21 April, 2009
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, was a Canadian jazz pianist and composer. He was called the "Maharaja of the keyboard" by Duke Ellington, "O.P." by his friends, and was a member of jazz royalty. He released over 200 recordings, won seven Grammy Awards, and received other numerous awards and honours over the course of his career. He is considered to have been one of the greatest pianists of all time, who played thousands of live concerts to audiences worldwide in a career lasting more than 65 years.
Peterson grew up in the neighbourhood of Little Burgundy, Montreal. It was in this predominantly black neighbourhood that he found himself surrounded by the jazz culture that flourished in the early 20th century. At the age of five, Peterson began honing his skills with the trumpet and piano. However, by the age of seven, after a bout of tuberculosis, he directed all his attention to the piano. His father, Daniel Peterson, an amateur trumpeter and pianist, was one of his first music teachers, and his sister Daisy taught young Oscar classical piano. Young Oscar was persistent at practising scales and classical etudes daily, and thanks to such arduous practice he developed his astonishing virtuosity.
As a child, Peterson also studied with Hungarian-born pianist Paul de Marky, a student of Istvan Thomán who was himself a pupil of Franz Liszt, so his training was predominantly based on classical piano. Meanwhile he was captivated by traditional jazz and learned several ragtimes and especially the boogie-woogie. At that time Peterson was called "the Brown Bomber of the Boogie-Woogie."
At age nine Peterson played piano with control that impressed professional musicians. For many years his piano studies included four to six hours of practice daily. Only in his later years did he decrease his daily practice to just one or two hours. In 1940, at age fourteen, Peterson won the national music competition organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. After that victory, he dropped out of school and became a professional pianist working for a weekly radio show, and playing at hotels and music halls.
Peterson resided in a two-storey house on Hammond Road in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, until his his death in 2007 of kidney failure.