NEW YORK -- As part of the celebration of Black History Month, Sandy Kenyon is taking a look at a jazz giant who was born and raised in Montreal, Canada, but came to write an anthem of the struggle of Civil Rights in the United States.
The late pianist Oscar Peterson is the subject of a new documentary streaming on Hulu called "Oscar Peterson: Black + White."
Kenyon said he will always be grateful that he got to see Peterson at NYC's Birdland club before the musician died in 2007. He'd suffered a stroke and began slowly, but by the third or fourth number, he played with amazing power and soared to greatness for an unforgettable performance.
"I am a jazz pianist," Peterson liked to say. "That's all I want to be."
That modestly stated goal brought both a formidable legacy.
"I didn't know that music could be played that fast off the top of your head," Billy Joel says in the new film.
"Oscar Peterson is what Muhammed Ali meant to boxing and what Michael Jordan meant to basketball," Ramsey Lewis, who is also a legendary jazz pianist, said.
The director of the film, Barry Avrich, was asked what he learned about Peterson in the course of making the film.
"I was astounded at how generous he was to his other musicians, it was never 'The Oscar Peterson Show,'" Avrich said.
Lewis added that "he was a musician's musician, but at the same time, the average person just loved the way he sent the piano keys out into the audience and said, 'now get this, feel this.'"
Never was the feeling more powerful than when Peterson composed his "Hymn To Freedom" which, "became the anthem for the Civil Rights movement in the United States and across the world," historian Rosemary Sadler said in the documentary.
Peterson wrote the melody after experiencing harsh racism on tour in the South, and it has stood the test of time. In fact, a choir performed the tune at the first inauguration of President Barak Obama.
"It's called a hymn," Lewis said. "But there's music for the soul. There's music for the mind and music for the body. it's a great piece of work."
Even if you're not a big fan of jazz music, this new documentary will entertain and enlighten you. It's streaming now on Hulu, owned by the same parent company as this station.
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts Submit a News Tip