Lucille Mok is a doctoral candidate in historical musicology at Harvard University. She completed an Honours Bachelor of Music at the University of Toronto where she wrote her thesis on Latin Popular Music in Toronto under the supervision of Professor Robin Elliott. Her dissertation, advised by Professor Carol J. Oja, is on the topic of Canadian music and focuses on original compositions by Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould. She is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow.
Often studied in the context of African American urban communities, jazz is rarely considered in the context of northern landscape. Jazz scholarship has, moreover, focused on the collaborative nature of jazz performance, a feature that is fundamentally at odds with the most prominent theme of northern art - solitude. Yet a community of jazz musicians has emerged from the northern countries of Finland, Norway, and Canada, composing and performing music implicitly and explicitly inspired by the north. Some of these musicians explore their northern identities while playing to mainstream jazz audiences. Among the first was the Canadian jazz musician Oscar Peterson who, in spite of his success in the United States, might also be considered a northern jazz musician.
Born in Montréal, Peterson was a proud Canadian throughout his life and expressed a connection with ideas of north through performance and composition. In this paper I analyse a selection of Peterson’s works - his solo recordings on the Musik Produktion Schwarzwald [MPS] label and his compositions Canadiana Suite (1965) and “Anthem To a New Land” (2000), a tribute to the then-new Canadian territory Nunavut - to initiate dialogue between jazz scholarship and northern studies. I draw upon material from the Oscar Peterson collection at Library and Archives Canada to examine his work through the lens of such scholars as Sherrill Grace, Jody Berland, and Margaret Atwood on the concept of north in visual art and literature. In my discussion, I draw on the themes that emerge from their studies of artistic concepts of north - solitude, landscape, and space - and, offer examples and analysis from Peterson’s oeuvre. To consider Peterson as a northern artist responds to Grace’s call for a broader understanding of art’s transformational role in the changing concepts of north, exposes the contradictions of northern jazz and its possibilities.