Oscar Peterson was born in 1925 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In this 1974 performance at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club — which opened in Soho in 1959 and remains open to this day — he improvises a solo that has become a classic. It was named recently by Rick Beato as the greatest solo ever played.
Peterson’s parents were immigrants from the West Indies, and his father worked as a porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was also Oscar’s first piano teacher, with Peterson’s sister Daisy subbing in later. Peterson showed musical prowess early, of course, with both the trumpet and piano, but a bout of tuberculosis closed the door on the trumpet.
Peterson was impressing professional musicians by the age of 9. By the time he was in his early 20s, he was acknowledged as one of the greats. He practiced 4-6 hours per day for most of his life, decreasing this to two hours per day only in his later years. He won seven Grammys and many other prestigious awards. He was known as “the King of Inside Swing.”
A statue of Peterson in Ottawa was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth in 2010 as part of her tour of Canada. Cast from bronze, it was made by Ruth Abernathy, who also made a statue for Glen Gould. Peterson’s daughter later said that viewing the statue after the unveiling was “like walking in and seeing him.” The pose was meant to make Peterson appear to have just finished playing.
The solo speaks for itself. Watch the faces of the other soloists (who are no slouches), and for the little “tickling of the ivories” phrase Peterson uses to indicate they should jump back in.
Enjoy this marvelous display of virtuosity and joy!