Province to fund ‘Oscar’ Chair at York

Jazz legend Oscar Peterson will always be remembered for his hands-on time with music students at York University, but more so now that $5 million in scholarship and other support is on the way from the Ontario government, reported the Toronto Star Jan. 12. The province is providing an endowment of $1 million to create five annual $10,000 scholarships for students from underprivileged backgrounds at York, plus $4 million to endow an Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced Friday. The news was also reported widely by newspapers, and English and French television and radio networks across Canada.

"This is unusual, I think, for any university," said a thrilled Philip Silver, dean of Fine Arts at York, which offers jazz courses leading to a master’s degree. The scholarship is appropriate because Peterson "came from a less-than-privileged background where his family had to work really hard to get him his lessons," added Silver.

Silver recalled an electric atmosphere when Peterson, an adjunct music professor from 1984 to the late 1990s, attended graduation recitals – the equivalent of final exams for music performance students. "The joy and terror that ensued when Oscar Peterson entered the room was palpable. I wouldn’t have wanted to be at the piano keys," he quipped.

The University will soon begin searching for a "highly accomplished musician and educator" to fill the jazz performance Chair, added Silver.

Peterson, who was also chancellor of York University from 1991 to 1994, died last month. He was 82. A memorial concert was held Saturday at Roy Thomson Hall and broadcast live on CBC.

In related coverage:

  • Barry Elmes, Chair of the Music Department at York University and a drummer who has performed with Oscar Peterson, suggests we listen more closely when the pianist accompanies others, wrote the Brantford Expositor Jan. 12. "Oscar in a supporting role was brilliant, fantastic," Elmes says. "Here is a whole other side to him, one too often overlooked; but without it you’re not seeing the whole package."

Peterson’s support of others took place offstage, too. He received a good education and believed it his duty to pass that on to others. He had many students and, while chancellor of York University, would call up Elmes and ask if he could come and do a master class. As if anyone would say no to such an opportunity! exclaimed the Expositor.

Peterson’s music is on the Royal Conservatory syllabus. For he was also a good composer, another mark of a complete musician. But what you can’t see on the pages of that music and no one can define fully for you is Peterson’s powerful drive to swing.

Says Elmes, "Playing with Oscar was like playing with a Mack truck; you really kept moving." This is the audible expression of Peterson’s will to simply be the best at whatever needed to be done, and help others do the same. What an honourable creed to live by, concluded the Expositor.

  • Oliver Jones, a pianist who grew up in the same part of Montreal as Oscar Peterson, paid tribute to him Friday as "the greatest jazz pianist in the world.” “We’ll see a lot of musicians play piano in future, but I don’t think we’ll ever see another Oscar Peterson," he said in an interview at the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto, according to CBC News Online Jan. 11.
  • "He received the Order of Canada for his outstanding accomplishments and achievements as one of the greatest ambassadors of Canadian jazz music," said a statement on Governor General Michaëlle Jean’s Web site, "and for his passionate commitment to freedom and justice," reported CanWest News Service Jan. 13.

Finding cause of flight problem will be a long, detailed process

A day after an Air Canada jet plunged thousands of metres for 15 terrifying seconds on a flight from Victoria to Toronto, there was still no concrete evidence of what caused it to temporarily lose altitude and control, reported The Canadian Press Jan. 12.

Turbulence can appear without any warning, explained an atmospheric scientist from York University. "It was relatively high for clear air turbulence," said Peter Taylor. "You get these tropospheric folds every now and then which could produce something quite dramatic. Waves in the atmosphere break, and when they break they produce quite large amplitude and quite large-scale air turbulence which can cause the sort of dramatic impact on an aircraft and you get a large loss of lift." Taylor cautioned that he was only speculating and would need to see more data to make an educated guess, but he said the folds are common though usually not that large.

  • Taylor also discussed turbulence on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today” Jan. 11. He said he is working on a network of radar stations that would make it easier to predict where turbulence will occur.

Ottawa loses marijuana fight

The federal government lost another court challenge to its controversial medical marijuana program, and now has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling that declared one of its key policies unconstitutional, reported the National Post Jan. 12. "What the federal court effectively did was assert that the government of Canada does not have a monopoly over the production and distribution of medical marijuana," said Alan Young, a York law professor and one of the lawyers that launched the court battle on behalf of 30 patients. Young and his co-counsel Ron Marzel described the court’s ruling as a "nail in the coffin" of the one-to-one ratio restriction. "In theory, patients now have a choice whether to buy from the government or whether to create the small collectives of patients that go to an experienced and knowledgeable grower," said Young.

