Oscar Emmanuel Peterson was born on August 15, 1925 in Montreal, Quebec and was a Canadian jazz pianist and composer. Duke Ellington referred to Peterson as the “Maharaja of the keyboard.” Throughout his career, Peterson released over 200 recordings, won eight Grammy Awards, and is considered to have been one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time, by his fans, peers, and critics alike. Peterson grew up in the neighborhood of Little Burgundy, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, surrounded by the jazz culture that was flourishing at the time. No stranger to jazz music, Peterson's father was also a trumpeter and pianist and was Peterson's first music teacher. At the age of five, Peterson began playing the trumpet and the piano; his trumpet playing was cut short with a bout of tuberculosis when he was seven years old so he began to focus his attention on the piano.
As a child, while taught classical piano by Hungarian pianist Paul de Marky, Peterson was transfixed by traditional jazz, ragtime, and boogie-woogie. In 1940, at fourteen years of age, Peterson won a national music competition, which resulted in his dropping out of school and becoming a professional pianist; playing at hotels, local music halls, and on a weekly radio show. While many artists influenced Peterson's style of playing, he claims the work of Johann Sebastian Bach and Nat “King” Cole impressed him greatly. Peterson was signed to the Verve label and also worked on Norman Granz's “Jazz at the Philharmonic” project. Granz discovered Peterson and remained his manager for most of his career. While a star in his home country, Peterson had not broken through to mainstream American audiences until his 1949 debut performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City. By the1950s, Peterson became well known for his recordings with bassist Ray Brown; the duo had what was to become known as one of the longest recording partnerships in jazz music, lasting twenty years.
Peterson also worked as part of a jazz trio with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis, and as the 'Oscar Peterson Trio' with Ray Brown and Charlie Smith. Peterson was known as an innovator for his ethnically diverse trios, which were not common at the time, but transcended racial prejudices to bring the focus onto music. 1970 saw Peterson form another trio with guitarist Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass. 1974 marked the addition of the British drummer, Martin Drew, and the quartet began to tour worldwide. Peterson also taught piano at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto – which he helped form – for five years during the 1960s before it closed due to his heavy touring schedule. Later in his career as his touring schedule slowed down, he taught at York University in the jazz program. During the early 1990s, Peterson suffered a stroke that took him two years to recover from, although he never fully regained all mobility and control in his left hand.
1995 saw Peterson performing in public again, thought he relied heavily on the use of his right hand and not quite the master jazz performer he once was in his prime, the crowds, nonetheless, flocked to see a living legend perform live. 1997 saw Peterson received a Grammy Award for 'Lifetime Achievement' and an International Jazz Hall of Fame Award. 2003 saw Peterson release a televised version of “A Night in Vienna” for the Verve label, with Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Ulf Wakenius and Martin Drew. He continued to tour the U.S. and Europe, until his health began to decline in 2007. On December 23, 2007, Peterson died of kidney failure at his home in Mississauga, Ontario.