Born: 1932, Toronto, Ontario Debut: 1947 Died: 1982 Genre: Classical (Piano) Achievements: Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canadian Walk of Fame
Unlike the other Canadian musicians of the time, Gould was born into a middle class family and was an only-child. By the time he was three years old, his mother knew she had given birth to a prodigy. He studied piano with her and then piano and organ at the Toronto (Royal) Conservatory of Music in the 1940s. He earned his diploma when he was but 12. His first major organ recital took place in 1945 and piano a year later. His first professional debut took place with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in early 1947 when he performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. Through radio broadcasts beginning in 1950, television in 1952, and recordings in 1953, he became famous throughout Canada.
Though he toured early-on, he preferred the studio environment. In the beginning of 1955, he made his U.S. debut with recitals in Washington and New York. He immediately signed a deal with Columbia Records. His first album Bach’s Goldberg Variations was his piano masterwork, a recording that up until today has never gone out of print. There is irony in this. The piano was invented during Bach’s lifetime. Legend has it that Bach, himself, hated it. He refused to have anything to do with it, continuing to compose and perform on the harpsichord, despite its going out of fashion.
Whether or not Gould’s piano performance of Bach’s works had the first of the great classical composers rolling in his grave, one thing was indisputable, it made Gould internationally famous, and world tours were in order. He performed in the USSR, Israel, and Western Europe. Wherever he went, his skill brought him acclaim and his unusual stage manner and eccentric personality brought controversy.
Suffering from shyness and hypertension, Gould hated performing in public and became a hypochondriac, canceling out of performances at the last minute. It was no surprise to those who knew him, therefore, that he formally withdrew from public performance in 1964. His moral, artistic, and temperamental objections to the concert format led him to become an outspoken activist for electronic media. Learning the ropes of the recording industry, he began making radio and television programs, documentaries, recitals, scripts, and films.
He longed to be a composer but after a one-movement string quartet in the mid-50s, he completed only a few minor pieces. He arranged the musical scores of two feature films. He adopted the method of splicing together single performances from many takes, which was seen initially as fraudulent art, but this technique was subsequently adopted by the recording industry.
In 1982, he announced plans of conducting and of retiring to the countryside to focus on composing. But his hypertension led to a massive stroke that year. He died a week later at age 50. A year later, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. His reputation continued to grow after his passing. In 1993, a feature film was made about him entitled Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould; it won Best Picture at the Genie Awards. In 1998 he gained a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.
“O.P.”, known for his exquisite unaccompanied piano solos, had a style that fell somewhere between swing and bop. He was so gifted that many skilled pianists found him difficult to emulate. Although a pianist, he also played the electric piano, organ, and clavichord at times. He also sang on rare occasions and it was noted that he sounded much like Nat King Cole. Unlike Guy Lombardo and Hank Snow, Peterson chose to remain living in Canada until his death.
The Canadian Jazz legend (often overlooked as a composer) grew up in the poor St. Henri district of Montreal. His father, an amateur organist, had all five of his children study music, each in turn teaching the next youngest. Oscar’s first instructor, therefore, was his elder sister Daisy.
After nine years of learning the keys, he won a talent show at age 14 and was invited to star on a weekly Montreal radio program. He also gained experience and exposure as a feature of Johnny Holmes’ Orchestra, a popular dance band. In 1945, Peterson began a series of 32 boogie-woogie style recordings with RCA Victor, and he toured the country the following year.
In 1947, Peterson left the Orchestra forming his own trio who played the Alberta Lounge in Montreal. In 1949, he met American impresario Norman Granz who suggested he make a U.S. debut as a surprise guest at the Philharmonic (all-star troupe of American musicians) concert in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. His brief performance on the show caused a sensation and his international career was launched.
