TORONTO - Oscar Peterson, whose flying fingers, hard-driving swing and melodic improvisations made him one of the world's most famous and influential jazz pianists in a career that spanned seven decades, has died. He was 82.
Peterson died at his home in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga on Sunday, said Oliver Jones, a family friend and jazz musician. He said Peterson's wife and daughter were with him during his final moments. The cause of death was kidney failure.
During his illustrious career, Peterson played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He is also remembered for the trio he led with bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis in the 1950s.
Peterson's impressive collection of awards includes all of Canada's highest honors, such as the Order of Canada, as well as seven Grammys and a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1997.
Peterson's stature was reflected in the admiration of his peers. Duke Ellington referred to him as the "Maharajah of the keyboard," while Count Basie once said "Oscar Peterson plays the best ivory box I've ever heard."
Herbie Hancock, another legendary jazz pianist, said: "Oscar Peterson redefined swing for modern jazz pianists for the latter half of the 20th century up until today. I consider him the major influence that formed my roots in jazz piano playing."
Born on Aug. 15, 1925, in a poor neighborhood of Montreal, Peterson learned at age 5 to play trumpet and piano, but after a bout with tuberculosis, chose to concentrate on keyboards. He quickly made a name for himself as a jazz virtuoso, often earning comparisons to jazz piano great Art Tatum, his childhood idol.