what was the real first name of the jazz perf

what was the real first name of the jazz perf
what was the real first name of the jazz perf

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with its roots in blues and ragtime.[1][2][3] Since the 1920s Jazz Age, it has been recognized as a major form of musical expression in traditional and popular music, linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage.[4] Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, complex chords, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions.[5][6]

As jazz spread around the world, it drew on national, regional, and local musical cultures, which gave rise to different styles. New Orleans jazz began in the early 1910s, combining earlier brass-band marches, French quadrilles, biguine, ragtime and blues with collective polyphonic improvisation. In the 1930s, heavily arranged dance-oriented swing big bands, Kansas City jazz, a hard-swinging, bluesy, improvisational style and gypsy jazz (a style that emphasized musette waltzes) were the prominent styles. Bebop emerged in the 1940s, shifting jazz from danceable popular music toward a more challenging “musician’s music” which was played at faster tempos and used more chord-based improvisation. Cool jazz developed near the end of the 1940s, introducing calmer, smoother sounds and long, linear melodic lines.

The mid-1950s saw the emergence of hard bop, which introduced influences from rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues, especially in the saxophone and piano playing. Modal jazz developed in the late 1950s, using the mode, or musical scale, as the basis of musical structure and improvisation, as did free jazz, which explored playing without regular meter, beat and formal structures. Jazz-rock fusion appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s, combining jazz improvisation with rock music’s rhythms, electric instruments, and highly amplified stage sound. In the early 1980s, a commercial form of jazz fusion called smooth jazz became successful, garnering significant radio airplay. Other styles and genres abound in the 2000s, such as Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz.

The origin of the word jazz has resulted in considerable research, and its history is well documented. It is believed to be related to jasm, a slang term dating back to 1860 meaning “pep, energy”.[7] The earliest written record of the word is in a 1912 article in the Los Angeles Times in which a minor league baseball pitcher described a pitch which he called a “jazz ball” “because it wobbles and you simply can’t do anything with it”.[7]

what was the real first name of the jazz perf

The use of the word in a musical context was documented as early as 1915 in the Chicago Daily Tribune.[8] Its first documented use in a musical context in New Orleans was in a November 14, 1916, Times-Picayune article about “jas bands”.[9] In an interview with National Public Radio, musician Eubie Blake offered his recollections of the slang connotations of the term, saying: “When Broadway picked it up, they called it ‘J-A-Z-Z’. It wasn’t called that. It was spelled ‘J-A-S-S’. That was dirty, and if you knew what it was, you wouldn’t say it in front of ladies.”[10] The American Dialect Society named it the Word of the 20th Century.[11]

Jazz is difficult to define because it encompasses a wide range of music spanning a period of over 100 years, from ragtime to the rock-infused fusion. Attempts have been made to define jazz from the perspective of other musical traditions, such as European music history or African music. But critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt argues that its terms of reference and its definition should be broader,[12] defining jazz as a “form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of the Negro with European music”[13] and arguing that it differs from European music in that jazz has a “special relationship to time defined as ‘swing'”. Jazz involves “a spontaneity and vitality of musical production in which improvisation plays a role” and contains a “sonority and manner of phrasing which mirror the individuality of the performing jazz musician”.[12] In the opinion of Robert Christgau, “most of us would say that inventing meaning while letting loose is the essence and promise of jazz”.[14]

A broader definition that encompasses different eras of jazz has been proposed by Travis Jackson: “it is music that includes qualities such as swing, improvising, group interaction, developing an ‘individual voice’, and being open to different musical possibilities”.[15] Krin Gibbard argued that “jazz is a construct” which designates “a number of musics with enough in common to be understood as part of a coherent tradition”.[16] In contrast to commentators who have argued for excluding types of jazz, musicians are sometimes reluctant to define the music they play. Duke Ellington, one of jazz’s most famous figures, said, “It’s all music.”[17]

