Dionne Warwick tells TIFF about meeting the late Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson

·3 min read

TORONTO — Legendary singer Dionne Warwick says she never got to work with the late Canadian jazz musician Oscar Peterson but knew him and thought he was a "magnificent pianist."

Both artists are featured at the Toronto International Film Festival in separate documentaries — "Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over" and "Oscar Peterson: Black + White."

Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner directed Warwick's film, which looks at her six-decade career of hits including "Walk On By," "I Say a Little Prayer" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose."

The film also explores the 80-year-old performer's activist work for the Black and LGBTQ communities.

Canadian filmmaker Barry Avrich directed "Oscar Peterson: Black + White," about the seven-time Grammy Award-winning virtuoso, who grew up in Montreal and collaborated with jazz greats around the world.

Warwick says Peterson, who died in 2007 at the age of 82, "was such a wonderful man" and she wishes she got to collaborate with him.

"It would have been my honour to work with that magnificent pianist," Warwick, who also has jazz and gospel roots like Peterson did, said Sunday at a virtual press conference for TIFF.

"I met Oscar Peterson in England many, many, many, many years ago and happened to be fortunate enough to go to a concert that he was playing. He was just one of the most gentle men that I had met in many, many years.

"It's unfortunate that we don't have him around now to give us all that beautiful music that he played."

As the Warwick documentary shows, the New Jersey-raised vocalist raised millions of dollars for AIDS research through her 1985 version of "That's What Friends Are For," sung with Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John.

She said she grew passionate about the cause after seeing how the epidemic affected people within her industry. She also longed to dispel the "misconception that it was a gay, white male disease."

Wonder, John and Knight are among many musical luminaries to speak in the doc.

"It brought back many, many memories, and also I'm looking at people I haven't seen in ages," Warwick said of watching Saturday's world premiere in person at TIFF.

"It's like, 'There's so and so! I remember that.' So it was wonderful to be able to remember. It's been an incredible journey and it's still going on."

The in-person and digital Toronto film festival runs through Sept. 18, the same day as the broadcast of the TIFF Tribute Awards on CTV, which will honour Warwick and several others.

The consummate entertainer seemed to have a grand time at TIFF over the weekend, making audiences laugh with funny stories at an in-person press conference for the Tribute Award honourees. She also took over the festival's official Twitter account with amusing posts.

Warwick, who has become a social media sensation with hilarious posts on Twitter, was asked in Sunday's virtual press conference what makes a legend.

"People make a legend," she said. "That is not something that I do.... People, generally, they're the ones who designate who and what is and will be a legend."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2021.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

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