You Should Already Own: Canadiana Suite by The Oscar Peterson Trio

By: Orlando da Silva

You Should Already Own: Canadiana Suite by The Oscar Peterson Trio

In the world of jazz, Oscar Peterson is such a towering figure that he isn’t considered a Canadian pianist but rather one of the greatest pianists in history from any place. He backed up Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, it matters not where he is from.

I must disagree; it does matter where an artist comes from if that artist draws from his surroundings as deeply as Peterson did on his 1964 record Canadiana Suite.

Many people inside and outside of our border don’t know about Peterson’s roots in Montreal, his well-documented progression as a pianist on CBC Radio broadcasts from the age of 15, and his latter years spent in Mississauga, Ont. Peterson was not the kind of artist to hang an identity on his nationality, but he was nonetheless a proud and much-celebrated Canadian, receiving the highest honours possible, and even being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in its first year of existence.

There is perhaps no greater example in Peterson’s discography of how tied to the Canadian experience he was than Canadiana Suite. A musical love letter to his homeland, the record contains eight original compositions with titles reflecting the parts of Canada he was most familiar with. On his episode of NPR’s “Jazz Profiles,” Peterson said that the concept for the record came about when he was bored one day during a tour stop in Chicago:

“I had been messing with Ray that day, as usual, and he said to me, ‘Why don’t you go do something productive, why don’t you go write a song or something?’ I went back to my room and the first thing I wrote was ‘Wheatland,’ and after I wrote it I thought it was reminiscent of the placid fields of wheat in Western Canada.”

Listening to the music, I do get the sense that Peterson worked to make each song representative of its subject matter. “Wheatland” is calm and majestic, while the propulsive bebop of “Place St. Henri” reflects the hustle and bustle of the neighbourhood Peterson grew up in. And in the cool 12-bar stride of “Hogtown Blues” I swear I can feel the spirit of the Toronto of half a century ago.

Years before his face ever graced a postage stamp, young Oscar Peterson took great care to make Canadiana Suite worthy of its subject matter because he was proud of where he was from. Almost 50 years later it stands as one of his greatest achievements, and therefore, one of our greatest achievements.

Video: Wheatland by Oscar Peterson

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