Although jazz is considered difficult to define, in part because it contains many subgenres, improvisation is one of its defining elements. The centrality of improvisation is attributed to the influence of earlier forms of music such as blues, a form of folk music which arose in part from the work songs and field hollers of African-American slaves on plantations. These work songs were commonly structured around a repetitive call-and-response pattern, but early blues was also improvisational. Classical music performance is evaluated more by its fidelity to the musical score, with less attention given to interpretation, ornamentation, and accompaniment. The classical performer’s goal is to play the composition as it was written. In contrast, jazz is often characterized by the product of interaction and collaboration, placing less value on the contribution of the composer, if there is one, and more on the performer.[18] The jazz performer interprets a tune in individual ways, never playing the same composition twice. Depending on the performer’s mood, experience, and interaction with band members or audience members, the performer may change melodies, harmonies, and time signatures.[19]

In early Dixieland, a.k.a. New Orleans jazz, performers took turns playing melodies and improvising countermelodies. In the swing era of the 1920s–’40s, big bands relied more on arrangements which were written or learned by ear and memorized. Soloists improvised within these arrangements. In the bebop era of the 1940s, big bands gave way to small groups and minimal arrangements in which the melody was stated briefly at the beginning and most of the piece was improvised. Modal jazz abandoned chord progressions to allow musicians to improvise even more. In many forms of jazz, a soloist is supported by a rhythm section of one or more chordal instruments (piano, guitar), double bass, and drums. The rhythm section plays chords and rhythms that outline the composition structure and complement the soloist.[20] In avant-garde and free jazz, the separation of soloist and band is reduced, and there is license, or even a requirement, for the abandoning of chords, scales, and meters.

Since the emergence of bebop, forms of jazz that are commercially oriented or influenced by popular music have been criticized. According to Bruce Johnson, there has always been a “tension between jazz as a commercial music and an art form”.[15] Regarding the Dixieland jazz revival of the 1940s, black musicians rejected it as being shallow nostalgia entertainment for white audiences.[21][22] On the other hand, traditional jazz enthusiasts have dismissed bebop, free jazz, and jazz fusion as forms of debasement and betrayal. An alternative view is that jazz can absorb and transform diverse musical styles.[23] By avoiding the creation of norms, jazz allows avant-garde styles to emerge.[15]

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  • For some African Americans, jazz has drawn attention to African-American contributions to culture and history. For others, jazz is a reminder of “an oppressive and racist society and restrictions on their artistic visions”.[24] Amiri Baraka argues that there is a “white jazz” genre that expresses whiteness.[25] White jazz musicians appeared in the midwest and in other areas throughout the U.S. Papa Jack Laine, who ran the Reliance band in New Orleans in the 1910s, was called “the father of white jazz”.[26] The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, whose members were white, were the first jazz group to record, and Bix Beiderbecke was one of the most prominent jazz soloists of the 1920s.[27] The Chicago Style was developed by white musicians such as Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland, and Dave Tough. Others from Chicago such as Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa became leading members of swing during the 1930s.[28] Many bands included both black and white musicians. These musicians helped change attitudes toward race in the U.S.[29]

    Female jazz performers and composers have contributed to jazz throughout its history. Although Betty Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Adelaide Hall, Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington, and Ethel Waters were recognized for their vocal talent, less familiar were bandleaders, composers, and instrumentalists such as pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, trumpeter Valaida Snow, and songwriters Irene Higginbotham and Dorothy Fields. Women began playing instruments in jazz in the early 1920s, drawing particular recognition on piano.[30]

    When male jazz musicians were drafted during World War II, many all-female bands replaced them.[30] The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, which was founded in 1937, was a popular band that became the first all-female integrated band in the U.S. and the first to travel with the USO, touring Europe in 1945. Women were members of the big bands of Woody Herman and Gerald Wilson. Beginning in the 1950s, many women jazz instrumentalists were prominent, some sustaining long careers. Some of the most distinctive improvisers, composers, and bandleaders in jazz have been women.[31] Trombonist Melba Liston is acknowledged as the first female horn player to work in major bands and to make a real impact on jazz, not only as a musician but also as a respected composer and arranger, particularly through her collaborations with Randy Weston from the late 1950s into the 1990s.[32][33]

    Jewish Americans played a significant role in jazz. As jazz spread, it developed to encompass many different cultures, and the work of Jewish composers in Tin Pan Alley helped shape the many different sounds that jazz came to incorporate.[34]

