A Farewell to Oscar

Written on January 7, 2008 by Rolf Strom-Olsen in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Rolf Strom-Olsen

PetersonWith his distinctive piano roll sound, his effortless keyboard glides and a sense of melody that was never far from hand even in the most virtuoso passages, Oscar Peterson was one of the grand masters of jazz. Since his death last month in Toronto, the music has flowed and flowed in tribute, and how much of it there is! Peterson was a prolific performer and left behind hundreds of recordings with greats like  Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Satchmo. But it was the recordings he made with his trio, along with guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown, that most widely created the distinctive Oscar sound: corruscating runs which blended perfectly with a delicate craftsmanship and an inherent sense of structure and melodic flow.

Peterson was sometimes criticised for a traditional playing style, one that looked back to Art Tatum and was unaffected by the techniques pioneered by others, like Thelonius Monk or Herbie Hancock. But such querulousness seems misplaced: jazz would have been a poorer idiom without Oscar Peterson. With his perennially sweat-soaked brow and infectious cherubic smile, Oscar radiated joy from his keyboard and that, as much as his extraordinary technical abilities, was his greatest skill and his enduring testament. Oscar’s gone, but he’s still keeping us swinging.


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