Monday, December 24, 2007

Oscar RIP

We have lost our jazz icon. Oscar Peterson has passed on at the age of 82. More at the CBC.

As a Canadian jazz pianist, especially one living in Montreal, Oscar's shadow looms large. Peterson served as the figurehead of all that was right about Canadian jazz and represented the community and talent of its heyday, when clubs were peppered all over the streets of Montreal and Toronto. When I first moved to Montreal and rode the m├ętro through Place Saint-Henri station, the movement from Canadiana Suite popped into my mind. His legacy is continued here by Oliver Jones (who took lessons from Peterson's sister, Daisy) and Wray Downes, who also specialize in fleet, blues-soaked swing.

Oscar was definitely one of my first inspirations when I started listening to jazz - I remember hearing Night Train and marvelling at the power in his hands. The bounce in his comping and the effortless facility of his lines were artistry that I still aspire to. I heard "Hymn to Freedom" before I heard A Love Supreme, and Peterson's solemn ballad was maybe the first piece of music that moved me in such a deep and visceral way. I don't hear much of Oscar in my playing anymore, but he was a primary influence when I was starting and I would still do anything to have his left-hand ability. Even his diminished capability after a stroke in 1993 was a force to reckon with.

I had the opportunity to shake his massive hands when I was still living in Toronto, and the even greater honour of playing his Bosendorfer Imperial when it was stored at Remenyi House of Music. His support of jazz in Canada, and of young pianists in general, is something to be cherished. He will be dearly missed.

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