Oscar Peterson will be inducted into the Canada Walk of Fame on September 21, 2013 at the Elgin Theater. ROAD TRIP! Oscar has had a very distinguished musical career spanning over six decades. He has recorded over 200 albums, won eight Grammy Awards and received sixteen doctorates from both American and Canadian universities. He has also won many awards as best jazz pianist.
Many of my musical friends know that I am a huge fan of Oscar. Both he and the music of Bach can render me breathless when I listen to them. Back in the early 80’s Oscar had a television show and I taped every episode on video cassette. Here is a track called “City Lights.” I hope after his induction someone will re-release the series in digital format. My apologies in advance for the quality, hiss and clicks of my recording.
I have a friend who took piano lessons from Oscar. She had many wonderful stories about him although many of them revolved around racism and the discrimination Oscar faced here in the US. In Canada where Oscar was from, racism wasn’t much of an issue, at least it wasn’t spoken. But, here in the US Oscar experienced it a lot and rarely quailed in the face of prejudice.
Oscar once went into a barber shop to have his hair cut and the barber said that he was closing. Just then a white man walked in and sat in the chair and the barber began to cut his hair. Oscar confronted the barber to no avail and then went to the police station to report it. They said it was a civil issue, not criminal.
Another time he went into a store for a pack of cigarettes and all he had on him was a twenty. The cashier asked him where he got so much money and if he had stolen it. Oscar said it was legally obtained cash and the cashier threw Oscar’s change on the floor. Oscar was going to confront him but there was a cop standing nearby who said “Pick it up, boy” and placed his hand on his gun. Oscar left the store and sat in his car waiting for the police officer to leave but his bass player Ray brown convinced him to let it go.
Another time when Oscar was playing the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, the concert manger, Norman Granz, insisted that the concert hall organizers not segregate the audience by color. The police were called and three officers went backstage where they discovered some of the black musicians playing cards. They were all arrested on trumped up gambling charges and were taken to the police station. Norman paid their bail and immediately called his lawyer who advised him to just pay the fines which I beleive totaled to about $5,000. One of the musicians was Ella Fitzgerald and she was livid.