She had a style all her own. No one in the game has more honourifics: she’s known as the First Lady of Song, the Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella."It makes you want to sing," Fitzgerald once said of Peterson's piano work. 1975’s ‘Ella and Oscar’ is exactly as promised: Ella Fitzgerald accompanied by pianist Oscar Peterson. It could also be titled ‘Ella and Oscar with double bassist Ray Brown popping up on the B side.’ Is it on Spotify? But of course! Does Alexa know it? Mais oui! Can you ask Google Home to play it for you? Yes. And you should. Here is the duo arriving at Festival Hall, London, England, in 1961.
Queen Elizabeth II
If we’ve done a shoddy job of convincing you of this guy’s importance thus far, we hope to remedy that here. The Queen unveiled a statue of Peterson by artist Ruth Abernethy in Ottawa in 2010 to commemorate his 90th birthday. Like, think of what a big deal you have to be to have a statue. Then think of what a big deal you have to be for the Queen of England to come over and unveil said statue. Peterson is a giant of the arts. He and his trio played “Hymn to Freedom” in 2003 at a gala in Canada to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee. He was frequently invited to perform for the Queen.
In 1973, the Associated Press reported that U.S. President Nixon was a midnight piano player and liked to listen to music on full blast. There is excellent hi-fi equipment in the Lincoln Sitting Room, according to Mrs. Nixon. Peterson was often invited to perform for Nixon. Sometimes, in our more reflective periods, we wonder if Nixon was ever cranking some sweet, sweet Peterson. Here’s Nixon getting funky with first lady Patricia Nixon, former U.S. president Harry Truman and former first lady Bess Truman in the 1970s. This pic was shot jussst before they threw their hands up in the air and waved ‘em like they just don’t care.
For six decades, the charming Ellington worked and thrived as a jazz innovator. He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize Special Award for music in 1999. He called Oscar Peterson the “Maharaja of the keyboard.” And the fandom was mutual: ‘Oscar Peterson Plays Duke Ellington’ was released in 1952.
He made orchestras swing and he called Oscar Peterson “the best ivory box (player) I’ve ever heard.” (Piano keys used to be made of ivory and if you’ve never had your ‘rents tell you to practise piano by saying, “It’s time to tickle the ivories!” then you’re not us.) ‘Count Basie Meets Oscar Peterson – The Timekeepers’ came out in 1978. The other album titles are “Snakes-on-a-Plane”-level literal but this one is not. They’re playing music together, not introducing themselves, making awkward small talk, accidentally forgetting each other’s names, sweating. You know, all the hallmarks of meeting someone.
Again, on 1957’s ‘Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson’ we hear music. And this is a classic: Armstrong sings and destroys the trumpet, Peterson rocks the ivory box, Herb Ellis is on guitar, Ray Brown’s on bass, and on drums is Louis Bellson.
In 1980, Peterson produced this Toronto jazz guitarist’s first album, ‘It Could Happen to You’. Lofsky toured with and recorded Peterson through the ‘80s and became an official member of Peterson's quartet and quintet in the 1990s. Lofsky has taught at York and U of T.
"In my high school yearbook it says that my goal is to become a jazz pianist like Oscar Peterson,” Krall told the Los Angeles Times. The famous Nanaimo, B.C., pianist and contralto has sold over 15 million albums. She got her start playing in local clubs where she was discovered by Ray Brown (yes, the same Ray Brown who got shafted out of title billing on ‘Ella and Oscar’). "You inspire me to no end every day," she told him in 2005 during a ceremony unveiling a Canada Post stamp in his honour. Peterson "was the reason I became a jazz pianist," she told the Los Angeles Times.
Dr. Martin Luther King
“When every heart joins every heart and together yearns for liberty / That's when we'll be free / When every hand joins every hand and together molds our destiny / That's when we'll be free”. These are Harriette Hamilton’s lyrics for Peterson’s “Hymn To Freedom”. It became a crusade song for civil rights activists led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It remains a standard for choirs. Peterson was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award in 1986.
Hurricane Hazel was mayor of Mississauga from 1978 until her retirement in 2014. The 99-year-old won 12 elections and helped build Canada’s sixth-largest city. "The world has lost the world's greatest jazz player," she told CBC News upon the occasion of Peterson’s passing in 2007. McCallion was not just a fan, she was a friend of Peterson. She attended his private funeral service alongside former Ontario premier Bob Rae.
Ray Charles and Billie Holiday
Four-time Grammy winner Billie "Lady Day" Holiday was inducted into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in the States in 2017. Peterson performs on her 1952 self-titled third album. Ray Charles and Oscar Peterson toured together in the ‘70s and Charles appears on Peterson’s 1976 CBC TV special, “Oscar Peterson Very Special” and in a TV special focused on the compositions of Cole Porter.
"He was the most famous Canadian in the world," Chretien said of Peterson in the 1960s. Chretien offered to make Oscar Peterson Ontario's lieutenant-governor after he became prime minister in 1993. Peterson declined for health reasons. The former prime minister was a fan and friend of Peterson for decades.
It was Jean Chretien who introduced Peterson to Mandela. He invited Peterson to a 2001 ceremony in which Mandela was named an honorary Canadian citizen. Even Mandela deemed it an honour to meet Peterson. "It was very emotional," Chretien told the Canadian Press in an interview. "They were both moved to meet each other. These were two men with humble beginnings who rose to very illustrious levels."