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July 20, 2023

Best Jazz Piano Albums of All Time

To truly understand why jazz is so influential, even to the contemporary music of today we must look at the genre's history.

The history of jazz piano is deeply intertwined with the evolution of jazz music itself. Jazz standards prevail in the many repertoires of pianists all over the world. To truly understand why jazz is so influential, even to the contemporary music of today we must look at the genre's history.

Early Roots (Late 19th to Early 20th Century): The origins of jazz piano can be traced back to the late 19th century in the African American communities of New Orleans. Pianists played a crucial role in early jazz bands, providing the harmonic foundation and contributing to the rhythm section. Prominent early jazz pianists include Jelly Roll Morton and Tony Jackson.

Stride Piano (1920s): Stride piano emerged as a popular style in the 1920s. Pianists such as James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and Willie "The Lion" Smith developed a virtuosic approach characterized by a strong left-hand stride pattern alternating between bass notes and chords, while the right hand played melodic and improvisational lines.

Swing Era (1930s-1940s): The swing era brought jazz into the mainstream, and pianists played a central role in big bands. Teddy Wilson, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington are notable figures from this period. Teddy Wilson's refined and elegant style influenced many pianists, while Count Basie's economical and bluesy playing became synonymous with the Kansas City style.

Bebop and Post-Bebop (1940s-1950s): The bebop movement revolutionized jazz, and pianists like Thelonious Monk, the amazing Bud Powell, and Art Tatum played crucial roles in its development. Bebop piano was characterized by complex harmonies, rapid tempos, intricate improvisation, and innovative use of chords and intervals. Thelonious Monk's idiosyncratic and angular approach became highly influential.

Modal Jazz and Post-Bop (1950s-1960s): Pianists such as Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock made significant contributions during this period. Bill Evans's introspective and lyrical playing, often associated with modal jazz, had a profound impact. McCoy Tyner's powerful and percussive style, showcased in his work expanded the possibilities of jazz piano.

Fusion and Contemporary Jazz (1970s onwards): Pianists like Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, and Brad Mehldau have pushed the boundaries of jazz piano in the fusion and contemporary jazz realms. Chick Corea's fusion work with Return to Forever and his eclectic playing style showcased his technical brilliance. Keith Jarrett's improvisational prowess and his ability to connect with audiences through his solo piano performances are legendary.

Jazz piano continues to evolve with new generations of pianists exploring different styles, fusing influences from various genres, and pushing the boundaries of improvisation and composition. It remains a vibrant and dynamic aspect of jazz music.

Here are nine jazz piano albums that you should listen to when learning about Jazz piano and Jazz in general.

  1. "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis (featuring Bill Evans): While not solely a piano album, Bill Evans's contributions to this classic album are remarkable. His introspective and melodic style of playing is a highlight.
  1. "Portrait in Jazz" by Bill Evans: This album showcases Bill Evans's trio with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums. Their interplay and Evans's delicate touch on the keys make this a must-listen for any jazz piano enthusiast.
  1. "Sunday at the Village Vanguard" by Bill Evans Trio: Recorded live at the Village Vanguard, this album captures the energy and creativity of Evans's trio. The improvisations and dynamic performances make it a memorable listening experience.
  1. "Maiden Voyage" by Herbie Hancock: This influential album by Herbie Hancock features his unique blend of jazz and modal influences. The title track is a masterpiece of composition and improvisation.
  1. "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" by Chick Corea: This album showcases Chick Corea's virtuosity and versatility as a pianist. The trio performances with Miroslav Vitous on bass and Roy Haynes on drums are particularly engaging.
  1. "Time Out" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet: Although known for its iconic composition "Take Five," this album also features Dave Brubeck, an exceptional piano player. His use of complex time signatures and innovative harmonies is noteworthy.
  1. "Piano Starts Here" by Art Tatum: This compilation album features some of the best recordings by the legendary Art Tatum. His technical mastery, lightning-fast runs, and inventive improvisations continue to inspire generations of pianists.
  1. "Solo Piano" by Thelonious Monk: This album showcases Thelonious Monk's unique and idiosyncratic piano style. The collection of solo performances highlights his rhythmic complexity and dissonant harmonies.
  1. "The Köln Concert" by Keith Jarrett: Live recording in 1975, this improvised piano solo performance by Keith Jarrett is a tour de force. The emotional depth and improvisational brilliance displayed in this concert make it a timeless classic.

These albums represent a range of jazz piano styles and showcase the incredible talent and creativity of these renowned pianists. Want to learn more about various musical genres, music performance, and piano?

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