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A tribute to Oscar Peterson


The global appeal of jazz, and its development as a sophisticated and subtle musical language, is due not only to the powers of mass media but also the popularity of its most charismatic and virtuoso practitioners. Chief amongst them is undoubtedly Oscar Peterson, the great jazz pianist, who since his famous Trio and Quartet recordings and concerts in the 70s, with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Joe Pass and bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, has won ever larger audiences for his art. While Peterson suffered from a stroke in recent years, he has been the recipient of several major international honours, one of the most significant being that awarded recently by the prestigious Society of American Music, in recognition of his contribution as one of the greatest pianists in the history of jazz. The presentation ceremony was itself a memorable and entertaining occasion. Entitled 'Tribute to Oscar Peterson', it was held on 2 November in his presence, at Musical Intersections, Toronto 2000, a conference that must rank as the largest ever of its kind, with fifteen scholarly societies, attended by some 2000 musicians and academics.

It was characteristic of this great artist's generous spirit that he appeared in person to receive the award, made by a distinguished panel of jazz academics and players at the Toronto's Sheraton Centre. Oscar Peterson arrived in a wheelchair to a standing ovation from the audience of musicologists from all over the USA, Canada and the world, then took his place on the stage, while his wife sat in the front row. The panel of jazz-expert speakers included the noted jazz musician Billy Taylor (who played the following day) giving a moving personal tribute, and there followed fascinating speeches about Peterson's contribution, his life, and his unique character by Leonard Brown (NorthEastern University), Andrew Homzy (Concordia University), Travis Jackson (U. of Michigan), one of Peterson's bassists, Canadian David Young, under the chairmanship of Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr. (University of Pennsylvania).

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Copyright © 22 January 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK





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