TORONTO - Oscar Peterson's grieving widow saluted the towering jazz icon as a man who was kind, humble and loving, speaking openly for the first time since his passing at a music gala Friday that included some of the greatest stars in the industry.
Kelly Peterson took the stage with daughter Celine following a tribute that was part of an international award ceremony to recognize the best in jazz, including this year's recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts' Jazz Master title.
Music stars Quincy Jones, Nancy Wilson and Candido Camero were among the hundreds of artists and music fans in the audience.
"It is comforting to us to witness the tremendous outpouring of love, admiration and respect from all over the globe and from right here in this room," said Kelly Peterson, reading from a prepared speech at a podium while Celine stood behind her.
"Your support is carrying us along in these first days and weeks without him."
Her words followed a salute to Oscar Peterson's remarkable career in a joint tribute by the National Endowment for the Arts and Canada Council for the Arts, which lauded the pianist's technical prowess and vast influence.
Kelly Peterson took the stage to praise the man as a dedicated husband and father.
"In the 21 years we shared as husband and wife, I have often had to pinch myself to make sure it was real," she said in a measured tone.
"I was already a fan of his when we met and I had to keep asking myself how I was so fortunate that he fell in love with me."
Oscar Peterson died just before Christmas at his home in Mississauga, Ont. He was 82.
Considered one of the top jazz pianists in the world, Peterson's passing elicited a torrent of tributes that was continued Friday by several of his famous colleagues.
Before taking the stage to accept a lifetime achievement award of his own, Jones praised Peterson backstage as an immense talent whose influence was vast.
"Oscar was one of the finest musicians that ever lived and I am very proud to have worked with him," Jones said.
"He meant everything to me musically. He represented the top."
Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, told the audience that Peterson "exemplified artistic excellence."
"If I had to choose one word to describe his playing, I think I would use the word Olympiad - an artist who works from the calm, high summit of creativity and who lifts us up to his level," Gioia said.
"That's why we honour him tonight."
Pianist Oliver Jones, who grew up a few doors down from Peterson in Montreal, got audience members bopping their heads and swaying in their seats with a performance of two pieces by the jazz icon.
Another star-studded tribute to Peterson is scheduled for Saturday, when musicians including Herbie Hancock and Measha Brueggergosman will perform for free at Roy Thomson Hall.
The 90-minute celebration will include performances, memories and film and video highlights of Peterson's career. It will be broadcast live on CBC Radio One and Sirius 137 at 4:05 p.m. ET and repeated at 8:05 p.m. ET on CBC Radio Two and SRC Espace Musique.
Camero, a Cuban percussionist who shared the stage with Peterson several times, said Peterson was simply the best.
"I feel very sad when I heard the big news that he passed away," said Camero. "For me he was a genius and very humble gentlemen. For me, (he was) the best, number one. Not any other one like him."