• By: Tori McNeely

To Oscar With Love

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Photos by Dan Nawrocki / Feature image Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

“The piano needs to be played,” a technician inspecting Oscar Peterson’s piano told Peterson’s widow, Kelly. You may know him firsthand as Canada’s greatest jazz pianist, or you may know of his legacy through the NAC’s commemorative statue on the corner of Mackenzie King Bridge and Elgin Street. But what many of you may not know is that Oscar Peterson was also a talented composer.

Oscar Peterson is lauded as Canada’s jazz legend with a career that has spanned over sixty years. He has held many honours including being named Companion of the Order in 1984 and receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

In continuing her effort to preserve her husband’s legacy and in taking the technician’s advice, Kelly Peterson produced Oscar, With Love. Kelly says that the goal of the project was to showcase Oscar the composer.

She told the audience, “This recording was born from an idea that I had, feeling that it was very important to let the world know of Oscar’s significance as a composer. People are more familiar with him as the tremendous pianist that he was, but he actually wrote so much music and I want to share that with the world.”

In celebrating her husband’s 90th birthday, Kelly gathered some of Oscar’s closest musical friends to record a tribute on his Bösendorfer Imperial Piano. The record is a rare chance to hear Oscar’s original compositions performed on Peterson’s very own piano.

In a very intimate evening, Robi Botos, Bill Charlap, Gerald Clayton, Benny Green, Oliver Jones, Justin Kauflin, and Jon Kimura Parker performed these compositions live at the National Arts Centre as part of Canada Scene. Dave Young, who has had a musical relationship with Peterson for over thirty five years, played bass alongside the pianists.

Not only is this the first time these compositions have been heard, but the first time Oscar’s piano has been heard publicly. Oscar chose his piano from the Bösendorfer factory in Vienna in 1981 and aside from being transported from Vienna to Oscar’s home studio in Mississauga, it has remained in that room until now.

Oscar’s daughter, Céline Peterson, told the National Arts Centre, “Oscar, With Love is more than just a tribute. It is family coming together to thank Dad for the gift that he gave each and every one of us.”

Classical pianist, Jon Kimura Parker, was inspired with Peterson’s work and goes to show that Oscar Peterson left an incredible impact on all pianists, no matter their genre.

Oscar had such an incredible piano technique that really characterized his career in jazz. The seven pianists did an outstanding job interpreting Oscar’s compositions. Watching the performance, I felt as though I was being transported to a musical era before my age of which I grew instantly appreciative of.  Oscar Peterson’s legacy will surely live on through Oscar, With Love.