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Oscar Peterson Trio, Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra, Oscar Peterson, Lester Young

From a family of West Indian immigrants, Oscar Peterson was the son of an amateur trumpeter and pianist, and grew up in a black neighbourhood in Montreal, Canada where he absorbed the vibrant jazz culture of the area and took up the trumpet. When a childhood bout of tuberculosis stopped him playing trumpet, Peterson studied classical piano, but also became adept at playing ragtime and boogie woogie. At 14 he won a national music competition run by the Canadian Broadcasting Company and subsequently dropped out of school to become a professional pianist, getting regular work on radio and various hotels. Through the 1950s he established himself as one of the all-time greats of jazz piano - Duke Ellington called him the "maharaja of the keyboard" - re-defining the notion of the jazz trio with Ray Brown (double bass) and Herb Ellis (guitar). A rare, racially integrated group for the time, they recorded the landmark and highly influential album Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival. He went on to play with many of the jazz greats, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Herbie Hancock and in the 1970s won acclaim anew after forming a fresh trio with guitarist Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson on bass. Often expanding the line-up to a quartet, Peterson's open-minded approach to jazz embraced everything from The Beatles to classical and improvisational pieces and he occasionally sang too. A stroke hampered him in later life but he tutored younger musicians and mentored the career of his protégé Benny Green. Peterson died in 2007 at 82.


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