Oscar Peterson is a highly gifted jazz pianist who has had a long and distinguished career spanning six decades and is often regarded as one of the finest pianists of all time. He was a well-known soloist who has collaborated with several of the era’s most well-known performers. He was born into a musical household and was pushed to learn music by his father from an early age. He began playing the trumpet at the age of five, growing up in an environment greatly inspired by jazz culture. However, due to an attack of illness, he had to stop playing trumpet and switch to the piano. This surprising turn of events led him to what would eventually become his life’s vocation. When his father realized his son’s talent, he arranged for him to take lessons from renowned pianist Paul de Marky. While still in high school, Peterson began performing professionally. Teddy Wilson, Nat “King” Cole, and especially Art Tatum, whom he regarded as his greatest inspiration, affected him greatly. A serendipitous encounter with impresario Norman Granz resulted in not just a fruitful working collaboration, but also a deep personal bond. Peterson was dubbed “The Maharaja of the Keyboard” after releasing over 200 records during his career.
Childhood and Adolescence
He was one of five children born to Daniel Peterson and Olivia John, who immigrated to Canada from the West Indies. His father worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway as a porter.
He grew raised in a primarily black neighborhood with a strong jazz culture impact.
His father was a music lover who required that all of his children learn to play at least one instrument. Oscar began playing the trumpet as a child but was forced to stop due to TB. As a result, he turned his attention to the piano.
His father and older sister taught him music at first. He was a gifted musician who spent countless hours honing his musical abilities.
His father arranged for him to study classical piano with renowned pianist Paul de Marky, who taught Peterson. He also learned boogie-woogie and classic jazz.
In 1940, at the age of 14, he won the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s national music competition. He dropped out of school to pursue a career as a concert pianist.
Oscar Peterson’s Career
On Montreal’s CKAC, he was given his own radio show, “Fifteen Minutes Piano Rambling.” In 1941, he was featured on CBM’s ‘Rhythm Time,’ and within a few years, he had become a national legend, appearing on shows such as ‘Light Up and Listen,’ and ‘The Happy Gang.’
Teddy Wilson, Nat “King” Cole, and Art Tatum were all huge influences on Peterson at the period. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Tatum served as a role model for him and inspired his music.
In 1944, he joined Johnny Holmes’ Orchestra in Montreal, where he remained until 1947.
In 1948, he founded his own trio, which included Austin “Ozzie” Roberts on bass and Clarence Jones on drums, as well as Peterson on piano. For a brief while, his band comprised guitarist Ben Johnson. The group used to perform in the Alberta Lounge, and their radio show was carried on CFCF in Montreal.
His unexpected encounter with impresario Norman Granz proved to be a watershed moment in his career. Granz was blown away by Peterson’s music after hearing a live broadcast of his performance. Granz and Peterson would eventually create a strong professional and personal bond.
On September 18, 1949, he was launched at Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) event at Carnegie Hall. Peterson opted to join JATP as a full-time member in 1950 after his performance wowed the audience.
With Ray Brown on bass and Barney Kessel on guitar, he formed a trio. Over the next few years, he toured all over the world with JATP and his group.
In the early 1960s, he started the ‘Advanced School of Contemporary Music,’ a jazz school in Toronto. Students from all around the world came to learn music from the maestro at his school, which grew in popularity. However, due to his busy traveling schedule, he closed the school after a few years.
He had been composing since he was a child, and as he grew older, he began to dedicate more time to it. Peterson wrote the song “Hymn To Freedom,” which was a crusade hymn for the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King.
He wrote songs for the National Film Board of Canada and composed music for a number of films, including ‘Big North’ and ‘The Silent Partner.’
He frequently performed as a solo pianist in the 1970s and appeared at numerous European jazz festivals. Several of the gigs he played in 1975 and 1977 were taped.
In the 1980s, he created a popular combo with Herbie Hancock. He performed and recorded with his protégé Benny Green throughout the 1990s. Despite his advanced age and health issues, he continued to perform and record well into the 2000s.
His Major Projects
Oscar Peterson, known as the “Maharaja of the Keyboard,” was one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. In a six-decade career, he performed thousands of live events around the world and recorded over 200 recordings.
Achievements and Awards
For his ability and dedication, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1972, and in 1984, he was upgraded to Companion of the Order, the highest level of merit and humanity.
In 1986, Black Theatre Workshop presented him with the first Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Achievement Award.
Over the years, he has received eight Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 for his great artistic contributions to the realm of recording.
Personal History and Legacy
He had multiple marriages. His first three marriages ended in divorce: Charlotte Huber, Sandra King, and Lillian Fraser. Kelly Peterson was his fourth wife, to whom he remained married until his death.
He married seven times and had seven children.
Toward the end of his life, his health began to deteriorate. In December 2007, he died of renal failure.
Estimated Net worth
Oscar is one of the wealthiest pianists and one of the most popular. Oscar Peterson’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.
In 1992, an award-winning documentary film titled “In the Key of Oscar” was produced on the life of this great guitarist.