If the government appeals or if it introduces a policy that only slightly changes the ratio, the lawyers say they will head back into court. Young said they will fight for a measure called supervisory jurisdiction, which would require Health Canada to submit progress reports to the court on the program’s operation. "I’m just trying to clean up the law and to ensure that sick people have proper, lawful access to a medicine of their choice," said Young, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. "But because of all the obstacles that have been put in that path over the last eight years, there will reach a point where it’s no longer about trying to use the courts to try and improve the program but it will be about punishing Health Canada for their incorrigibility."

Freedom rests on responsibility

While we’re increasingly unwilling to accept responsibility for our own actions, we’re quick to force our sensitivities on other people’s ideas, wrote the Times Colonist of Victoria, BC, in a Jan. 13 editorial. Four students at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School have launched a complaint against Maclean’s. They charge that an article in the magazine was offensive to Muslims. Three human rights commissions across the country, including BC’s, have agreed to hear this complaint. A plainer attack on freedom of speech would be hard to imagine. The magazine must now hire lawyers and defend itself in three separate tribunals.

Civic life requires responsibility. Hiding from it, or waiting for someone else to impose it, is self-indulgent, wrote the Times Colonist. So is turning a difference of opinion into a legal confrontation. When the complaint was filed against Maclean’s, civil libertarians who had pressed for the appointment of human rights commissions were aghast. "During the years when my colleagues and I were labouring to create such commissions, we never imagined that they might ultimately be used against freedom of speech," said Alan Borovoy, who was general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

From Ferraris to fox terriers, more own up to the benefits of sharing

Expanding the time-share concept beyond vacation homes is practically limitless, says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, reported the National Post Jan. 12. We can thank baby boomers for the proliferation of "sharing" companies, says Middleton. "Previously, when you had people who had the time and the inclination to want to do stuff like this, it was difficult to find services that provided it, simply because the market wasn’t big enough," he says. "But now you’ve got the boomers going through and they’re the generation that wants this stuff the most. They’re the generation that wants the choice, has the money and doesn’t want to be tied down."

Middleton doubts the concept will succeed with pets. "In California, maybe," he says. "But anything that involves transportation, vacations or holiday experiences is ripe for it," he says. It may even one day apply to our household gadgets. Middleton points out that many Canadians were renting TVs in the 1960s.

Betting on the house

The boom in housing prices has Canadians feeling richer. It also has many of them leveraging themselves to their eyeballs, using the value of their houses and condos to borrow on lines of credit and second mortgages, reported the National Post Jan. 12. Many financial planners will advise borrowing against the house, a non-performing asset, if the money is used to invest. "I’m a big fan of prudent investment leverage, especially when you consider the tax deduction and the long-term growth of a balanced portfolio of global stocks," says Moshe Milevsky, of the Schulich School of Business at York University.

The rise of Toronto’s hard-partying charity class

In the business world, there is a hierarchy of giving, reported The Globe and Mail Jan. 12. First, support the causes of your clients or colleagues. Then, help with workplace charity drives. Finally, pursue your own philanthropic goals. If you opt out of the first two, there may be a much higher price to pay, says lawyer Adam Givertz, a partner at Shearman Sterling and a former adjunct professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. "Your ability to succeed depends on giving to certain charities. If you don’t, you’re persona non grata," he says.

She shoots, she scores on “The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives”

Charlotte Sullivan and Amanda Brugel are co-stars in the salacious new prime time soap “MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives”, which debuted Friday on CBC, reported the Toronto Star Jan. 12.

Brugel has been in the biz for seven years. She hails from Montreal but grew up in Courtice, outside Oshawa. She started out as a dancer but grew out of it. Literally. "In heels, I’m 6 feet 1 inch," Brugel says. "When I outgrew my male partners, I stopped." She took up acting seriously when a drama teacher urged her to try out for the high school play and she got the lead in Anne of Green Gables. She got a scholarship to York University and made her film debut in 1999 in Vendetta opposite Christopher Walken.

On air

  • George Georgopoulis, an economics professor in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, discussed the drop in the American dollar, on AM640 News, CFMJ-AM, in Toronto Jan. 11.
  • Eileen Fischer, a marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed the challenges of being an entrepreneur with anchor Peter Mansbridge of CBC TV’s "The National" Jan. 11.