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'She understands human weaknesses': Oscar Peterson on his sister Daisy Sweeney

Aug. 15 marks the birthday of the late legendary Canadian jazz musician Oscar Peterson.
Oscar Peterson, 1958. (The Canadian Press)

Oscar Peterson was born on Aug. 15, 1925, in Montreal and was widely regarded as a legendary Canadian jazz pianist.

Peterson grew up in the city's Little Burgundy district in a household where his father instilled a strict upbringing centred around music. Peterson's sister, Daisy Peterson Sweeney, who died last week at the age of 97, was his teacher. Peterson, himself, died on Dec. 23, 2007 at the age of 82. 

Daisy Sweeney was a hugely important figure in Montreal who taught her brother Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones, both widely internationally Canadian jazz musicians, how to play piano. 4:53

Speaking in a 1983 CBC report, Peterson paid tribute to his sister. "Daisy did a lot of teaching in the house and she helped me tremendously," Peterson says in the video.

"Daisy is a great tutor, Daisy has great patience," he continues. "She understands human weaknesses and she can relate to someone having difficulties. Daisy is a great pianist."

Later in the video, he talks about how his older brother Fred, who died as a teenager, introduced him to jazz and before long, Peterson's international fame as a jazz musician would be precipitated by a now-famous unscheduled performance at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1949.

In another interview with the CBC's Hana Gartner in 1979 — and shortly after he won a Grammy — Peterson reflected on Count Basie wanting to take him to the U.S. at the age of 13, spoke about his friendship with Frank Sinatra, and recalls Duke Ellington calling him the "Maharajah of the keyboard."

In a 2015 interview with CBC Music, fellow Montrealer and revered jazz pianist Oliver Jones talked about Peterson's legacy.

"It's wonderful to see all the people studying his work in universities and conservatories now, realizing what a wonderful composer he was, also. He had the great ability to make the piano roar and the next song he would play something so tender, you'd think it was a child's lullaby. He had full command of the piano. It's a wonderful, wonderful legacy and we should not forget that we [had] the greatest piano player in the world from Canada."

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