    Jewish Americans were able to thrive in Jazz because of the probationary whiteness that they were allotted at the time.[35] George Bornstein wrote that African Americans were sympathetic to the plight of the Jewish American and vice versa. As disenfranchised minorities themselves, Jewish composers of popular music saw themselves as natural allies with African-Americans.[36]

    The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson is one example of how Jewish Americans were able to bring jazz, music that African Americans developed, and into popular culture. [37] Benny Goodman was a vital Jewish American to the progression of Jazz. Goodman was the leader of a racially integrated band named King of Swing. His jazz concert in the Carnegie Hall in 1938 was the first ever to be played there. The concert was described by Bruce Eder as “the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history”.[38]

    Jazz originated in the late-19th to early-20th century as interpretations of American and European classical music entwined with African and slave folk songs and the influences of West African culture.[39] Its composition and style have changed many times throughout the years with each performer’s personal interpretation and improvisation, which is also one of the greatest appeals of the genre.[40]

    By the 18th century, slaves in the New Orleans area gathered socially at a special market, in an area which later became known as Congo Square, famous for its African dances.[41]

    By 1866, the Atlantic slave trade had brought nearly 400,000 Africans to North America.[42] The slaves came largely from West Africa and the greater Congo River basin and brought strong musical traditions with them.[43] The African traditions primarily use a single-line melody and call-and-response pattern, and the rhythms have a counter-metric structure and reflect African speech patterns.[44]

    An 1885 account says that they were making strange music (Creole) on an equally strange variety of ‘instruments’—washboards, washtubs, jugs, boxes beaten with sticks or bones and a drum made by stretching skin over a flour-barrel.[3][45]

    Lavish festivals with African-based dances to drums were organized on Sundays at Place Congo, or Congo Square, in New Orleans until 1843.[46] There are historical accounts of other music and dance gatherings elsewhere in the southern United States. Robert Palmer said of percussive slave music:

    Usually such music was associated with annual festivals, when the year’s crop was harvested and several days were set aside for celebration. As late as 1861, a traveler in North Carolina saw dancers dressed in costumes that included horned headdresses and cow tails and heard music provided by a sheepskin-covered “gumbo box”, apparently a frame drum; triangles and jawbones furnished the auxiliary percussion. There are quite a few [accounts] from the southeastern states and Louisiana dating from the period 1820–1850. Some of the earliest [Mississippi] Delta settlers came from the vicinity of New Orleans, where drumming was never actively discouraged for very long and homemade drums were used to accompany public dancing until the outbreak of the Civil War.[47]

    Another influence came from the harmonic style of hymns of the church, which black slaves had learned and incorporated into their own music as spirituals.[48] The origins of the blues are undocumented, though they can be seen as the secular counterpart of the spirituals. However, as Gerhard Kubik points out, whereas the spirituals are homophonic, rural blues and early jazz “was largely based on concepts of heterophony”.[49]

    During the early 19th century an increasing number of black musicians learned to play European instruments, particularly the violin, which they used to parody European dance music in their own cakewalk dances. In turn, European-American minstrel show performers in blackface popularized the music internationally, combining syncopation with European harmonic accompaniment. In the mid-1800s the white New Orleans composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk adapted slave rhythms and melodies from Cuba and other Caribbean islands into piano salon music. New Orleans was the main nexus between the Afro-Caribbean and African-American cultures.

    The Black Codes outlawed drumming by slaves, which meant that African drumming traditions were not preserved in North America, unlike in Cuba, Haiti, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. African-based rhythmic patterns were retained in the United States in large part through “body rhythms” such as stomping, clapping, and patting juba dancing.[50]

    In the opinion of jazz historian Ernest Borneman, what preceded New Orleans jazz before 1890 was “Afro-Latin music”, similar to what was played in the Caribbean at the time.[51] A three-stroke pattern known in Cuban music as tresillo is a fundamental rhythmic figure heard in many different slave musics of the Caribbean, as well as the Afro-Caribbean folk dances performed in New Orleans Congo Square and Gottschalk’s compositions (for example “Souvenirs From Havana” (1859)). Tresillo (shown below) is the most basic and most prevalent duple-pulse rhythmic cell in sub-Saharan African music traditions and the music of the African Diaspora.[52][53]

