Daisy Sweeney, piano teacher to jazz greats, dies at 97
It often takes great talent in order to succeed. But sometimes that talent needs an effective coach.
Daisy Sweeney was that teacher for Montreal jazz pianist, composer and arranger Oliver Jones.
Sweeney died aged 97 on August 11.
“I went to her for theory and composition,” Jones recalled.
Sweeney’s daughter, former Olympian Sylvia Sweeney, said her mother took to classical music from very humble roots.
“She was a maid, because that was the only job a black woman could have in Montreal. She was born here in 1920,” Sylvia said.
Sweeney used some of the money she made to put herself through music school at McGill University.
It was her father, a railroad worker who was himself a piano player, who insisted that she learn to play and teach her younger siblings — including her brother, Oscar Peterson, one of Canada’s most celebrated pianists.
With her piano training, she taught the countless kids in the local black community to play.
“She would charge 25 cents a lesson, and she would have a class of 60 students,” Sylvia said.
Among her pupils over the years was Oliver Jones.
“I got caught up in listening to Oscar Peterson, and got my parents to make sure that I started to take my lessons from Daisy,” Jones said. “He was just eight years old at the time, and Sweeney remained his teacher for twelve years, until he too went to McGill.
Sweeney’s approachable nature, and her ability to bring out the best in her students, always stood out to Jones. “I was extremely, extremely shy as a youngster, but I was able to speak with her no problem,” he said.
Sweeney made such an impression on the young Jones that even when he started performing professionally, he would always call her for advice.
He said he still has music books that she gave him, even though “it’s only been 50 years!” Jones grins.
Her influence extended beyond her piano students — among her many other accomplishments, she was also the co-founder of the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir.
But her biggest legacy, says her daughter, was as a teacher who showed black kids in the 1960s that they had options for their future.
“She brought those children in Saint-Henri into a world that would not really be welcoming to them,” Sylvia notes.
That included Jones, who went on to an illustrious career in the world of jazz.
“She has done so much for so many youngsters, giving them confidence,” he said. “I’m going to miss her.”
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.