Oscar Peterson, 82, jazz pianist giant

TORONTO - Oscar Peterson, 82, whose early talent, speedy fingers and musical genius made him one of the world's best-known jazz pianists, has died.

Mr. Peterson died at his home in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga on Sunday, said Oliver Jones, a friend and musician. The cause of death was kidney failure, said Mississauga's mayor, Hazel McCallion. "He's been going downhill in the last few months," she said, calling Mr. Peterson a "very close friend."

During an illustrious career that spanned seven decades, Mr. Peterson played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. He is also remembered for touring in a 1950s trio with Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar.

Mr. Peterson received Canada's highest honors, including the Order of Canada, and a Lifetime Grammy in 1997, as well as a spot in the International Jazz Hall of Fame.

His stature was reflected in the admiration of his peers. Duke Ellington referred to him as "Maharajah of the keyboard" while Count Basie once said, "Oscar Peterson plays the best ivory box I've ever heard." Pianist Marian McPartland called Mr. Peterson "the finest technician that I have seen."

In a statement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said of Mr. Peterson, who performed regularly in France: "One of the bright lights of jazz has gone out."

Born on Aug. 15, 1925, in a poor neighborhood southwest of Montreal, Mr. Peterson obtained a passion for music from his father. Daniel Peterson, a railway porter and self-taught musician, bestowed his love of music to his five children, offering them a means to escape from poverty.

Oscar Peterson learned to play trumpet and piano at a young age, but after a bout with tuberculosis had to concentrate on the latter.

He became a teen sensation in Canada, playing in dance bands and recording in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He got his real break as a surprise guest at Carnegie Hall in 1949, after which he began touring the United States and Europe.

He quickly made a name for himself as a jazz virtuoso, and was often compared to piano great Art Tatum, his childhood idol, for his speed and technical skill.

He was also influenced by Nat King Cole, whose Nat King Cole Trio album he considered "a complete musical thesaurus for any aspiring jazz pianist."

Peterson never stopped calling Canada home. In 2005, he became the first living person other than a reigning monarch to appear on a commemorative stamp in Canada, where he is jazz royalty, with streets, squares, concert halls and schools named after him.

Peterson suffered a stroke in 1993 that weakened his left hand, but not his passion for music. Within a year he was back on tour, recording "Side By Side" with Itzhak Perlman.

As he grew older, Peterson kept playing and touring, despite worsening arthritis.

"A jazz player is an instant composer," Peterson once said in a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. interview, while conceding jazz did not have the mass appeal of other musical genres. "You have to think about it, it's an intellectual form," he said.