Oscar Peterson: Jazz Genius

By Jennifer Ferns
Love was in the air, with every move and every sound. The Oscar Peterson concert at the Hummingbird Centre, was an event, not just a show.

The “master”, at the age of 78 performed his magic and the audience sat back, in quiet reverence, delighting in this magic. You could hear the proverbial “pin drop”, in the theatre, as the large Wednesday night crowd, of veteran Oscar Peterson fans came to celebrate a jazz genius.

There was an undercurrent of anxiety and concern, in the audience, that they might not be able to see Oscar perform again in this area; yet, with his smooth moving hands and lighting fast fingers tickling the ivories, everyone was reassured that this phenomenon of jazz would go on and on forever.

A stark, jet black stage setting, with a simple bright white light, illuminating our “piano player”, and his wonderful accompanying musicians, was all that was visible to the audience. Nothing more was required. The fans were focused on the moody, drifting, melodic jazz, punctuated with rapid, rhythmic flurries of notes. The empathy between Oscar and his group was profound, creating an uninterrupted, pleasurable cacophony of sound.

After the performance, with the audience leaving the theater, very little conversation could be heard. We saw only smiling contented faces flowing towards the exit., It had the appearance of people going home after a scrumptious private dinner with “royalty” aà and so it was.

Waterfront magazine had arranged for the attendance of two generations of Oscar Peterson fans to be present at the performance. They were Bill Stepanian, his charming wife Hasmik and their daughter Eva.

Bill is an Engineer, who now operates his own business, his spouse is a Purchasing Agent with University of Toronto and their daughter is a student. Bill and his wife have made considerable efforts to catch every live performance that they could attend. I asked Bill to explain his dedication to Oscar. He said, “Well, I love his music. I have all his recordings and his music somehow fills a hollow space in my soul. It might seem unusual, but being with him, at a live performance, gives me a contact that amplifies my subsequent enjoyment of his recordings. I treasure him as a musician, capable of making his unique music. Any contact with Oscar is always like greeting an old familiar friend.”

Bill’s wife echoes her husband’s sentiment. Eva, on the other had, has a different perspective. She recounts how she was raised in a household, where music by everyone from Charles Aznavour to the Beatles was always present “I guess, my parents must have infected me with Oscars Peterson’s music”, she says, “and I enjoy the infection”. This was the first live concert Eva was able to attend and she was absolutely delighted with the experience.

With Oscar Peterson, we have a jazz legend who still enjoys sharing himself with his audiences.

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