10 great jazz pianists for beginning jazz musicians to listen to

If you’re new to the world of jazz, it can be difficult to know where to start listening.  Everybody you ask will recommend a different favorite pianist and the sheer variety of jazz styles can be overwhelming at first.

With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 10 great jazz pianists for beginning jazz musicians to listen to.  This is not an inclusive list, and jazz fans will notice that Art Tatum, perhaps the greatest pianist of all time, is omitted.

I’ve chosen pianists that represent particular styles of jazz, so that you can quickly identify which types of jazz you like best, and then delve more deeply into those styles.  It’s just to get you started.  Later on your tastes may change or develop in different directions. I’ve kept the list to straight-ahead jazz pianists. After you’re picked a few pianists whose music you particularly enjoy, read my blog post on “immersion through listening”:

How To Play Jazz Piano (Part 1): Immersion Through Listening

All links below are current at the time of this writing, and the pianists are listed in (roughly) chronological order.  Have fun checking out these amazing pianists!

1. Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton was a very early New Orleans pianist who was also the first major jazz composer to write down his compositions extensively. His playing represents many of the roots of jazz, including the blues, marching band, and latin influences. If you like his music, take a listen to trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings.

Jelly Roll Morton: Shreveport Stomp

2. Fats Waller

Fats Waller’s music is simply joyful!  In addition to influencing a whole generation of stride pianists, he was an all-around entertainer who sang and wrote some very humorous songs. If you enjoy this style of stride piano, then also check out James P. Johnson, Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum.

Fats Waller: Handful of Keys

3. Meade Lux Lewis

Meade Lux Lewis played a blues-based style called “boogie woogie.” It was very popular during the Swing era of the 1930’s and also influenced early rock and roll players such as Johnnie Johnson.

Meade Lux Lewis: Untitled Boogie Woogie

4. Bud Powell

Bud Powell was the pinnacle of bebop pianists. Everybody who plays modern jazz piano is either influenced by him or one by someone else who studied his playing.  If you want to learn more abut bebop, listen to saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Pianist Thelonious Monk was another great creator of the bebop style, although he chose to go in a unique stylistic direction.

Bud Powell: Tempus Fugit

5. Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson had a tremendous pianistic technique and incorporated many different jazz styles in his playing, from stride and the blues to bebop. Countless pianists have cited his playing as an influence on them, particularly when they were first learning to play jazz.

Oscar Peterson: C Jam Blues

6. Wynton Kelly

Wynton Kelly is one of the definitive “post-bop” jazz pianists. His clear, bluesy style is considered a great example of jazz rhythm at it’s best.

Wynton Kelly: Pot Luck

7. Bill Evans

Bill Evans developed a beautiful, personal style of playing that has been hugely influential in modern jazz. His melodic lines unfold with impeccable logic and his delicate touch is very expressive.

Bill Evans: Waltz For Debby

8. McCoy Tyner

McCoy Tyner played in saxophonist John Coltrane’s quartet during the 1960’s. His bold, energetic playing influenced many jazz players during the 1960’s and 70’s.

McCoy Tyner: Afro Blue

9. Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock came to fame in trumpeter Miles Davis’ famed 1960’s quintet and plays just about every style of music, including straight-ahead jazz, fusion, funk, rock and occasional forays into older jazz styles. If you like his playing, also cha

Herbie Hancock: Cantaloupe Island

10. Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett’s most unique contribution to jazz may perhaps be his improvised solo concerts. His trio playing, which this video is an example of, is more of an example of how a pianist can create a highly personal expression within the mainstream jazz tradition.  His playing is a favorite of very many musicians, including myself.  If you like this video, be sure to check out his solo playing also.

Keith Jarrett: Bye Bye Blackbird

Well, there you have it… 10 great jazz pianists.  Remember that this list is just to get you started.  There are many, many more wonderful jazz pianists out there for you to explore, study, and enjoy, including… Willie “The Lion” Smith, Mary Lou Williams, Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing, Horace Silver, Jaki Byard, Marian McPartland, Billy Taylor, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Ramsey Lewis, Sonny Clark, Randy Weston, Nat King Cole, etc, etc…

You might also like:
A Fresh Listen To Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert
Evolution of Blues Piano
Playing Jazz Calypsos: To Bop or Not To Bop?

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4 thoughts on “10 great jazz pianists for beginning jazz musicians to listen to”

  1. Another list by another insider who evidently buys the bulls..t
    promulgated by the self-styled experts who continue to ignore Erroll Garner? Focusing on Erroll’:s most easily imitated bits like his ornate introdutions, they totally ignore his one of a kind ability to organize on the spot perfectly smooth and logical improvisations
    Try playing a few of Garner’s solos.
    I’m betting it will take you a month of Sundays to even make it to the bridge.

    • Thanks Joseph, he’s one of my favorites! (And apparently one of Keith Jarrett’s fav’s too.) Yeah, I agree that Garner’s overlooked, along with Earl Hines. I think it’s because they can’t be fit into any “box.”


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