On this day in 1925, the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson was born. He has an amazing back story. When he was very young, he played the trumpet. But he caught tuberculosis and so concentrated on the piano. Not that it matters. Had this not have happened, I probably would have started this article, “On this day in 1925, the great jazz trumpet player…” Because the instrument doesn’t generally matter.
He was trained classically, but naturally gravitated toward jazz, especially boogie-woogie. At the age of fourteen, he won a nationwide music competition put on by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. After that, he quit school and went to work as a musician.
I learned something new and charming about Peterson. I’ve always associated him with Art Tatum. Lot of people have. The influence is clear enough. But apparently, when he was still a kid, Peterson’s father introduced him to Art Tatum and the boy became depressed, thinking he could never be as good. He and Tatum later became friends, but Peterson would never play the piano around the older musician, such was his reverence and insecurity toward the older master.
Last year, I presented Peterson playing his own composition, “The Cakewalk.” I don’t want to repeat myself, but you really owe it to yourself to click over and listen to it. It includes Joe Pass on guitar, who is a marvel himself. Here Peterson is all by himself doing a beautiful version Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight”:
Happy birthday Oscar Peterson!