Oliver is a world-renowned jazz pianist. He talks about Union United Church and his early experiences playing jazz in Little Burgundy.
Here is his story:
My parents emigrated from Barbados to Canada. My sisters and I are first generation Canadians – we grew up in a community that was nurturing and supportive –we looked out for and helped each other. The Union United Church in Little Burgundy was the heart of our community – the first time I ever performed the piano in public was when I was 5 years old at Union United. I became a student of the incomparable Daisy Peterson Sweeney the sister of Dr. Oscar Peterson whom she also taught; they would both become my very dear lifelong friends. How fortunate was I to be surrounded by such inspiration!
When I was 10 years old I was part of a trio with my friends Richard Parris on saxophone and Bruce Parent on drums (later replaced by Jimmy Moore). We played allot! Any gig we could land – anywhere, anytime (but not on school nights – though supportive my parents were adamant that my extracurricular activities not interfere with my schooling). We played at parties, in Church’s, community centres, hospitals, Bar Mitzvahs and if you can believe it at our ages – night clubs (though we had to be out by 11pm because we were underage – those were the days!)
By the time we were in our later teens – we had accepted an offer to play at the Laroque Hotel in Valleyfield (six nights a week!!) Our repertoire was the popular music of the day (which was not necessarily jazz) – the people that went to the hotel in the evenings wanted to dance and we aimed to please. As I grew as a musician – the more I played for people – the more I enjoyed the experience and even though this wasn’t something that I thought about in terms of a career (in fact I thought it would be a great way to meet girls) I was feeling very confident, the hard work was paying off. When I would come back to Little Burgundy to visit my family and friends – the older musicians in the community along with my parents always encouraged me. Being part of this community helped to form me – to give me a sense of pride and it armed me with the confidence to go out in the world and make my mark.