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"NIM" 2007 Obituary


NIMMONS o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-10-17 published
GILLIES, Jayne (March 21, 1916-October 15, 2007)
Jayne died in the Arnprior and District Memorial Hospital on Monday October 15, 2007 at the age of 91 years, predeceased by husband G. Brodie GILLIES (1981.) Survived by son Rob, daughter Jacquie and brother Phil NIMMONS. Predeceased by her sister Arlene PACH. Funeral arrangements entrusted to Boyce Funeral Home, Chapel, Visitation and Reception Centre 138 Daniel St. N., Arnprior. A memorial service will be held in The Boyce Funeral Home Chapel on Friday October 19, 2007 at 2 p.m. with Rev. Dr. Richard HOLLINGSWORTH officiating. A reception will follow in The Boyce Reception Centre. In remembrance, donations to "Partners in Caring" of Arnprior and District Memorial Hospital would be appreciated by her family. Condolences/Tributes at

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NIMMONS o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-12-26 published
'Man with four hands' was one of the greatest piano players of all time
Canadian whose flying fingers mesmerized audiences around the world - from small clubs in 1950s Montreal to the lights of Carnegie Hall - was a lyrical stylist and a mentor to many
By Nicholas JENNINGS, Special to The Globe and Mail with reports from Canadian Press and staff, Page S9
Toronto -- Few pianists swung as hard or played as fast and with as many grace notes as Oscar PETERSON. The classically trained musician could play it all, from Chopin and Liszt to blues, stride, boogie, bebop and beyond. He led his own jazz trios, performed with such legendary figures as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, DIzzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong - the latter called him "the man with four hands" - recorded more than 200 albums and wrote such memorable works as Hymn to Freedom and the Canadiana Suite. "A virtuoso without peer," concluded his biographer, Gene Lees, in The Will to Swing.
"The piano is like an extension of his own physical being," composer and clarinetist Phil NIMMONS, who helped create Canadiana Suite, said in 1975 of his long-time friend. "I'm amazed at the speed of his creativity. I am not talking about mere technical capabilities, although his are awesome. I'm speaking of the times when you find him under optimum conditions of creativity. His mind can move as quickly as his fingers and that is what is so astounding."
The story of Oscar PETERSON's rise from immigrant poverty to world fame is one of popular music's great inspirational tales. Born in Montreal's Saint-Henri district, he was the fourth of five children of a Canadian Pacific Railway porter and his wife who came to Canada from the Virgin Islands. His father, Daniel, a self-taught amateur musician and a strict disciplinarian, insisted that his children develop musical skills. Oscar began on piano and trumpet, but dropped the latter after a bout with tuberculosis when he was 7.
By 14, he was studying with Paul de Marky, a renowned Hungarian-born classical pianist who piqued his interest in jazz, particularly works by pianist Art Tatum. Mr. PETERSON always credited his sister Daisy, a noted piano teacher in Montreal who also taught such Canadian musicians as Oliver Jones and Joe Sealy, with being an important teacher and influence on his career. Soon, he was winning competitions. But his father never let it go to his head. He played his son Tatum's renowned recording of Tiger Rag that caused the young musician to quit piano for two months.
Mr. PETERSON always said it was his father who instilled in him an unwavering will to succeed. When he dropped out of high school to play in the Johnny Holmes Orchestra, becoming its only black member, a displeased Daniel PETERSON gave him some stern advice. "He told me, 'If you're going to go out there and be a piano player, don't just be another one. Be the best.' "
The 17-year-old took the words to heart. Within a few years, he was leading his own trio at Montreal's Alberta Lounge, where he developed his distinctive style and attracted some illustrious onlookers, including Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald. Then, on one fateful night, American jazz impresario Norman Granz heard Mr. PETERSON at the club and was so impressed that he invited him to play at New York's Carnegie Hall.
