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Pianist Oscar Peterson Dies

BILL WOLFF (Announcer): NPR News in New York, this is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

(Soundbite of music)


This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News, your home for news and information. And because you're listening to today's Christmas show, you're on our nice list.

I'm Alison Stewart.


Hello and I'm Rachel Martin.

It is December 25th, 2007, it is Christmas day. Last night was Christmas Eve. I've spent mine in an Irish bar eating hamburgers and French fries…

STEWART: You did?

MARTIN: I do. (unintelligible) fun.

STEWART: That sounds like fun.

MARTIN: It was really fun. Yeah. I'm very spectacular but, you know, the burger was good.

STEWART: Well, I spent mine - my husband and I have a tradition. We don't give Christmas gifts to each other. We always go to a really nice dinner the night before and then (unintelligible) each other sort of (unintelligible) Christmas love card, but you know…

MARTIN: Oh, it's very sweet.

STEWART: …these (unintelligible) are cute. So we went out to dinner last night and I'm sitting at the bar with my husband and I looked over and sort of a gray-haired tasseled man with these big glasses comes in and starts pushing off, I'm like, that's Garrison Keillor.

MARTIN: Oh, no way.

STEWART: I had an ultimate…

MARTIN: NPR moment.

STEWART: …I'm like - NPR moment on Christmas Eve so I spent my Christmas Eve with two tables over from Garrison Keillor.

MARTIN: Did you tell him that you're like, I'm one of you…

STEWART: No. I gave him…

MARTIN: …(unintelligible) now.

STEWART: …well, he was hugging - I guess his daughter, his youngest daughter.


STEWART: Yeah, she was very excited to see him, so I don't know.


STEWART: You know, family times but I did do a little pretend like peak…


STEWART: …and then I just realize, wait, it's Christmas Eve. Let's concentrate on, let's get dinner in my next subject.

Hey, coming up on today's show, NPR's Robert Krulwich talks with the founder of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly. Now, he has figured out the world is slowly getting nicer.


STEWART: He'll explain why.

MARTIN: We also have another installment of how the presidential candidates are perceived in our hometowns. Today, we travel to the lovely farms of San Diego to talk about Republican Duncan Hunter.

STEWART: And BPP friend and editorialist and blogger Jill Sobule will join us to talk, sing a couple of carols. We'll have her here in just a minute. Rachel is doing double duty today. Thank you, Rachel.

But first, we will start up with THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT's big story for this Christmas day 2007.

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STEWART: Jazz piano legend Oscar Peterson is dead at age 82. During a career that spans seven decades, Peterson became known for fusing a rhythmic swing with spitfire improvisations. He played with jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. Duke Ellington called him the maharajah of the piano. Now, news of his death became public on Christmas Eve but Peterson actually died of kidney failure Sunday at his home in Toronto. His wife and daughter were with him at the time. Born in Canada, he was a musical prodigy and starred in his own radio show as a teen.

Unidentified Man: Now, hang on to your seats, folks. Here's Oscar Peterson with his version of "Chinatown."

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STEWART: His father was a railroad porter and a self-taught pianist who would give his children musical homework assignments to be completed when he returns from a train trip. When Oscar Peterson spoke to NPR in 2003, he said he was more interested in playing baseball but his natural talent allowed him to pass many of his father's tests.

Mr. OSCAR PETERSON (Jazz Musician): (unintelligible) teenage, we went through - I found out my elder sister Daisy used to (unintelligible) gently practice the last day to get out on mine before he came. And I had pretty good ear then so I would go out and play baseball all week and she says, you know, when pop comes back here (unintelligible) and you'll be in trouble. I say, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, you know, I know. And the last day or so, I'd sit on the (unintelligible) in the backyard. I'd listen to her then play for him the next day.

BOB EDWARDS: Did that work?

Mr. PETERSON: It worked for a while.

STEWART: Peterson got a big break in 1942, playing and touring with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra. Now, he was the only black member and recalled that he often could not be served in the same hotels and restaurants as the white musicians. He said they would bring him food on the band bus. In 1949, American jazz impresario Norman Granz was so impressed after he heard Peterson in a club in Montreal. He invited the pianist to play at Carnegie Hall. That performance launched Peterson's international career.

In his lifetime, Peterson was awarded all of Canada's highest honors, including the Order of Canada as well as seven Grammys and a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in 1997. Let's listen to a little more Oscar Peterson. Here he is performing "Autumn Leaves."

(Soundbite of "Autumn Leaves")

STEWART: Those sweet sounds sound especially good today. If you want to hear more Oscar Peterson music as well as that entire 2003 NPR interview, go to NPR's music site

Oscar Peterson, dead at age 82.

And that is the BPP's big story. Now Rachel has even more news.

WOLFF: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.