    Tresillo is heard prominently in New Orleans second line music and in other forms of popular music from that city from the turn of the 20th century to present.[54] “By and large the simpler African rhythmic patterns survived in jazz … because they could be adapted more readily to European rhythmic conceptions,” jazz historian Gunther Schuller observed. “Some survived, others were discarded as the Europeanization progressed.”[55]

    In the post-Civil War period (after 1865), African Americans were able to obtain surplus military bass drums, snare drums and fifes, and an original African-American drum and fife music emerged, featuring tresillo and related syncopated rhythmic figures.[56] This was a drumming tradition that was distinct from its Caribbean counterparts, expressing a uniquely African-American sensibility. “The snare and bass drummers played syncopated cross-rhythms,” observed the writer Robert Palmer, speculating that “this tradition must have dated back to the latter half of the nineteenth century, and it could have not have developed in the first place if there hadn’t been a reservoir of polyrhythmic sophistication in the culture it nurtured.”[50]

    African-American music began incorporating Afro-Cuban rhythmic motifs in the 19th century when the habanera (Cuban contradanza) gained international popularity.[57] Musicians from Havana and New Orleans would take the twice-daily ferry between both cities to perform, and the habanera quickly took root in the musically fertile Crescent City. John Storm Roberts states that the musical genre habanera “reached the U.S. twenty years before the first rag was published.”[58] For the more than quarter-century in which the cakewalk, ragtime, and proto-jazz were forming and developing, the habanera was a consistent part of African-American popular music.[58]

    Habaneras were widely available as sheet music and were the first written music which was rhythmically based on an African motif (1803).[59] From the perspective of African-American music, the “habanera rhythm” (also known as “congo”),[59] “tango-congo”,[60] or tango.[61] can be thought of as a combination of tresillo and the backbeat.[62] The habanera was the first of many Cuban music genres which enjoyed periods of popularity in the United States and reinforced and inspired the use of tresillo-based rhythms in African-American music.

    New Orleans native Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s piano piece “Ojos Criollos (Danse Cubaine)” (1860) was influenced by the composer’s studies in Cuba: the habanera rhythm is clearly heard in the left hand.[52]: 125  In Gottschalk’s symphonic work “A Night in the Tropics” (1859), the tresillo variant cinquillo appears extensively.[63] The figure was later used by Scott Joplin and other ragtime composers.

    Comparing the music of New Orleans with the music of Cuba, Wynton Marsalis observes that tresillo is the New Orleans “clavé”, a Spanish word meaning “code” or “key”, as in the key to a puzzle, or mystery.[64] Although the pattern is only half a clave, Marsalis makes the point that the single-celled figure is the guide-pattern of New Orleans music. Jelly Roll Morton called the rhythmic figure the Spanish tinge and considered it an essential ingredient of jazz.[65]

    The abolition of slavery in 1865 led to new opportunities for the education of freed African Americans. Although strict segregation limited employment opportunities for most blacks, many were able to find work in entertainment. Black musicians were able to provide entertainment in dances, minstrel shows, and in vaudeville, during which time many marching bands were formed. Black pianists played in bars, clubs, and brothels, as ragtime developed.[66][67]

    Ragtime appeared as sheet music, popularized by African-American musicians such as the entertainer Ernest Hogan, whose hit songs appeared in 1895. Two years later, Vess Ossman recorded a medley of these songs as a banjo solo known as “Rag Time Medley”.[68][69] Also in 1897, the white composer William Krell published his “Mississippi Rag” as the first written piano instrumental ragtime piece, and Tom Turpin published his “Harlem Rag”, the first rag published by an African-American.

    Classically trained pianist Scott Joplin produced his “Original Rags” in 1898 and, in 1899, had an international hit with “Maple Leaf Rag”, a multi-strain ragtime march with four parts that feature recurring themes and a bass line with copious seventh chords. Its structure was the basis for many other rags, and the syncopations in the right hand, especially in the transition between the first and second strain, were novel at the time.[70] The last four measures of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” (1899) are shown below.

