Honorary degree citation - Oscar Peterson*
By: Douglas Walter, June 1979
Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Oscar Peterson.
Born in Montreal, he started piano training at the age of six. While still in his early teens, he won a prize in a local amateur contest and soon after was offered a spot on a weekly local radio show. Thus he began a professional career which has established the name of Oscar Peterson as synonymous with excellence in jazz piano playing.
Combining the influences of such diverse performers as Earl Hines, Nat King Cole, and Art Tatum, he soon developed a personal and clearly distinguishable style marked by the best qualities of both the swing and bop schools.
Truly an international artist, he travelled regularly with Jazz at the Philharmonic and in concert tours of his own, visiting Europe annually, through the 1950s and '60s. He later extended his overseas activities, working frequently in Japan, Australia, South America, Mexico and taking part in university lectures and seminars throughout the United States and Canada.
His recording career has spanned more than three decades, resulting in an output of literally hundreds of recordings. He has performed or recorded with a staggering number of influential jazz musicians from practically every era, among them Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Stan Getz.
As a performing artist of the highest calibre he has enjoyed the respect and admiration both of his fellow musicians and of the general public. He was awarded the Toronto Civic Medal in 1971, the Medal of Service of the Order of Canada in 1973, the same year in which he received his first honorary doctorate, and in 1975 his album The Trio won a Grammy Award. He has won annual readers' and critics' polls regularly in such magazines as Melody Maker, Jazz Magazine, Metronome, and Downbeat. In 1974 he had his own television series in Canada. Entitled 'Oscar Peterson Presents", it featured leading jazz artists and singers as guests. The series was awarded a plaque at the 17th International Film and TV Festival in New York.
His talent as a phenomenally endowded pianist has been supplemented by a growing reputation as a composer. His Canadian Suite won a National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) nomination as one of the best jazz compositions of 1965. More recently he composed the musical score for the feature film The Silent Partner.
By his constant example, he has provided inspiration to countless musicians, young and old, students as well as professionals, while commanding the respect that is unquestionably his due as a true artist and master of his craft.
Mr. Chancellor, it is a distinct honour to present to you, on behalf of the University Senate, and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Oscar Peterson, that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.