Among the dire programming on early New Zealand television in the mid 1960s TVNZ chose to broadcast a brilliant music series featuring performances from the Oscar Peterson Trio. Late on Sunday evenings when the house was quiet I would wait for Oscar’s music to be aired. As a teenager it was one thing to hear Oscar play, but to hear him talk about his music and see his technical expertise at the piano was nothing short of hypnotising.

Canadian by birth, Oscar Peterson was a monster piano player; in jazz talk he was A Heavy. He was one of the greats- a jazz star whose musicality and debonair style echoed the elegance of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Miles and Dizzy Gillespie and the other legends of jazz; beautiful Afro-American musicians whose intelligence and three-piece-suited charisma defined cool and inspired generations of players after them.

Musicians loved Oscar’s playing and we were floored by his ability to invent and develop musical ideas at the piano.Watching him play on television each week was a master class in composition and dexterity and a glimpse into Oscar’s stream of consciousness as he improvised. The relentless cascades of musical shapes which flowed from his fingers were almost beyond belief. Sheer beauty; artistry drenched in technical skill and poignant lyricism. Perhaps only one piano player before Oscar, the incomparable Art Tatum, had taken the art of jazz piano to this level.

Two weeks ago Oscar died at the age of 82.

During an illustrious career spanning seven decades, Oscar Peterson played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie. His impressive collection of awards includes all of Canada's highest honours including the Order of Canada, as well as a Lifetime Grammy (1997) and a place in the International Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2005 he became the first living person other than a reigning monarch to obtain a commemorative stamp in Canada.He also had streets, squares, concert halls and schools named after him.
 
His stature was reflected in the admiration of his peers. Duke Ellington referred to him as " The Maharajah of the keyboard," while Count Basie said "Oscar Peterson plays the best piano I've ever heard."

Eminent jazz pianist Marian McPartland called Oscar "The finest technician that I have seen.".  McPartland first met Peterson when she opened for him at the Colonial Tavern in Toronto in the 1940s. "From that point on we became such good friends. He was always wonderful to me and I always felt very close to him," she said. "I played at his tribute concert at Carnegie Hall earlier in 2007 and performed Tenderly which was always my favourite piece of his."

Born on August 15, 1925, in a poor neighbourhood southwest of Montreal Oscar inherited a passion for music from his father, Daniel Peterson, a railway porter and self-taught musician who bestowed his love of music on his five children. Oscar learned to play trumpet and piano at a young age but after a bout with tuberculosis which affected his breathing he concentrated on piano.

He became a teen sensation in his native Canada, playing in dance bands and recording in the late 1930s and early 1940s. But he got his real break at Carnegie Hall in 1949 after which he began touring the United States and Europe. Despite his international reputation Peterson never stopped calling Canada home. (Though he was occasionally mistaken for a football player there, standing at 6 foot 3 and weighing more than 250 pounds).

Oscar was a great ambassador for jazz and his reach was truly international. In a statement after his passing French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, "One of the bright lights of jazz has gone out. He was a regular on the French stage where the public adored his luminous style. It is a great loss for us."

On hearing of Oscar’s death the great Herbie Hancock issued a statement saying that Oscar Peterson had “redefined swing for modern jazz pianists” from the latter half of the 20th century. “I consider him the one major influence that formed my roots in jazz piano playing. Oscar mastered the balance between technique, hard blues grooving, and tenderness. You'll find Oscar Peterson's influence in the generations that come after him. No one will ever be able to take his place." Respect.