Mr. PETERSON's appearance on Mr. Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic program in 1949 was a watershed event. Mr. PETERSON didn't have a work visa, so Mr. Granz decided to introduce him as a surprise guest on a bill that included Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. Although the young pianist was terrified, Mr. Granz assured him it would be worth it. "He told me, 'You'll know if you have what it takes, and if you do what you do and they love it, then you know you've made it,' Mr. PETERSON later recalled.
Performing with bassist Ray BROWN, who would become a long-time sideman, Mr. PETERSON brought the house down with such songs as Fine and Dandy and Tenderly. The 24-year-old "stopped the concert dead cold in its tracks," according to Down Beat magazine, which added that the pianist displayed "a flashy right hand, a load of bop and a good sense of harmonic development." Mr. PETERSON's course - with Mr. Granz as his manager - was set.
Over the next 50 years, Mr. PETERSON played in a variety of trios, including those with Mr. BROWN and guitarist Herb Ellis (1953-1958,) Mr. BROWN and drummer Ed THIGPEN (1959-1964,) bassist Sam Jones and drummer Bobby Durham (mid-60s) and guitarist Joe Pass and bassist Niels Pedersen (late 1960s). During this time, he recorded such memorable albums as 1956's Stratford Festival recording, 1958's On the Town, recorded at Toronto's Town Tavern, and 1962's Night Train, which included a number of Duke Ellington pieces as well as Mr. PETERSON's own Hymn to Freedom. Then, in 1964, he produced his best-known work, Canadiana Suite, with each of the album's tracks inspired by a different region of the country. Mr. PETERSON called the project "my musical portrait of the Canada I love," and it was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1965.
By 1979, his career had arrived at a point where he was in steady demand and his life had developed a certain stability. He built a recording studio in his house and set aside enough time most mornings to "ring out some different pieces of equipment and get myself together," he told The Globe and Mail. "I'll maybe come up with something I would want to get started writing."
The studio was irresistible, he said. Later in the day, usually after attending a business meetings elsewhere in the house, he liked to return to the keyboard "to work on some writing, or maybe rehearse a little music."
By all accounts, Mr. PETERSON led two lives - one on the road and one at home. "I work probably six solid weeks then take off a month or two. My work is like that. If I tour, it is usually three or four weeks and when it's over it's done."
When he wasn't away, Mr. PETERSON seldom liked to leave the house. But the constant touring remained a trial before he brought order to his life. "It can be very harried during touring, but we try to control that now. I have to know where I'm going one way or another. I feel that if I have to go on the road I'm not going to stay the Young Women's Christian Association, and I'm not going to eat at the Big Burger. If I go to France, for instance, I eat at the best possible restaurants and stay in the best hotel. I like the finer things in life and I think I deserve what I can afford. I don't thing there's anything wrong with shooting for the best. It's unfortunate that a few more of us don't think that way."
The travelling took its toll on many of Mr. PETERSON's sidemen, who gave up work with the master because personal or health reasons. Some fell victim to the bottle or drugs. Mr. PETERSON, who always avoided such things, kept going, and performed solo frequently in the 1970s. But he paid his own price for touring, which kept him from his wives and children. "How destructive was [the road] for me?" he once asked a CBS reporter. "Almost four divorces - that's how destructive it can be."
Mr. PETERSON recounted in his 2002 autobiography, A Jazz Odyssey, how his breakup with third wife, Charlotte, separated him from their son, Joel, for whom he wrote the tune He Has Gone. "They now live somewhere in Eastern Canada," he wrote. "This had been a dreadful loss." He seemed to find happiness in his fourth marriage to Kelly GREEN, with whom he had a daughter, CÚline, in 1991, when he was 66. He credited them with helping him to find a balance between family and music.
"When you first start out, you're impatient, uptight," he once said. "Everything has to be done right now, it doesn't matter what you might like it to be." Later, he said he became a little more sensible about all of life's elements. "You realize that some of the things that you want to do require a depth that you won't have until you're more mature. Even then, there are things that you still can't get together."
