A Journey Through the History of Jazz Piano

The history of

jazz piano

is a fascinating journey through the evolution of music, from its roots in ragtime to its modern-day incarnations. It began in the late 19th century with ragtime, an American musical genre that was popular for about twenty years before fading away. Ragtime was characterized by pieces for piano or marcian-rhythm bands, with a firm left hand playing the bass in the first and third bars and the chords in the second and fourth bars. Variations in this style enriched it, and it eventually gave way to jazz, which was born in the early years of the 20th century. Jazz was a union of several musical lines, one of which was crucial: the vocal tradition of the plantations, the songs, the spiritual themes and the blues.

The 12-bar blues fueled the foundations of the tough boogie woogie piano style. Other key elements that made jazz go from being a peculiar local hybrid to becoming a global trend were brass bands, classical music adapted from the French-educated Creole population of New Orleans and ragtime piano. This syncopated or irregular rhythm of the melody of the right hand was between the constant pulse of the left and not above it, creating what Scott Joplin, the king of ragtime, described as strange and intoxicating. Nat King Cole is known as a very talented and swing pianist, as well as for being a commercially successful but very sensitive singer. While his elegant voice is remembered by many music fans, his early piano trio sessions (with piano, bass and guitar) had a lasting impact on artists like Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal.

Throughout a career that has spanned more than 6 decades, American jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal has not only recorded some of the most beloved piano trio albums in jazz history, but he is also credited with influencing many other legends. Fats Waller is credited with laying some of the most important foundations of modern jazz piano. Born in 1904, he was followed by Lou Williams who began her career in 1922 at the age of 9 and was one of the first great female success stories in jazz and one of only three women to appear in Art Kane's iconic photograph, A Great Day in Harlem. Jazz has always had a mix of different cultural influences, since its inception in the melting pot of cultures in New Orleans in the early 20th century. Errol Garner was born in 1921 and was known for his strong piano playing, which grew out of the initial stride style but quickly became something much more unique. His octaves with the right hand, chords and vocals in block and interpretation behind the rhythm were distinctive marks of his style.

At just 10 years old he was apparently able to imitate stride pianists such as Art Tatum and Fats Waller, and Thelonious Monk was one of his first mentors who helped foster his talent. Hancock was just 24 years old when he recorded this 1965 classic. Dave Brubeck is another great pioneer of cool jazz who was born in 1920 in California. Oscar Peterson conducted a trio in the style of Nat King Cole with Herb Ellis on guitar and Ray Brown on bass, but later replaced the guitar with Ed Thigpen on drums. Tatum would lead a trio in his last years with Tiny Grimes on guitar and Slam Stewart on bass. Thelonious Monk's third solo piano album includes originals and standards, showing that despite its modernism his playing was deeply related to stride pianists from 1920s and 1930s.

These parties became very popular after World War II and gave way to occupying a respected place in jazz history. Many professional musicians are very talented but only few achieve true greatness like Keith Jarrett who is considered one of most original and prolific jazz musicians of late 20th century. Chick Corea is another prolific composer from second half of 20th century who is known for his comping (a way of playing chords to support soloist). Thelonious Monk is not only most cerebral pianist but also best composer from Bebop era. He became world-renowned jazz pianist and national hero in France. Cool jazz represented stage where jazz music joined general trend towards sound sculpture which was quintessence of twentieth-century Western music.

Alice Coltrane is also known as harpist and organist but her contribution to free jazz, piano and experimental cosmic sounds have demonstrated her legacy. The Bad Plus by Canadian pianist Ethan Iverson performs challenging originals while Swedish trio EST led by Esbjorn Svensson fuses classical jazz with pop and rock. Cool jazz was particularly popular among white musicians probably because it downplayed African roots. Wynton Kelly may always be known as pianist from best jazz album ever but his performance with touches of blues both as sidekick or bandleader adorns history books. The outstanding classical and jazz pianist Keith Jarrett is considered one of most original and prolific jazz musicians while Chick Corea is one most prolific composers from second half 20th century. Thelonious Monk not only most cerebral pianist but also best composer from Bebop era while Alice Coltrane contributed to free jazz, piano and experimental cosmic sounds demonstrating her legacy.