Oscar Peterson


Portrait of Oscar PetersonOscar Emmanuel Peterson (1925-2007) was a Canadian pianist and composer. He first learned music from his self-taught father, a West Indian immigrant who worked as a railway porter, then studied under both a classical pianist and old-time jazz musicians.


Oscar Peterson's break came when he won a CBC amateur contest, followed by appearances on a weekly Montréal radio show and with The Happy Gang. In 1949, he played Carnegie Hall, formed the Oscar Peterson Trio soon thereafter, and later performed or recorded with many of the greats of American jazz. Dr. Peterson has recorded close to 200 albums, but his best-known works remain the "Canadiana Suite" and "Hymn to Freedom", the unofficial anthem of youth choirs throughout the world.


Oscar Peterson's awards are numerous and include: multiple Grammy and Juno winner, Companion of the Order of Canada, recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize (whose namesake is considered Peterson's only rival among Canadian pianists of international renown), the UNESCO International Music Prize in 2000, member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and recipient of the "lifetime achievement" award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, parent body to the (US) Grammy Awards.


Stamp of Oscar Peterson from CanadaIn "The Oscar Peterson Journal" the artist describes his visit to Aachen and the presentation of the UNESCO International Music Prize: "I spent a weekend in Aachen, Germany in order to receive one of the most prestigious awards ever bestowed on me: the UNESCO International Music Prize, awarded by UNESCO and the International Music Council. I took my family along on the trip because I felt so honoured that I wanted them to be able to share this great moment with me. Perhaps, due to the fact that I have been the recipient of various other awards and prizes, you might imagine that I would have viewed this as just "another prize." Not so. On the one hand, of course, I was overwhelmed to be joining so prestigious a list of recipients. But on the other, I had learned that only once before had the award been given to a Jazz musician – Benny Goodman. So it pleased me that I would be helping to increase the visibility of the music I have loved and served for a lifetime.


Aachen is a city of considerable historical significance, particularly because the Emperor Charlemagne made it the capital of Europe during his reign. And as you might imagine, it has not only the sight but also the feeling of its storied past in the beautiful historic buildings that remain.


The Town Hall, where the prize was presented, was erected on the foundation of what was once Charlemagne's castle. It is also next door to the ancient and beautiful cathedral where many Emperors and Kings were crowned. We were taken through this fascinating building and could not fail to be impressed by the abiding grandeur of its architecture and historic 'presence'. What an exhilarating emotion it produced – a feeling of somehow being catapulted back in time into another world. We were cordially escorted by Mayor Dr. Jürgen Linden and his entourage, and after a short cocktail period, were welcomed into one of the council rooms where we were interviewed by a large entourage of press personnel. As best I could, I fielded various questions, primarily about my emotions in being the recipient of this great honour. The International Music Prize not only recognizes my efforts in my lifetime of music, but also acknowledges my pursuit of human rights for all in the world during my career.


Later that same evening, we returned to the Town Hall for the ceremony and presentation, attended by approximately 800 guests. The ceremony was held in the Coronation Hall of the Town Hall, a room where the celebrations were held after the coronations of the various emperors and kings had been completed in the Cathedral.


The musical part of the program commenced with the Deutsche Welle Choir of 50 voices singing my composition Hymn to Freedom; a most moving experience for my family and myself. This was followed by a performance by a wonderful Jazz trio, led by Frank Chastenier on piano, along with very talented and musical bassist, John Goldsby, and percussionist, Martijn Vink. This segment was most enjoyable for me. Time seemed somehow bent in on itself, considering the fact that here I was, sitting in this ancient building, listening to this modern-day Jazz group performing today's music.


After these performances, I was presented with the Picasso-Miro Medal. The medal is a very beautiful piece – indeed, a work of art in itself – one side of which was designed by Pablo Picasso and the other by Joan Miro, the great Spanish artist.


After the ceremony and a period of autograph signing, his Honour the Mayor and his staff hosted a late-night dinner for us at a charming and picturesque Italian restaurant. We spent a wonderful evening of food and conversation with these most dedicated and appreciative members of the International Music Council and other guests.


During my earlier years of touring in Europe I had had the opportunity of visiting Aachen, at which time I was fortunate enough to have a little time to spend photographing this most beautiful and historic area of Germany. So the trip felt somehow like a returning, but enormously heightened, of course, by the present extraordinary occasion. I am most proud to have been honoured by UNESCO, and I feel fortunate that I was able to in some way represent other members of the Jazz community of the world. It was, needless to say, an incredible experience for me, and an unforgettable moment in the lives of my wife, Kelly, and daughter, Celine." (photo's from Aachen by Bernd Schroeder)



Stamp catalogue


Austria                                19 November 2003









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last revised: 28 March 2010