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Meet the Jazz Virtuoso Who Could Swing Harder Than Anyone Else

With a career spanning over five decades, Oscar Peterson cemented his reputation as one of the most prolific Jazz pianists and composers the world had ever seen. 

 

Early Influences

As a child, Oscar was taught to play the piano by his father and older sister, after which he trained under the Hungarian born pianist Paul de Marky, allowing him to become proficient as a classical pianist, practicing several hours a day. He later developed an interest in jazz, boogie-woogie, and swing through the likes of Teddy Wilson and Nat King Cole. He also cited Art Tatum as one of his biggest inspirations, later saying, “Art embodied what the piano is truly meant to be.” 

 

Musical Style

Although adept at playing a variety of styles and genres of music, his forte was jazz improvisation. In his own words: “The perennial question is, what is jazz? I always say, that it is instant composition. You hear a chord, you play something. You hear some time, you play something. You hear something, you react to it’. His piano playing featured complex arrangements, meticulously crafted melodies, and rich harmonies which were often difficult to imitate, leading listeners to comment that he made the piano sound like he had four hands. He played with a feel and intuition that was truly unique, and unprecedented. 

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that much of his work is notoriously difficult to transcribe into sheet music, given the intricate nature of his music. 

He genius was not, however, limited to just jazz music. His mastery over a multitude of genres earned him the titles of “King of inside swing” and “Maharaja of the keyboard”. His 1974 live performance of ‘Blues Etude’ is a perfect example of this, where he goes through a number of different piano playing styles such as boogie-woogie, stride, and bebop.

 

His 1969 album Motions and Emotions even contained orchestral arrangements of the Beatles tracks Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby.

 

Accolades

Oscar was the recipient of a total of eight Grammy Awards, one of which was a lifetime achievement award given to him in 1997. He remains one of the most celebrated musicians from Canada, and was named an officer of the Order of Canada, later promoted to companion of the Order in 1984.

Oscar had a knack for reharmonization, and an innate spontaneity to his playing, which at times took even his bandmates by surprise. Although it is always a sheer joy to listen to Oscar’s music, and his brilliant display of improvisational prowess, this also makes his music all the more difficult to transcribe onto paper.

But hope is not lost! Find high quality transcriptions for a bunch of his tunes, or place a request for a new one at our Oscar Peterson specialist Transcription Service

 

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