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Giant Steps: Oscar Peterson

Tuesday, 28 February 2017 12:00

Every great movement, every significant revolution must have a great song, a battle cry, a soundtrack to victory, to emancipation. A strain to accompany both suffering and celebration. Dylan and Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Baez, Manu Chao, the questions of how to survive in times of hardship were poetically and musically blowing in the wind.

It was a Canadian though who penned the one song that to this day swells the chest. An uncommon anthem for an American born movement, from the piano bench of a remarkable Canadian.

Oscar Peterson was a renaissance man. He could snap a picture, catch a fish, he loved a good prank, he was well read AND political AND could play the heck out of a piano.

He wrote the song that would be the anthem of the Civil Rights movement back in 1962. Before that, OP had put himself on the trajectory to becoming one of the greatest if not the greatest jazz pianist this planet of ours had ever seen. You can tell the quality of a man by the company he keeps...and all the greats clamored to be in the company of Oscar. Billy and Ella, Herbie and Getz, Armstrong and Basie. Oscar Peterson brought a robust, technically impeccable driving blues with just the right amount of swing to everything he touched.

But it was when he dug deep into his soul to find just the right notes to fuel revolution that he became an icon well beyond the world of music. Could there have been a civil rights movement and victory without OP’s hymn to freedom? Yes, likely. But fueling the march, putting the wind at the back of those who fought was a song that reminded fighters of the sound of victory. 

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