Oscar Peterson: Black + White review – profile of pianist lets the music do the talking

A somewhat reverent look at the jazz piano virtuoso includes many famous contributors

The legendary jazz piano virtuoso is the subject of this warmly celebratory if undemanding documentary, which takes us through his life and times and also brings together jazz musicians to play a special session in his honour. Peterson was a musician who played and composed in the tradition of Art Tatum, Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington; largely performing with his own trio, or later solo, which gave him a quasi-classical mien.

Unlike these other greats, however, Peterson was from Canada, and as his friend Quincy Jones remarked: “I didn’t know they even had black people in Canada!” In consequence, Peterson never grew up with Jim Crow segregation, of which there was no legal equivalent in Canada – although racism and discrimination were certainly commonplace enough, and Peterson’s 1962 plangently emotional composition Hymn to Freedom, written for Martin Luther King Jr, became an anthem for the civil rights movement.

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