Oscar's death

25/12/2007



We stop a moment with politics and architecture to cry Oscar Peterson's death on Monday. He was 82.

Peterson rose from working-class beginnings in Montreal to become a 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.

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. He took a break from performing in the early 1990s after a stroke that weakened his left hand, but resumed some performances after two years.

He got his big break in the late 1940s when the record producer Norman Granz was in a taxi en route to the Montreal airport, with the radio tuned to a live show featuring Peterson's trio. Granz demanded the cabbie make a beeline to the nightclub, where he met Peterson.

Depiste great musician, he was also a social activist. In the 1980s, he spearheaded a campaign to convince Canadian advertisers to make television commercials that better represented minorities.