My Top Ten Jazz Pianists

If only more people listened to these great musicians, the world would be a happier place !

Art Tatum

He was almost totally blind and yet he was the most technically and harmonically gifted jazz pianist ever. Classical pianists would sometimes come and hear Art Tatum perform too. Born in 1909, his life ended tragically early in 1956, uremia being the cause of death. A dazzling right hand, remarkable chord patterns, a pianist who influenced all others after him. Some of his harmonic ideas were way ahead of their time. Fats Waller described him as God !

Erroll Garner

Another child prodigy, Erroll was just a little boy when he first performed on radio. He developed a unique rhythmic style which has often been imitated but never matched. Film clips of him show that he was a warm, engaging performer who loved to interact with the audience. He was entirely self taught and could not read music, but this didn't stop him composing some wonderful pieces such as Misty and Play, Piano Play. No one could swing quite like Erroll on up tempo numbers. He died of cancer in early 1977 aged just 55.

Fats Waller

Pianist, singer, organist, entertainer Fats Waller (1904 to 1943) was a larger than life character who helped to popularise stride piano. He had listened and been influenced by early stride pianists Willie The Lion Smith and James P Johnson. He was an an engaging and witty performer who loved to eat and drink as much as possible. He composed many jazz tunes as well often collaborating with lyricist Andy Razaf.

Oscar Peterson

Canadian pianist (1925 to 2009) who had a flawless technique thanks to full classical training and lots of hard work. Not as an engaging a performer perhaps as Garner or Waller, but a superb technique with a very bluesy sound at times. Also outstanding when in the rhythm section accompanying other jazz soloists. Was lucky enough to hear Oscar perform in London in 1984.

Teddy Wilson

An elegant, refined pianist who came to the fore during the swing era of the 1930s and 1940s and often played alongside Benny Goodman.

Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole was an outstanding pianist and yet we remember him more for his gorgeous, velvety singing of course. He started recording in trios in the late 1930s and had a lovely light touch on the piano. At a certain point in his career he concentrated more on his singing and was a huge international star. He died of cancer when only in his late 40s.

George Shearing

I had to put British-born George Shearing on here. He lost his sight when only a small boy and had an amazingly good ear for music, as was the case with Art Tatum. He developed a style where the hands could sometimes be locked close together. He composed many tunes, the most famous is Lullaby of Birdland, a theme tune for the Birdland nightclub in New York which George rattled off in a few minutes ! He was much admired by Miles Davis, who loved his light touch.George Shearing went to America after WW2 to further his career and this was a wise move which worked out well for him. He was over 90 years old when he passed way, having received a well-deserved knighthood by then.

Earl Hines

His right hand style had been influenced by the trumpet solos of the great Louis Armstrong, with whom he had played and recorded in the late 1920s. He led his own big band for a number of years and, like George Shearing, lived to a good age, about 80 in his case.

Bill Evans

Passed away aged just 50. He played in Miles Davis group for a while and can be heard on some of the great Davis recordings of the 1950s. Subtle chord harmonies in his playing. Composed songs too, for example Waltz for Debbie. He had been a clean-living, sporty young man but unfortunately he got introduced to narcotics and this had a detrimental effect on his health.

Theolonius Monk

Composer and pianist Theolonius Monk had quite a strange piano style, but it worked well in the be-bop style of the late 1940s onwards. He composed many be-bop standards such as Blue Monk and Well You Needn't.

Comments (5)

No Nina Simone?
Can't leave off Hazel Scott!
#10 Dave Grusin

#9 Bob James

#8 Ahmad Jamal

#7 McCoy Tyner

#6 Teddy Wilson

#5 Hank Jones

#4 Chick Corea

#3 Oscar Peterson

#2 Bud Powell

#1 Art Tatum

May I adding mine ?

The "Duke" Ellington (#take the A train, Satin doll..etc)
Oliver Jones (great , still a living legend !)
David Benoit (a fusion king!)
Carlos Jobim ( a Samba king !)
Bill Evans
Keith Jarret
Chic Correa ( not a fans but talented!)
Dave Brubeck
Dave Grusin (grp)
Who else ?

I like Jim Martinez too a Christian jazz pianist
I hope all jazz fans have had a lovely Christmas. I have been playing my saxophones, the tenor today and on Christmas eve, the alto on Christmas day. You are never truly alone when you have good music to play and listen to.
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by CallFromTheTall
in Music
Created: Nov 2015
Last Viewed: 8 hrs ago
Last Commented: Jun 2019

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