When WRTI Jazz Host Bob Perkins talks about one of his all-time favorite pianists, what does he call him? The Wonderful Wizard of OZcar! One of the great jazz pianists of all time, master of the keyboard Oscar Peterson, said he was intimidated by jazz pianist Art Tatum and admired Nat King Cole. But "O.P.," as his friends called him, was a magician who followed his own muse.
Too many jazz pianists limit themselves to a personal style, a trademark, so to speak. They confine themselves to one type of playing. I believe in using the entire piano as a single instrument capable of expressing every possible musical idea. I have no one style. I play as I feel. - Oscar Peterson
[Music: “Wave” from Oscar Peterson—The Will to Swing]
Meridee Duddleston: He was “the Maharaja of the keyboard,” according to Duke Ellington. To WRTI Jazz host Bob Perkins, the six-foot plus pianist Oscar Peterson was a giant of a man, physically and musically.
Bob Perkins: They say his hand span from the thumb to the little finger – he could cover a lot of notes. (Laughs.) And he used those hands. He covered a lot of notes too. (Laughs) Too many for some people!
MD: Some critics complained the exacting pianist who practiced Bach’s The Art of Fugue and The Well-tempered Clavier as a child brought too much embellishment to his jazz. They wanted more space inside the music. But isn’t that what a virtuoso gets to do?
BP: He was his own pianist. He paid no attention to the critics.
MD: Internationally famous and successful until his death in 2007, the late Oscar Peterson is a hero in Canada. A life-size statue of the pianist, next to his instrument, sits outside Canada's National Arts Centre in the country’s capital. A monument to a meteor of melody, shooting south and across the oceans.
BP: And he could stop on a dime and go the other way. He was just a magnificent pianist and all of this coming from the head to the hands. He thought it and he played it. Jazz musicians especially have told me, because they improvise: ‘I’m playing my life. What I saw. What I liked. Whom I loved. Things I didn’t like.’ It’s like the spaghetti sauce. It’s in there.