of the artists who influenced Oscar during the early years were Teddy Williams, Nat (King) Cole, James P. Johnson and the famous Art Tatum.

At the age of 14, Oscar auditioned for a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) national amateur contest which he went on to win. This opened the doors to performances on a Montreal radio station, called Fifteen Minutes' Piano Rambling and later performances on a national CBC broadcast called The Happy Gang. This was the beginning of Oscar Peterson's phenomenal music career.

Norman Granz, the producer of the prestigious Jazz at the Philharmonic in New York discovered Oscar while he was leading a trio at the Alberta Lounge in Montreal in late 1947. The trio of Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic in North America and Europe making their debut in Japan in 1953. They recorded extensively during these years, producing dozens of albums both live and in the studio. The trio came to be known as one of the greatest jazz combos of the time.

Early in the 1950s, while playing in a club in Washington, Oscar met his idol, Art Tatum, for the first time. In time they became close friends and even played for one another. In 1964 Oscar's first major composition, Canadiana Suite, was released. It was during this time that Oscar was invited to play a private engagement for Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, a German millionaire with a passion for jazz music and audio recording technology. The two hit it off despite the language barrier between them, and Oscar returned with Hans Georg to Germany to record several times. Some of the best recordings of Oscar's work, both with the trio and as a soloist, resulted from these sessions.

In 1972 Canada recognized Oscar Peterson for his outstanding achievements. He was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada. From the late 1970s onwards, Oscar played more solo recitals. Arthritis forced him to stop touring extensively and he turned to composing more during this stage of his career. His Easter Suite premiered in 1984. In the same year Oscar was promoted to Companion in the Order of Canada.

In 1997 he received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and an International Jazz Hall of Fame Award , proof that Oscar Peterson is still regarded as one of the greatest jazz musicians ever to play.

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