Jeanne Arland Peterson, matriarch of Minnesota jazz, dies at 91

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Her two daughters escorted the frail woman to the piano at Hopkins Center for the Arts. After she sat down and put her fingers on the keys, Jeanne Arland Peterson couldn’t have seemed more at home. Her timing was impeccable, her melodies ornate and her sense of rhythm swinging.

For her swan-song performance on a cold night last December, the matriarch of Minnesota jazz was scheduled to perform two piano pieces. She ended up playing several numbers — some solo, others with her music-making children. She even jammed with her kids on a late 1970s R&B chestnut with some funky improvised piano.

Peterson — who spent 22 years in the WCCO Radio house band and three years as the Twins organist, performed with the likes of George Benson, Bob Hope and Perry Como and raised five children who are professional musicians — died Sunday evening at Castle Ridge nursing home in Eden Prairie. She was 91.

“Her heart was as big as her talent,” said Paul Peterson, her youngest child. “She was everybody’s mom. They all called her ‘Mama Jeanne.’ She was always so welcoming. In that basement at her house on Morgan Avenue, everyone from David Sanborn to Steve Miller rehearsed in that basement.”

A pianist and singer, Jeanne Arland Peterson was a force on the Minnesota scene since the 1940s. “Jeanne is one of the best pianists in the Twin Cities. She’s very underrated,” Dakota Jazz Club proprietor Lowell Pickett said in the 1990s. “I’ve heard her burn things up.” She was even playing piano in the nursing home until two weeks ago, Paul said.

In a 2006 interview with the Star Tribune, Peterson, then 85, seemed indefatigable. “My age doesn’t change,” she said. “I started [playing piano] when I was 3 and I just kept going. I feel very young.”

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