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":
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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...
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