HYMN TO FREEDOM

The iconic Hymn To Freedom, with music by Oscar Peterson and lyrics by Harriette Hamilton, exemplifies a deep desire for respect and equality among all people living in Canada, united as a peaceful nation. On May 6 millions of teachers, students, and community members from coast to coast to coast will participate in Music Monday 2019!

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OSCAR PETERSON
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ABOUT OSCAR PETERSON

OSCAR EMMANUEL PETERSON, CC CQ OOnt., is one of the most prolific jazz pianists of all time. Born on August 15th, 1925 in Montréal’s Little Burgundy, music was a part of Peterson’s life from the beginning. It wasn’t long before the fire and passion we witness when watching and listening to his performances would show itself in Peterson’s lessons with acclaimed Hungarian classical pianist Paul deMarky. In 1949 after leaving high school and working full time with his own trio, world-renowned jazz impresario Norman Granz heard a live broadcast of one of Peterson’s performances and invited him to be a guest at one of the famed Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts at Carnegie Hall. Peterson accepted, and soon found himself making his US debut in a duo setting with bassist Ray Brown. In 1950, Peterson joined JATP as a full-time member, which saw him touring the world with the likes of Benny Carter, Buddy Rich, Herb Ellis, Roy Eldridge, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Clark Terry, Illinois Jacquet, Barney Kessel, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and so many more.

Over the course of his six-decade career, Peterson (an 8x GRAMMY Award winner) received global recognition both for his dedication to music and the arts, and for his work as a humanitarian. He spoke of the racism he experienced while traveling in certain parts of the United States during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, but what he found truly unacceptable was coming home to Canada – a nation that he felt was held in very high regard globally – and seeing that many of the same instances were happening here. In 1962, Peterson composed Hymn To Freedom, while in the studio recording one of his most popular albums, Night Train. Lyricist Harriette Hamilton penned lyrics to the song the following year, beautifully embodying the message of freedom that Peterson wanted his music to convey. It wasn’t long before Hymn To Freedom was adopted as an unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Peterson famously spoke of his inspiration for the song, which came largely from the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peterson’s efforts as a Humanitarian and his firm belief that every individual be seen as equal were widely recognized and in 1984 he was appointed a Companion to the Order of Canada – his nation’s highest civilian honour – after having previously been made an Officer of the Order in 1972.

He continued to compose music and travel the world with his Quartet until his passing in 2007. His legacy lives on through his music, and through the generations that have been inspired by his work and carry his message forward.

OSCAR EMMANUEL PETERSON, CC CQ OOnt., is one of the most prolific jazz pianists of all time. Born the fourth of five children to Daniel and Kathleen Peterson on August 15th, 1925 in Montréal’s Little Burgundy, music was a part of Peterson’s life from the beginning. His original instrument of choice was the trumpet, but a childhood bout of tuberculosis – a disease that took the life of his older brother, Fred, whom Peterson insists would have been the star of the family – put an end to his career as a trumpet player. Under the tutelage of his older sister, Daisy Peterson Sweeney, Oscar soon found that the piano was his instrument. After spending time not only working on his technique, but training his ear by listening to his siblings practice and being able to almost flawlessly repeat their lessons, Peterson would then move on to study first under Lou Hooper, and then the acclaimed Hungarian classical pianist Paul deMarky.

It wasn’t long before the fire and passion we witness when watching and listening to his performances would show itself in Peterson’s lessons with deMarky. Now a teenager, Peterson began exploring the genres outside of his classical studies and discovered jazz. He practiced during breaks at school, gathering the attention of a large number of students. One of those students is another Canadian national treasure, Christopher Plummer, who also plays piano and would sometimes play during the lunch hour. During his high school years, Peterson informed his father that he wanted to leave school to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz pianist. His request was swiftly denied. His father put on the recording of Art Tatum performing “Tiger Rag.” He informed a young Oscar that he would not allow him to leave school just to become another jazz piano player. If he wanted to leave school, he would have to be the best…and Art Tatum was the bar. Hearing Tatum’s astounding control of the instrument and the way with which his speed and technique showed a near perfect marriage, Peterson suffered a month of sickness and anxiety during which he did not touch a piano.

Eventually overcoming what he later described as a “fear,” Peterson returned to the piano and become a member of the Johnny Holmes Orchestra in Montréal. After a few years with the Orchestra, he also formed his own trio. It was not long before he began to garner some notoriety of his own. The trio’s performances at Montréal’s Alberta Lounge were often broadcast live on radio. Little did he know, but one of those broadcasts was about to change Peterson’s life forever. In 1949, world-renowned jazz impresario Norman Granz heard one of these live broadcasts while in a taxi on his way to the airport. After learning from the cabbie that this was a live performance downtown, he asked to be driven there to hear the young pianist in person. At their meeting, Granz extended an invitation to Peterson to travel to New York and be a surprise guest at one of the famed Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts at Carnegie Hall. Peterson accepted, and soon found himself on the Carnegie Hall stage making his US debut in a duo setting with bassist Ray Brown, marking the start of a musical partnership and friendship that would last more than five decades.

In 1950, Peterson joined JATP as a full-time member, which saw him touring the world with the likes of Ray Brown, Benny Carter, Buddy Rich, Herb Ellis, Roy Eldridge, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Clark Terry, Illinois Jacquet, Barney Kessel, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and so many more. That same year, Peterson was named Jazz Pianist of the Year in DownBeat Magazine’s Reader’s Poll, an honor repeated for the next twelve years. Through his time touring with JATP, Peterson formed his own trio and released several recordings on Granz’s various record labels, which include his timeless interpretations of American classics in his songbook series, albums with Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Anita O’Day, and countless live recordings including one of his most recognized, Live at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival.

