In jazz pianists, the piano plays an important role because it can either take the lead or lay the foundation for a brilliant singer.
From bebop music to avant-garde and beyond, the jazz piano was essential in creating many of the unique genres that we now identify as jazz.
The greatest jazz pianists of all time are included below; they have all greatly influenced jazz music.
We hope that this article will be a useful resource for you to learn more about these exceptional and significant jazz artists.
What characteristics set a great jazz pianist apart?
A skilled jazz pianist has flexible rhythms, good improvisational skills, and the right extras on top.
How can I improvise as a jazz pianist?
Jazz pianists use a range of techniques to improvise. In order to improve the musical arrangement, jazz improvisation involves playing freely and redefining motives, phrases, and statements. There is a widespread misunderstanding about improvisation that it was created on the spot, but jazz musicians were actually quite skilled at creating complex themes and variations.
Jazz or classical music: which is more complex?
It is equivalent overall. Jazz and classical music tend to have more developed rhythmic and melodic elements, depending on the style and work (in both genres) that you discuss. On the other hand, classical music has a more developed form.
What Function Does a Jazz Pianist Serve?
As is the case with most jazz performed on the piano, there aren’t many clear roles. It could include combining forces with the bassist and drummer to offer a solid framework for additional soloists. Alternatively, they could be taking the role of leader.
You will discover, however, that they are essential to jazz. By playing what and how they play, they may characterize the diversity of styles. They have positioned themselves at the vanguard of jazz growth, influencing styles such as ragtime, swing, bebop, avant-garde, and more.
Tristano Lennie (1919–1978)
The significance of this blind pianist from Chicago who performed with Charlie Parker in the late 1940s and later established himself as an unique performer with a distinct sound and style is a subject of debate. Undoubtedly, Tristano was a persistent leader whose unique approach to harmony and melody foreshadowed the emergence of free jazz. In the early 1950s, he also experimented in multi-tracking recording, which was looked down upon by most jazz performers, by overdubbing spontaneous piano passages. In addition to being a well-known jazz instructor, Tristano is said to have had an impact on Miles Davis (on Birth Of The Cool), Dave Brubeck, and Gerry Mulligan.
Kirkland, Kenny (1954-1998)
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Kirkland enjoyed a successful relationship with Wynton and Branford Marsalis during the 1980s and 90s, contributing as a sideman on several of their records. Kirkland also performed on five albums by former Police vocalist Sting in the 1980s, and he also shared the stage with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, the trumpeter, and Elvin Jones, the drummer. Only one solo album, 1991’s Kenny Kirkland, for GRP, is included in his own catalog; nevertheless, it’s possible that Kirkland might have released many more solo albums if he hadn’t passed away from congestive heart failure in 1995 at the age of 43.
Dave Grusin (born 1934)
Among the greatest jazz pianists, Grusin is unique in that he founded the accessible R&B-influenced genre of instrumental music known as smooth jazz. In 1978, he also launched his own record label, GRP. Grusin, a Colorado native, broke into the television music scene in the 1960s, when he composed themes for several US TV series. He also started putting out piano-led albums under his own name. Grusin went on to become a very busy movie score composer (he wrote the soundtracks for On Golden Pond and The Fabulous Baker Boys, for example), and he also put out a number of keyboard-heavy studio albums.
Pearson, Duke (1932–1980)
Columbus Calvin Pearson was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and after moving to New York City in 1959, Pearson’s career really took off. In that year, he made his first album for Blue Note, and the renowned label signed him as one of the finest pianists. He had a lengthy relationship with Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff’s group and recorded his own songs in addition to serving as an internal arranger and A&R representative. Pearson was a skilled and adaptable pianist, with a preference for soul jazz on his own recordings.
Elmo Hope, 1918 – 1967
In the 1950s, New Yorker Hope (full name St Elmo Sylvester Hope) was a bebop pianist with a brilliant tone, dynamic touch, and an affinity for dissonance, much like Thelonious Monk. He was a sideman for notable saxophonists including Lou Donaldson, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, and Harold Land. In the 1950s, he recorded for Pacific Jazz, Prestige, and Blue Note. Sadly, his drug addiction ruined his life and caused him to pass away too soon at the age of 43.
Lewis, John (1920–2001)
Lewis was a well-known performer whose sparkling, rapid piano approach was influenced by Count Basie and saxophonist Lester Young. He was one of the founding members of The Modern Jazz Quartet, an unique group that combined bebop with classical music aesthetics. He was a sideman for Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker before joining the MJQ. Lewis recorded many albums under his own name outside of his band, the first one being released in 1955.
Drew Kenny (1928–1993)
Drew was a highly regarded bebop pianist and composer who was born in New York City. He served as a sideman for Buddy DeFranco, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker during his musical apprenticeship. Drew also enjoyed a fruitful and long-lasting friendship with tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, with whom he lived in Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s. Before his passing in 1953, Drew recorded often on several companies, releasing his debut solo album. After passing away, he was buried in Copenhagen.
(1931–2007) Andrew Hill
Hill, who is from Chicago, used to play the accordion on the streets for spare coin as a young lad. In the 1950s, Hill mostly performed as a sideman. However, upon his relocation to New York in 1963, he started a lengthy collaboration with Blue Note Records that produced 16 albums. Hill developed his own unique and sophisticated style as a pianist and composer, despite drawing inspiration from artists such as Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. His compositions tended to be angular and chromatic, pushing the envelope yet being grounded in jazz history.
Born in 1970, Brad Mehldau
Mehldau, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, is without a doubt one of the most influential pianists in modern pianists. Despite having a wider range of influences than many of the greatest jazz pianists—from pop, rock, folk, and classical music to bebop, country, and even electronic music—he has distilled them all into a distinct style that is influenced by the mesmerizing virtuosity of Keith Jarrett and the lyricism of Bill Evans. Mehldau’s enduring piano trio has also consistently created new waves with their varied repertory and almost telepathic group creativity.
Cecil Taylor, 1909-present
This New Yorker was a key figure in the avant-garde movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, not only as a pianist and composer but also as a poet. Not for the timid, Taylor’s upbeat approach sometimes employs startling cluster chords and a thick, polyrhythmic complexity, making it ferociously atonal. 1956 saw the publication of his debut LP, and from then until 2009, he recorded often for several labels.
The Conclusion of the Greatest Jazz Pianists of All Time
Naturally, this list of the top jazz pianists is not all-inclusive. On the other hand, it lets you witness the variety of musicians that make up the jazz community. Since its inception, jazz has been a genre that is always changing and welcoming to new, gifted pianists.
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