Growing up in a Montreal ghetto in the 1920s and '30s, Peterson started out playing the trumpet but switched to piano after a bout of tuberculosis. He was trained in classical technique by his father and sister and a prominent Montreal teacher, but was captivated by the sounds of the great jazz pianists of the era. (Later on he would say that two of his main influences were Art Tatum and Sergei Rachmaninov.)
In a career that spanned more than 60 years, Peterson collaborated with a list of artists that reads like a Who's Who of jazz - Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Stephane Grappelli, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and many more. His recordings in the 1950s with the Oscar Peterson Trio (himself, bassman Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis) are landmarks of the genre.
In his native country, Peterson was more than a musician - he was a national institution. He was showered with awards and honors, and at one point Prime Minister Jean Chretien offered him the position of lieutenant-governor of Ontario. (Peterson declined.) They even put him on a postage stamp.
A crippling stroke in 1993 sidelined Peterson for several years. Although he never regained his old form, he kept recording and performing up until last year, when his health began seriously deteriorating.
After his death tributes poured in from fellow musicians and scholars of jazz, including Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz at Rutgers University, who told the Washington Post: "Any pianist who came after Oscar Peterson would have had to look up to him as a model of all-around musicianship."
But we prefer the more succinct praise offered by Ray Charles in 2003: "Oscar Peterson is a m****r-f***ing piano player."
A Return to Hogwarts?
Harry Potter fans who lamented the loss of their favorite teenage wizard with the publication of the final book in the literary series/phenomenon may get another glimpse of life at Hogwarts, the fictional school for witches and wizards that served as the backdrop for the adventures of Harry and his friends.
Author J.K. Rowling told Time magazine recently that she may yet pen another book in the series. But Rowling gave no indication of when that might be. And if you're holding out hope for another showdown between Harry and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, forget it. Rowling says that if, or when, she does another book in the series, it will center on a character other than Harry. "If - and it's a big if - I ever write an eighth book, I doubt that Harry would be the central character. I feel I've already told his story," Rowling told the magazine.
Given that the film adaptations are lagging several years behind the publication of the novels, that may be a good thing. The most recent celluloid representation, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was the fifth installment of the, currently, seven-part series and featured a notably maturing cast who looked more fit for Hogwarts U than a British prep school, sorcery based curriculum notwithstanding. Meanwhile, filming has already started on the sixth installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which is slated for a November 2008 release in the theaters. And negotiations are already moving ahead for the adaptation of the final chapter Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. Rumor has it that Alfonso Cuarón, the Spanish director who helmed the strongest film adaptation, Harry Potter and the Prisoner Azkaban might return director's chair. There's also been speculation that Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) may be interested in the job.
And we remain under the spell.
Almost Live From London, It's the Royals
The sun set on the British Empire a long time ago, but thanks to the modern miracle of YouTube, the sun will never set on the British royal family.
Fans of Queen Liz, Prince Charles, Duchess Camilla, Prince Harry, Prince William and the rest of the Buckingham Palace gang can now check in at www.youtube.com/theroyalchannel 24/7 to find out what they're up to.
What they're up to, at least so far, is not terribly exciting. Queen Elizabeth II used The Royal Channel to deliver the official Royal Christmas Broadcast for 2007. She took the opportunity to pay tribute to British troops who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan and to remind viewers of their duty to help the unfortunate.
More interesting than this homily is the opening of the seven-minute video, which shows the queen delivering her first televised Christmas Broadcast way back in 1957. The 31-year-old monarch actually looks - dare we say it? - rather pretty, although she wears the same dowdy hair style she has today.
Despite the tedious content, The Royal Channel appears to be a hit: It had received almost a million views as of last Thursday and had more than 17,500 subscribers, making it the second most heavily subscribed YouTube channel for the month.
You Can Take the Girls Out of the Trailer Park, But ...
When Upfront last looked in on the Spears girls, one of them was pregnant. At last report, she still is. But there have been a few important new developments in this profoundly significant story:
Reports surfaced last week that the father of 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears is not (as she claims) her 19-year-old boyfriend, Casey Aldridge, but a "much older" executive with the Nickelodeon network, on which Jamie Lynn has a show, "Zoey 101."
Star magazine quoted a "family source" as saying: "Some of us have doubts as to the legitimacy of the claim that Casey is the father. Before the news of the pregnancy, how often did you see them together? Jamie Lynn has dated Casey on and off over the past two years. But it was not steady."
(For the benefit of those who are not as hip as Upfront, Kevin Federline is the ex-husband of Britney Spears, who is Jamie Lynn's older sister. Yes, it's sick.)
The story that Aldridge is the father, the magazine claimed, was concocted to cover up for the Nickelodeon executive, who could face statutory rape charges for impregnating a 16-year-old.
The father of Jamie Lynn, who is named Jamie, reportedly spent Christmas alone and angry at his ex-wife, Jamie Lynn's mother, who is named Lynne, for allegedly "cashing in" on their daughter's pregnancy.
"He did not spend Christmas with [Lynne] or Jamie Lynn and instead stayed in LA to work," Usmagazine.com quoted a Spears "family source" as saying.
The source reportedly also revealed that although Lynne receives a part of their daughters' salaries, Jamie, who works as a private chef, refuses to take any money from them. "He doesn't get a dime from his daughters," the source said. "He busts his ass to take care of himself."
Well, that's a refreshing change.
And meanwhile ...
Aunt-to-Be Britney, who originally said she was taken by surprise by news of her kid sister's pregnancy, appeared to be adapting to it. Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reported that she spent the afternoon of Dec. 21 shopping for baby clothes for her future niece or nephew.
As for the happy couple's wedding plans, they remained up in the air.
"They may or may not [get married]," said Casey's uncle, Baptist pastor Odus Jackson. "You just never know. I hope they will stick it out and get married for the child's sake and their sake. But if they're not in love and it was just a fantasy, they don't need to make the same mistake twice."
Grandpa to Paris: Drop Dead
Let's hear a (subdued) chorus of "Poor little thing!" for poor Paris Hilton, who learned last week that her grandfather is cutting her off without a dime.
Well, not quite without a dime, maybe. But Barron Hilton, the 80-year-old head of the Hilton family, did announce Thursday that he plans to give 97% of his $2.3 billion fortune to charity.
Hilton said he would give the bulk of his estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, a charity established by his father, which supports programs to aid mentally ill homeless people, fight substance abuse and improve water supplies in Africa and Mexico.
Grandpa Hilton reportedly has not been pleased with the antics of his granddaughter, who has appeared in a widely circulated sex tape, had numerous car crashes and other driving problems, and spent a few days in jail for probation violation. And that was just in the past month. (No, we're kidding.)
It's not known at this point how big a share of the remaining 3% of her grandfather's bundle Paris will come in for, but there'll be a lot of competition: Barron Hilton has eight children and numerous grandchildren.
But maybe we shouldn't shed too many tears for Paris. According to Forbes Magazine, she made about $7 million from modeling and acting in 2005-06.