Tribute is first public performance for Oscar Peterson's own piano

The Bosendorfer Imperial grand piano in Oscar Peterson's home studio had hardly been played for years after the jazz legend's death in 2007.

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But the piano has gotten a workout over the past year as some of the world's greatest jazz pianists made the pilgrimage to the home in Mississauga, Ontario, at the invitation of Peterson's widow to record a one-of-a-kind tribute.

The piano will be played publicly for the first time at a concert Friday featuring some of the 16 pianists on the tribute at the Royal Conservatory of Music's Koerner Hall in Toronto. Peterson had handpicked the piano during a visit to the Bosendorfer factory in Vienna in 1981.

The concert, commemorating Peterson's 90th birthday, coincides with the release of the 3-CD collection, "Oscar, With Love," which includes 14 previously unrecorded Peterson compositions. Among the pianists who perform their own tunes dedicated to Peterson: Chick Corea, Oliver Jones, and Japan's Makoto Ozone and Hiromi.

Bill Charlap, one of the pianists who will perform at the concert, called Peterson a piano giant who combined "overwhelming virtuosity with depth and originality," but "made it seem effortless like Fred Astaire." Kenny Barron, who also will perform, said his fellow musicians gave Peterson the nickname Hercules because he could swing "so hard and strong and there was a lot of joy in his playing."

The pianist's widow, Kelly Peterson, says the seed for the tribute was planted three years ago when a Bosendorfer technician came to inspect the instrument and declared, "The piano needs to be played."

"I thought it would be wonderful to do a primarily solo piano recording of Oscar's compositions played on his own piano by artists who had a personal connection to him," said Peterson, who produced the record.

Early in his career, Peterson mostly played standards to honour his musical heroes like Duke Ellington. But he became a more prolific composer after a stroke and other ailments in the early '90s curtailed his touring and recording.

"It was joyful to hear Oscar's piano played and to witness the love coming from everyone," Peterson said in a telephone interview. "Often I was in tears because the last time I heard some of the compositions was when Oscar wrote them. ... I think we all felt Oscar's presence through every moment of this."

Ramsey Lewis didn't hesitate to accept the invitation to join the tribute. Lewis said he learned how to play jazz piano when he joined a dance band at age 15 by listening to Peterson's recordings and learned more when he opened for Peterson at Chicago's London House in the early '60s.

Gerald Clayton, one of the younger pianists on the tribute, said it was "surreal" to play along on his hero's piano while listening through iPod headphones to some of the Peterson recordings that inspired him to be a jazz pianist.

"To do that in that room on his piano with that energy around just felt like travelling to somewhere sacred," said Clayton.

And there's yet another tribute to Peterson: Bosendorfer is also releasing a limited run of Oscar Peterson Signature Edition Pianos equipped with Yamaha Disklavier E3 technology that reproduces 13 Peterson solo performances made in 1984.


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