Oscar Peterson and his Illustrious Jazz Career
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This lesson does not target a specific music style.
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This month, we’re taking a look at one of Canada’s most honored jazz pianists and composers of all times, Oscar Peterson. Make sure you read until the end to see Jonny’s reaction to Oscar’s Boogie Blues Etude.
Too many jazz pianists limit themselves to a personal style, a trademark, so to speak. They confine themselves to one type of playing. I believe in using the entire piano as a single instrument capable of expressing every possible musical idea. I have no one style. I play as I feel.
– Oscar Peterson
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson was born August 15, 1925, in Montreal, Canada. Growing up in a musically inclined family and encouraged by his father to learn music, he picked up piano and trumpet at age 5. Some of his most significant early musical influences are Teddy Wilson, Nat “King” Cole, and Art Tatum. Oscar started performing while he was in high school, and won the national music competition organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation at the age of 14. Consequently, he dropped out of school to become a professional pianist, emerging as a celebrity in Montreal’s music scene in the early 1940s.
From 1944 to 1947, he played with the Johnny Holmes’s Orchestra in Montreal, and then formed his own trio in 1948 with bass, drums and piano. Later, after a chance meeting with Norman Granz, Oscar was introduced at Carnegie Hall and became a regular member of the Jazz at the Philharmonic concert. Quickly, he won in popularity in Canada and the United States. He was a master of boogie, blues, ragtime, stride, swing, gospel and bebop. Oscar played and recorded with many artists over the years, winning numerous awards, all while keeping a busy touring schedule. Peterson even founded a jazz school called the ‘Advanced School of Contemporary Music’ in Toronto in the 1960s. The school became popular with students from all over the world. However, it closed down after a few years due to Oscar’s busy touring schedule.
Impressively, Oscar Peterson’s performing career lasted almost seven decades in which he won 8 Grammys, performed on over 200 recordings, and received many awards and honours.
Sadly, Peterson passed away at his home in Mississauga, Ontario on December 23, 2007, due to illness. His legacy lives on through his incredible music that will be enjoyed for many generations.
Interestingly, Oscar was a political and human rights advocate. Indeed, he believed that Canada has a responsibility in promoting recognition and fair treatment of the multi-cultural community.
As Peterson dedicated more and more time to composition, an important song, ‘Hymn To Freedom’ became a crusade song of the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King.
Oscar composed his “Canadiana Suite” while on tour, which he called “my musical portrait of the Canada I love.”
Thus, Peterson was inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1972, and later promoted to Companion of the Order, Canada’s highest civilian honor. Oscar set the example for civil rights and human rights, standing up for people who could not speak for themselves.
The will to perfection seems especially prevalent in jazz musicians. Creating an uninhibited, off-the-cuff musical composition in front of a large audience is a daredevil enterprise…. It requires you to collect all your sense, emotions, physical strength and mental power, and focus them totally onto the performance — utter dedication, every time you play. And if that is scary, it is also uniquely exciting: Once it’s bitten you, you never get rid of it.
Interesting Facts About Oscar Peterson
- A very disciplined pianist, Oscar would spend countless hours practicing and honing his musical skills. Apparently, he used to practice from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m, almost everyday.
- He suffered from tuberculosis that prevented him from playing the trumpet when he was five. Later, he also suffered from arthritis. In 1993, he had a stroke that weakened his left side, including his left hand. He still performed as planned, playing a few pieces with his right hand.
- Oscar impressively earned the nickname “Maharaja of the Keyboard” from Duke Ellington himself
- His first piano instructor was his sister, Daisy.
- Canada recently launched a coin commemorating Oscar Peterson, making the jazz pianist both the first Black Canadian and the first musician to be featured on a circulation coin.
It’s the group sound that’s important, even when you’re playing a solo. You not only have to know your own instrument, you must know the others and how to back them up at all times. That’s jazz.
Jonny Analyses Oscar Peterson’s C Jam Blues
Did you know that PWJ has a lesson on Oscar’s C Jam Blues? First, enjoy the fantastic live performance as you simply listen to the groove. Then, challenge yourself by watching Jonny’s lesson. With some practice, the scales, chord outlines, blues ornaments and harmonized melodic lines will eventually be no mystery to you.
In this video of C Jam Blues, Oscar Peterson is playing live in Denmark in 1964 with his jazz trio, Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums.
In this Quick Tip, Jonny breaks down the piano solo played on “C Jam Blues” by explaining Oscar’s techniques.
Jonny Reacts to Oscar’s Boogie Blues Etude
We also highly encourage you to take a look at Jonny’s reaction to Oscar Peterson’s Boogie Blues Etude. Indeed, in this 10-minute video, Jonny analyses and comments on Oscar’s technical skills, left hand patterns and choice of harmonies. Overall, the video is packed with tips, right hand licks, and techniques that are sure to leave you inspired.
Learning More About Oscar Peterson and Jazz
The award winning documentary film ‘In the Key of Oscar’ is about the history of the legendary Oscar Peterson. In fact, the movie follows his story from his early days in Montreal to his fame as an international celebrity. Including interviews with jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones and Dizzy Gillespie, the film is a gem to be discovered.
We hope you enjoyed this article about Oscar Peterson, a highly prolific jazz pianist. If you want to learn more of his signature jazz techniques, check out the following lessons:
More Free Lessons
This exercise prepares beginner piano students to play jazz standards by mastering 2-5-1 progressions using chord shells in all 12 keys.
In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to express my gratitude towards music. Hopefully, this will inspire you to reflect upon how music has impacted your life in a positive way.
This month, we're learning about Art Tatum, a fascinating American pianist whose influence on jazz music is sometimes overlooked, yet legendary.
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