Oscar Peterson began a tour with Jazz at the Philharmonic capturing the souls of the American public. Chicago jazz magazine Down Beat conducted readers’ polls in the early 50s which placed Peterson in the number one spot. He made his first American recordings with Granz’s label Verve performing a series of duets with either Ray Brown or Major Holley on bass. His version of “Tenderly” became a hit. He ended up forming a trio that went through some personnel changes over the years. The band was a piano-guitar-bass combination until 1958, when it became a piano-bass-drums outfit. That year, Peterson relocated from Montreal to Toronto.
He teamed up with a number of big names in Jazz from time to time: Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie to name a few. In 1963, he recorded his most significant work, The Canadiana Suite, an eight-part survey of the country’s geographical features. He kept a rigorous international touring schedule well into the 80s but, after a stroke in 1993 that affected the use of his left hand, reduced the number of his performances. By 2001, Peterson had completed more than 130 albums.
Oscar Peterson was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1978. His album If You Could See Me Now won a Juno Award in 1987. He also won a number of Grammy Awards, including a “lifetime achievement” award in 1997.
Torontonian pianist Gil Evans was a jazz arranger, composer, bandleader, and innovator who played a big role in the development of several subgenres of jazz. He is known for his several album-length collaborations will famous American trumpeter Miles Davis and for his pioneering the use of electronic sounds in jazz in the 1970s.
Born in 1912 as Ian Ernest Gilmore Green, he changed his name to Evans later on, after his stepfather. In his youth, his family moved to California. He began his career working for an arranger for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra in 1941. In 1946, he moved to New York City and musicians liked to drop into his basement suite behind a Chinese laundry to consult about developing new musical styles outside of the bebop-dominant industry. One such musician was none other than Charlie Parker. In 1949 and 1950 Evans recorded three sessions with Miles Davis and others which were considered birth of the cool movement in jazz. Davis began requesting Evans to arrange the music on his albums.
From 1957 on, Evans recorded a number of albums under his own name. In the 60s, he became fond of Brazilian music and recorded a special Latin album with his orchestra. In the 70s, following the death of Jimi Hendrix whom he admired, he released a tribute album of arrangements of his music. In the 70s and 80s, he toured extensively around the world, including Europe and Japan and collaborated with various rock stars like David Bowie and The Police / Sting.
In 1983, Evans began a series of Monday night engagements with his orchestra playing at the Sweet Basil Jazz Club in New York. He released several albums under the name Gil Evans and the Monday Night Orchestra. One of them won a Grammy award. Gil Evans died in Mexico in 1988. In 1997 he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
The most popular song to come out of Canada in the ’40s, thanks to Vancouver nurse (Carmen) Elizabeth Clarke, was “There’s a Bluebird On Your Windowsill” (1948). Second in rank would be American-born, naturalized Canadian Ed McCurdy‘s “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” (1949). Canadians continued contributing to the richness of classical music, through the decade, thanks to the likes of Portia White and George London. White’s singing achieved international fame which helped to open previously closed doors for Blacks, she being an African Canadian. In 1964 she performed for Queen Elizabeth II. George London formed the Bel Canto Trio with tenor Mario Lanza and soprano Frances Yeend in 1947. In 1956, he appeared on the popular Ed Sullivan television program opposite Maria Callas.
But of Canada’s classical music stars, the most famous of them all—right up to the present time—debuted in 1947 and his name was Glenn Gould. With a quirky personality, he was an unlikely candidate for superstardom, but when his magic fingers danced on piano keys, they took everyone’s breath away.
With Canadian country music well underway, having been launched in the 30s, Canada, in the 40s, was to produce its first stars of jazz. With fingers as dazzling as Gould’s but improvising rather than structuring themselves after Bach, another of the greatest pianists of all time (worldwide) appeared, namely Oscar Peterson. Four years prior to Peterson’s debut, another jazz piano legend had appeared, though more famous as an arranger. He was Gil Evans.
Gould, Evans, and Peterson were the biggest names in Canadian music debuting in the 1940s and they were all pianists.