The famed pianist, a winner of eight Grammys, worked with nearly every jazz legend -- from Louis Armstrong to Charlie Parker to Ella Fitzgerald

By Joshua Rich
January 01, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST
Everett Collection

Prolific piano great Oscar Peterson, whose career seemed to span nearly the full history of jazz, died on Sunday in his home in Ontario, Canada, from kidney failure, at age 82. A winner of eight Grammy Awards, Peterson played with all the greats — Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, and so on. A renowned virtuoso, the musician was celebrated for what some called a unique combination of speed and delicacy. According to The New York Times, Duke Ellington famously dubbed him, ”the maharajah of the keyboard,” while Count Basie said that Peterson ”plays the best ivory box I’ve ever heard.”

The Montreal-born son of a poor Caribbean immigrant, Peterson rose from humble beginnings to become one of the giants in his field. With sometimes multiple album releases in a single year and near constant touring across the globe, he fast became a household name, often working as part of a trio. He suffered a stroke in 1993 but continued to play despite restricted mobility in his hand: ”I think I have a closeness with the instrument that I?ve treasured over the years,” he told The Chicago Tribune. In 2005, Peterson joined the ranks of kings and queens when a Canadian stamp was produced bearing his image.