Celebrating a Jazz Legend Through the Love of Basketball

Oscar Peterson Classic Aims to Help Underprivileged Youth in Little Burgundy

  • The first edition of the Oscar Peterson Classic kicked off last weekend in Little Burgundy. Photo Justin Pugliese

Years after his death, the Oscar Peterson Classic tournament has been bringing communities together with basketball, food and music, all while keeping the memory of the famed Canadian jazz artist alive.

Peterson, an eight-time Grammy winning jazz pianist, passed away in 2007 from kidney failure. Two years later, Campbell Park, in Little Burgundy where Peterson was raised, was renamed Oscar Peterson park in his name.

This year, nearly ten years after the renaming of the park, the first inaugural Oscar Peterson Classic tournament was held as a two-day event on Aug. 10 and 11 in Oscar Peterson Park.

Oscar Peterson’s influence in the city of Montreal has been remembered through the renaming of not only Campbell Park, but also Concordia’s music hall, renamed Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, in 1999. To further honour the jazz great, the Oscar Peterson Classic is held the weekend before his birthday, which falls on Aug. 15.

The tournament was a collaboration of many Montreal organizations; Thug Mansion Family (a neighbourhood organizing group), WRG, (a St-Henri based marketing agency), James Lyng High School, Better Than Yesterday (a youth development program), La Rue Inspire (a community non-profit), and Montreal Classic Hoops (a non-profit organization and promoter).

“The main goal of the tournament is to bring communities together,” said Leslie Woods of WRG, a production partner of the tournament.

The tournament featured two different divisions, mens and boys, totalling 14 teams.

The most valuable player from each team would receive a hat from one of the tournament sponsors, Exclucity.The tournament brought people from different communities in Montreal together as a whole.

“We wanted to show that we can bring different communities together,” said Woods. “We have teams from Lasalle and we also have teams from the East-End, it’s really about bringing Montreal together.”

The proceeds from the tournament registration fees will go towards a bursary that will be given to underprivileged youth.

“We will be offering a scholarship with some of the proceeds raised here,” said Mikaella Goldsmith, a community development agent from James Lyng High School. Some of the participants in the tournament can relate to not having the means to play sports or go to school.

“Growing up in Little Burgundy there are a lot of kids that can’t play certain sports because you can’t afford the fees, we want to be able to help kids in those situations to be able to play the sports that they want to play,” said Nate Husser of Thug Mansion Family.

The sponsors along with the organizers, thought basketball was the best way to get the community together, while also paying homage to the jazz legend.

“The idea really was to unite communities using the love of basketball,’’ said Goldsmith.

Oscar Peterson Park is a special meeting ground for many residents of Little Burgundy and basketball is a low cost sport that has the power to unite people.

”Wherever you grew up, in [Little Burgundy] the court was special,” said David Joseph of Team Yamajo. “It was where everyone reunited even if it wasn’t to play basketball, it was just a place to chill and talk.”

Music was provided for the tournament by local artists, Thug Mansion Family and DJ Blaster. Food was available on site for a low price, including plates of chicken and rice for just five dollars, and other snack foods for just one dollar.

Team Frederick’s Movers emerged the winner of the men’s division, while The Leaders took the under 16 title.

There is hopes in the future to have the tournament expanded, adding more age groups and categories, according to Farid Charles, a tournament organizer. A number of women participated in the tournament as well, and The Oscar Peterson Classic has hopes of creating a women’s division for future editions of the tournament.

“There are a lot of female basketball players out here that would like to get involved too, so there is always room to grow,” said Charles.

The unity displayed by the host of organizers and collaborators in bringing together the community while celebrating the life one of of Montreal’s most famous jazz musicians days before his birthday is a prime example of how not only Little Burgundy but Montreal as a whole is able to come together in support of a good cause.

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