Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

November/December 2008: Ross Porter

Honouring Oscar

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Oscar Peterson was not only one of the greatest Canadian jazz musicians, he was one of the greatest musicians in the history of this music. He epitomized a whole style—he was the hard bop pianist! He had the technical proficiency of Art Tatum, the melodic skills of Bud Powell, he swung like Wynton Kelly. He took all these things and galvanized them into a listenable hard bop sound. In his playing, you could hear the blues, you could hear gospel, but no matter how complicated it got (and it could get complicated!), you could always follow the melody. His playing was relentlessly fast and relentlessly listenable.

Often when virtuosos team up, it just makes noise. But Oscar Peterson teamed up with the best players and it always sounded just beautiful. His bass players over the years are a virtual who’s who—Ray Brown, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Neil Swainson, and more recently Canadian Dave Young. He also played with some of the most important drummers—for me, his work with Ed Thigpen sets the bar as high as it can go.

In the course of his lifetime, Oscar Peterson performed all over the world, made more than 200 recordings, won seven Grammy awards, and logged countless honours, including the Companion of the Order of Canada, the UNESCO Music Prize, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and many honourary degrees. It’s appropriate, when we lose a giant like this, that we find ways to pay tribute, because we’re watching the passing of an era. There’s nobody who can really carry Oscar Peterson’s torch because his playing is so distinctly his own. At the same time, all the contemporary jazz pianists have been influenced by Oscar Peterson—and if they’re not, they’re missing something essential.

We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of his death, and Winnipeg is the place to mark the brilliance of Peterson’s contribution to the jazz landscape. On Sunday, November 16, our own local piano icon, Ron Paley, will be joined by Peterson’s Canadian rhythm section, Terry Clarke on drums and Dave Young on bass, and together, they’ll heat up Westminster United with a Tribute to Oscar Peterson. The Winnipeg Singers and soprano Valdine Anderson are part of the line-up too. This is one of those don’t-miss occasions…

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