Mr. PETERSON possessed a boyish sense of humour and was renowned for his love of laughter. He was also a notorious practical joker. His mischievous side was something that came through in two documentaries: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's The Life and Times of Oscar PETERSON and the National Film Board's In the Key of Oscar, which was produced by his niece, former basketball star and Canadian Olympian Sylvia SWEENEY. The latter film recounted some of the early incidents of racism that Mr. PETERSON encountered in his career and featured his emotional journey back to Montreal for the first reunion of the extended PETERSON family, including grandchildren who had previously only ever seen him on television.
Beyond his career and family, Mr. PETERSON pursued his twin hobbies of photography and fly fishing, which he undertook at a summer home in Ontario's Haliburton Highlands. It was also at the cottage that he followed an interest in the heavens. "I'm an amateur astronomer, when I have time, which is usually in the summer at our cottage," he once told The Globe.
He also involved himself in the academic side of music. In 1960, he opened the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto with Mr. BROWN, Mr. THIGPEN and Mr. NIMMONS. Mr. PETERSON's students included Skip Beckwith, Brian BROWNe, Wray Downes and Bill King. Although his touring commitments forced the school to close in 1964, Mr. PETERSON returned to teaching at Toronto's York University in 1986, when he was appointed as adjunct professor of music in jazz studies. He remained involved with the university afterward, serving as its chancellor from 1991 to 1994.
A two-date reunion in 1990 with his most famous trio, featuring Ray BROWN and Herb Ellis (also featuring drummer Bobby Durham) at New York's Blue Note: club resulted in four separate album releases. Critics hailed Mr. PETERSON's playing from this legendary engagement, citing his emotional depth and softer playing style. Three years later, while performing again at the Blue Note, Mr. PETERSON suffered a stroke, something he only realized after returning to Toronto to receive the Glenn Gould Prize. The stroke weakened his left hand and sidelined him for two years, during which time he fell into a depression. But he credited Friends such as bassist Dave Young for encouraging him to return to performance, which he did with the help of intensive physiotherapy. In 1999, he returned to Carnegie Hall with guitarist Ulf Wakenius, bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and drummer Martin Drew. His left hand could no longer "conjure the rumbling musical earthquakes of old," wrote The New York Times, but his right hand's inventive, fluid work alone prompted several standing ovations.
Two years earlier at the Grammys, he had been given a Lifetime Achievement Award. In all, he won eight Grammys and, in 2005, Canada Post marked his contributions to music with a 50-cent stamp.
A lyrical stylist who has been described as one of the greatest piano layers of all time, Mr. PETERSON inspired countless musicians. Duke Ellington called him "a man who's blessed with great talent, has acquired tremendous skill and executes it with unlimited authority." Ella Fitzgerald said of him, "to me, he's like a brother and a friend, and one of the greatest you'll ever meet."
Diana Krall, who celebrated Mr. PETERSON's 80th birthday with him in 2005 at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, recalled how he invited her down to his basement studio. "He said, 'Hey, Dee, come down and check out the box,' which meant his 10-foot Boesendorfer [piano]," Ms. Krall recalled. "The only problem was then you have to play for him. So I played some Nat Cole tunes and we sang some duets. The fact that I got a chance to sit and talk with him, and laugh with him and his family, is pretty great. It stays with you." Added Ms. Krall: "If I ever feel like I'm needing a boost, I listen to Oscar."
His personal studio represented a dream that was a long time coming, Mr. PETERSON said in 1979. "Years ago, I always wanted this studio, but there was no way I could because I was out playing all the time. But now, with the new studio and the chance to do some composing, it's much easier. I can pursue the love of my life, and yet it's my profession."
Oscar Emmanuel PETERSON was born in Montreal on August 15, 1925. He died of kidney failure at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, on December 23, 2007. He was 82. He leaves his wife, Kelly, and six children from different marriages: Lynn, Gay, Oscar Jr., Norman, Joel and Celine.

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