Oscar Peterson's personal items up for auction | Toronto Star
Oscar Peterson seemed like a public institution for more than a half century as media star, virtuoso pianist and activist. Now, some aspects of the jazz great’s carefully guarded private life are being made public via eBay’s Oscar Peterson Auction.
It began just after midnight Friday and ends Aug. 24.
Synthesizers, microphones, a high-end Studer D-780 DAT recorder and a rare Grado HP-1000 headphone set Peterson used in his home recording studio are among the 25 items available at eBay.ca/oscarpeterson .
A number of jazz books — some signed by authors such as Gene Lees — are also on the block. His poster collection has the auction’s lowest starting price of $100.
Then there’s Peterson’s fabulous signature blue brocade tux jacket, the tailored lapels in a contrasting midnight blue. Peterson proved big guys can be snazzy too wearing this ensemble onstage, which comes complete with a bespoke Turnbull & Asser tuxedo shirt.
“We want to commemorate Oscar’s 90th birthday and share some of these things with his fans,” says Kelly Peterson, the pianist’s widow. (Oscar, born in 1925, died Dec. 23, 2007, age 82.)
“We also want to raise funds for World Vision Canada. But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy parting with them. There’s something about each piece that makes it wrenching to me to see it go.”
Take Peterson’s protective travelling cases for instance, the one that held his Yamaha keyboard speakers or the other with his collection of digital cameras.
To others a crushproof box might hardly seem the stuff of nostalgia. But to Peterson, the cases mean private time with her husband. “I can remember how we’d have to pack just about everything in them every time we went on vacation to the Barbados,” says Peterson. “I’d have to start packing three weeks before we’d get away.”
The prize catch of the lot is probably the “Exclusive Musical Experience” — with a $1,000 starting price — which includes a pair of tickets for a Dec. 11 Koerner Hall Oscar @ 90concert by an A-list of pianists led by Ramsey Lewis and Oliver Jones playing, in some cases, never-heard Peterson pieces.
“People are going to be surprised in hearing some of his compositions,” Kelly Peterson says.
Many of the concert pieces are included in Oscar, With Love, a CD of 30-plus solos recorded over the past months on the grandest of all grand pianos, Peterson’s beloved Bösendorfer Imperial, being seen and played at Koerner for the first time outside Peterson’s home.
The lineup of performers so far includes Bill Charlap, Renee Rosnes, Monty Alexander, Kenny Barron, Benny Green, Makoto Ozone and Chick Corea, who wrote his own tribute, “One for Oscar.” At least one other pianist is expected.
The recording, available as of Dec. 11, is being released in a three-CD set, a “deluxe” CD set that has a commemorative book as well as a five-LP vinyl package scheduled for next year.
The Peterson Bösendorfer is almost as much a star attraction as those playing it. The celebrity-rich tribute package began when the family wanted to utilize the piano in some productive way, says a friend of the late pianist.
Kelly, who married Oscar in 1986, has been very active in keeping the Peterson legacy alive. In 2011, she helped promote a digitally engineered “reperformance” of earlier recordings on a specially prepared piano at Koerner Hall.
A Bösendorfer — an old Austrian company now owned by Yamaha — is a Rolls-Royce among pianos, perhaps with less flash than a Steinway but with more “bottom,” as they say. And how. An “Imperial” Bösendorfer has 97 keys, an extension of the traditional 88, with the extra octave added to the lower end of the keyboard for greater oomph.
(Bösendorfer buffs, along with Peterson and Franz Liszt, include Dr. Evil and Mini-Me, who secreted their matching Bösendorfer grands on their private island in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.)
Along with getting a deluxe CD package, the eventual winner of the concert package is invited to a postconcert meet and greet with the night’s stars with a chance to be photographed next to the Bösendorfer, which Peterson himself picked out at the company’s Vienna factory in 1981.
“It’s eight years after Oscar’s death,” says Kelly Peterson. “Many things have already gone to Library and Archives Canada because Oscar had been donating to them since the early ’90s. I kept all of these things. Now it’s a good time to let them go.”
Peter Goddard is a freelance writer and the Star’s former jazz critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org