While following a touring schedule that kept him on the road for over 300 days a year, Peterson worked to devote as much time as he could to composition. With some of his most noted works being 1964’s Canadiana Suite and his three-part suite titled A Salute to Bach, his compositional work earned him global recognition. He began to compose works for various film projects including 1978’s The Silent Partner starring Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer, Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care. Fields of Endless Day, another film with Peterson’s music, is a 1978 production by the National Film Board of Canada that tells the story of U.S. slaves using the Underground Railroad to escape to Canada. Among his other compositional triumphs is his nine-movement Easter Suite (recorded for a live BBC-TV special in 1984), a jazz ballet titled City Lights, and a suite called Africa, which will have it’s premiere at Toronto’s Koerner Hall in 2020 with arrangements by GRAMMY Award-winner John Clayton. Peterson also composed a suite for the 1988 Olympics Arts Festival in Calgary, Alberta, and in 1989 wrote Prelude to Forever to commemorate the opening of Toronto’s SkyDome. While many of his compositions remain unreleased, in 2015 Kelly Peterson called upon the likes of Monty Alexander, Lance Anderson, Kenny Barron, Robi Botos, Bill Charlap, Gerald Clayton, Chick Corea, Benny Green, Hiromi, Oliver Jones, Justin Kauflin, Michel Legrand, Ramsey Lewis, Makoto Ozone, Audrey Morris, Renee Rosnes, and Dave Young to record Oscar, With Love; a collection comprised both of Peterson’s original compositions (many previously unrecorded) and those written in tribute to him. This exceptionally personal recording was captured in the Peterson household over the course of year, using many of his own microphones and most important, his cherished Bösendorfer Imperial piano.

Having garnered international recognition for his various groups, his time touring with JATP, his appearances on other recordings of interest with the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Milt Jackson, Billie Holiday, Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie and many more, Peterson also transitioned into television in the form of specials. Over the course of his career, he hosted five talk show series with guests from varying areas of interest including Ray Charles, the former Prime Minister of England, the Right Honourable Sir Edward Heath, Twiggy, Anthony Burgess, and of course many of his JATP cohorts. Peterson also had many memorable guest appearances on shows such as Parkinson with Michael Parkinson and the Dick Cavett Show.

Music education, and ensuring that younger generations of artists always had mentors and educators, was a significant aspect of Peterson’s career, and very important to him. In 1960, with Phil Nimmons and Ray Brown, Peterson opened the Advanced School of Contemporary Music (ASCM) in Toronto. When it became evident that his touring schedule would not allow for time at the school, they reluctantly closed it. However, Peterson ensured that he incorporated master classes in his schedule while on the road as often as possible. The time with smaller groups of young artists was very important both to him and to those who were able to attend.

Peterson realized that his success gave him a voice, and he took very seriously the responsibility to use his voice for good. From an early age, he spoke often of his love for his homeland of Canada, and also of the responsibility he felt his nation had to set an example for the rest of the world, especially during times of civil upheaval. He spoke of the racism he experienced while traveling in certain parts of the United States during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, but what he found truly unacceptable was coming home to Canada – a nation that he felt was held in very high regard globally – and seeing that many of the same instances were happening here. In 1962, Peterson composed Hymn To Freedom, while in the studio recording one of his most popular albums, Night Train. Lyricist Harriette Hamilton penned lyrics to the song the following year, beautifully embodying the message of freedom that Peterson wanted his music to convey. It wasn’t long before Hymn To Freedom was adopted as an unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Peterson famously spoke of his inspiration for the song, which came largely from the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Peterson’s efforts as a Humanitarian and his firm belief that every individual be seen as equal were widely recognized and in 1984 he was appointed a Companion to the Order of Canada – his nation’s highest civilian honour – after having previously been made an Officer of the Order in 1972. Not one to boast about his own successes, Peterson was humbled by this honour, and proudly acknowledged it as he continued to travel the world to perform for the rest of his life. Among his other notable recognitions are eight GRAMMY Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Award), the Glenn Gould Prize, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, BBC Radio Lifetime Achievement Award, Member to the Order of Ontario, Chevalier of the Order of Quebec, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), Canadian Music Hall of Fame, JUNO Awards Hall of Fame, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, UNESCO Music Prize, Praemium Imperiale World Art Award, and sixteen honourary doctorates. In 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a statue of Peterson in Ottawa created by Ruth Abernethy. The statute has a permanent home outside of the National Arts Centre on the corner of Elgin and Albert Streets.

With a five-decade career under his belt and no signs of slowing down, Peterson was forced to take a break in 1993 when he suffered a stroke that severely impacted the left side of his body. With his left hand – one of the most recognizable parts of his playing – compromised, Peterson considered stepping away from live performance. During his rehabilitation he focused more on his other hobbies, which included photography, fishing, and astronomy. Fearing that he may never return to his instrument, concerned friends stepped up to try and will him back slowly but surely to the piano. Dave Young brought his bass to the Peterson home on a weekly basis, trying to encourage his friend to play. Sometimes they would just talk, but eventually he did make it downstairs to the piano. After vigorous practice and encouragement, Peterson returned to performance in 1994; first in the recording studio (1994’s Side by Side with Itzhak Perlman) and then on stage in Vienna, for a triumphant return to music.

He continued to compose music and travel the world with his Quartet until his passing in 2007. His legacy lives on through his music, and through the generations that have been inspired by his work and carry his message forward.

ANTHEM WRITER:
HARRIETTE HAMILTON

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