Oscar Peterson’s dazzling keyboard technique, commanding sense of swing and mastery of different piano styles could leave even his most accomplished peers awe-struck. His death brought forth tributes from jazz pianists spanning the generations.
Peterson died Sunday of kidney failure at his home in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga.
87-year-old Dave Brubeck recalled the first time he ever heard a Peterson recording shortly after jazz impresario Norman Granz introduced the Canadian pianist to American audiences at a 1949 Carnegie Hall concert. “I was in awe,” Brubeck wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “Every jazz pianist would soon know that Oscar was a master.”
Decades later, Brubeck found himself asked to help fill in at a 1993 Carnegie Hall concert after Peterson had to cancel his appearance because he had suffered a serious stroke.
“Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner and I were asked to come to Carnegie Hall and take Oscar’s place, when he was unable to perform,” he said. “I’m not sure that the three of us playing at the top of our form were able to fill his shoes, but we gave it a try. Oscar, as Duke Ellington would say, was ‘beyond category.'”
Herbie Hancock said Peterson’s influence could be found “in the generations that came after him. Oscar Peterson redefined swing for modern jazz pianists for the latter half of the 20th century up until today,” Hancock, 67, wrote in an e-mail. “I consider him the major influence that formed my roots in jazz piano playing. He mastered the balance between technique, hard blues grooving, and tenderness. … No one will ever be able to take his place.”
Peterson had a similar impact on a young Diana Krall growing up in Nanaimo, British Columbia. She was spotted playing in local clubs by bassist Ray Brown, a longtime member of the Oscar Peterson Trio, who encouraged her to move to Los Angeles. Peterson “was the reason I became a jazz pianist,” the 43-year-old singer-pianist told the Los Angeles Times. “In my high school yearbook it says that my goal is to become a jazz pianist like Oscar Peterson.
“I didn’t know then we’d become such close friends over the years,” she said. “We were together at his house in October, playing and singing songs together. Now it’s almost impossible for me to think of him in the past tense.”
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.