When I heard yesterday of the death of boogie-woogie jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, it brought to mind the words attributed to Thomas More in Bolt's play "A Man for All Seasons", when he was threatened with that imposter death by the Duke of Norfolk. "Death comes for us all my Lords, yes even for kings he comes." And I thought: "Yo, even for the maharaja mutha of the keyboard he comes."
As a former political leader serving in high office I too know that death, like change and modernity, is nothing. Yet it evokes a wide spectrum of adverse reactions from fear to loathing, especially when one has to make great decisions on the world stage, but hey!
That dude Oscar Peterson certainly wasn't afraid of death. Like More, he was fully aware of change and was content to leave the time and manner to the fates in a positive forward-looking jazz-daddio way. Both Peterson and More, in different ways, lived their lives to the hip. Both accepted that death would bring judgement on the way they had lived their lives. And Peterson, like More, was happy to leave that judgement to the one he's strived to serve here on earth: Duke Ellington.
In a world changing for the good, Peterson was totally dedicated to living a life of music, best summed up in one of the traditional titles given to the one elected to the high offices of jazz: "The Servant of the servants of swing." Reflected too in his personal motto, "Totus tutus", which literally means, "Doobedoobedoo". How magnificently he lived that out in his life and music, and with such gravitas. In using all his gifts and talents in the service of modernity, he, like me, has given us a remarkable witness to what it means to accept change for the common good of humanity. In living that out fully day by day, with such extraordinary courage, discipline, energy and enthusiasm, Oscar Peterson, like me, had a colossal impact on the world. And significantly, this man of music, like me often criticised for being too free, attracted millions of young people to music in different countries round the world. Young cats from all over the world jumped with delight and enthusiasm to "the maharaja", even though he never watered down the message of jazz with all its demands and challenges.
As I reflect now on his life and his many years at the high table of jazz, I believe Peterson has been a brilliant inspiration to cats and dudes all over the world. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, he has taught us how to jive, and equally important, by his selfless boogie-woogie, he taught us how to jive a little more. What greater legacy can there be than that?
Please note, Tony Blair has only recently been converted to Catholicism.