Jazz piano legend Oscar Peterson dead at 82

Mon Dec 24, 2007 4:55pm EST
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Oscar Peterson, who sat atop the world of jazz piano for decades with his driving two-handed swing, technical wizardry and rapid-fire solos, has died, a friend of the musician said on Monday. He was 82.

One of jazz's most recorded musicians, both as leader and accompanist, Peterson rose from working-class beginnings in Montreal -- where his father let him pursue music only if he promised to be "the best" -- to become a major influence on generations of top-flight musicians.

"He was very shy, very down to earth. You didn't know you were with a world musician by any means," said Hazel McCallion, a friend and the mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, a Toronto suburb where Peterson lived.

McCallion said that Peterson died late on Sunday and that she was informed by Peterson's family. CBC Television said he died at home of kidney failure.

Since blasting onto the world stage with a famous appearance at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1949, the beefy high school dropout amassed armfuls of honorary degrees and awards, including a 1997 Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and an International Jazz Hall of Fame Award.

Canada made him a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honor, as well as the first living Canadian to be depicted on a stamp.

Peterson kept an exhaustive touring schedule throughout his career with groups featuring such players as bassist and longtime collaborator Ray Brown, drummer Ed Thigpen and guitarist Herb Ellis.

Peterson took a break from performing in the early 1990s after a stroke that weakened his left hand, but resumed some performances after two years. Even with a weak left hand, critics said he outshone many pianists with two good ones.   Continued...

<p>Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson performs during the Gala night at the 39th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, late July 16, 2005. REUTERS/Jean-Bernard Sieber</p>