    African-based rhythmic patterns such as tresillo and its variants, the habanera rhythm and cinquillo, are heard in the ragtime compositions of Joplin and Turpin. Joplin’s “Solace” (1909) is generally considered to be in the habanera genre:[71][72] both of the pianist’s hands play in a syncopated fashion, completely abandoning any sense of a march rhythm. Ned Sublette postulates that the tresillo/habanera rhythm “found its way into ragtime and the cakewalk,”[73] whilst Roberts suggests that “the habanera influence may have been part of what freed black music from ragtime’s European bass”.[74]

    Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre,[75] which originated in African-American communities of primarily the Deep South of the United States at the end of the 19th century from their spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants and rhymed simple narrative ballads.[76]

    The African use of pentatonic scales contributed to the development of blue notes in blues and jazz.[77] As Kubik explains:

    Many of the rural blues of the Deep South are stylistically an extension and merger of basically two broad accompanied song-style traditions in the west central Sudanic belt:

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    W. C. Handy became interested in folk blues of the Deep South while traveling through the Mississippi Delta. In this folk blues form, the singer would improvise freely within a limited melodic range, sounding like a field holler, and the guitar accompaniment was slapped rather than strummed, like a small drum which responded in syncopated accents, functioning as another “voice”.[79] Handy and his band members were formally trained African-American musicians who had not grown up with the blues, yet he was able to adapt the blues to a larger band instrument format and arrange them in a popular music form.

    Handy wrote about his adopting of the blues:

    The primitive southern Negro, as he sang, was sure to bear down on the third and seventh tone of the scale, slurring between major and minor. Whether in the cotton field of the Delta or on the Levee up St. Louis way, it was always the same. Till then, however, I had never heard this slur used by a more sophisticated Negro, or by any white man. I tried to convey this effect … by introducing flat thirds and sevenths (now called blue notes) into my song, although its prevailing key was major … , and I carried this device into my melody as well.[80]

    The publication of his “Memphis Blues” sheet music in 1912 introduced the 12-bar blues to the world (although Gunther Schuller argues that it is not really a blues, but “more like a cakewalk”).[81] This composition, as well as his later “St. Louis Blues” and others, included the habanera rhythm,[82] and would become jazz standards. Handy’s music career began in the pre-jazz era and contributed to the codification of jazz through the publication of some of the first jazz sheet music.

    The music of New Orleans had a profound effect on the creation of early jazz. In New Orleans, slaves could practice elements of their culture such as voodoo and playing drums.[83] Many early jazz musicians played in the bars and brothels of the red-light district around Basin Street called Storyville.[84] In addition to dance bands, there were marching bands which played at lavish funerals (later called jazz funerals). The instruments used by marching bands and dance bands became the instruments of jazz: brass, drums, and reeds tuned in the European 12-tone scale. Small bands contained a combination of self-taught and formally educated musicians, many from the funeral procession tradition. These bands traveled in black communities in the deep south. Beginning in 1914, Creole and African-American musicians played in vaudeville shows which carried jazz to cities in the northern and western parts of the U.S.[85]

    In New Orleans, a white bandleader named Papa Jack Laine integrated blacks and whites in his marching band. He was known as “the father of white jazz” because of the many top players he employed, such as George Brunies, Sharkey Bonano, and future members of the Original Dixieland Jass Band. During the early 1900s, jazz was mostly performed in African-American and mulatto communities due to segregation laws. Storyville brought jazz to a wider audience through tourists who visited the port city of New Orleans.[86] Many jazz musicians from African-American communities were hired to perform in bars and brothels. These included Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton in addition to those from other communities, such as Lorenzo Tio and Alcide Nunez. Louis Armstrong started his career in Storyville[87] and found success in Chicago. Storyville was shut down by the U.S. government in 1917.[88]

    Cornetist Buddy Bolden played in New Orleans from 1895 to 1906. No recordings by him exist. His band is credited with creating the big four: the first syncopated bass drum pattern to deviate from the standard on-the-beat march.[89] As the example below shows, the second half of the big four pattern is the habanera rhythm.

    Afro-Creole pianist Jelly Roll Morton began his career in Storyville. Beginning in 1904, he toured with vaudeville shows to southern cities, Chicago, and New York City. In 1905, he composed “Jelly Roll Blues”, which became the first jazz arrangement in print when it was published in 1915. In introduced more musicians to the New Orleans style.[90]

    Morton considered the tresillo/habanera, which he called the Spanish tinge, an essential ingredient of jazz.[91] “Now in one of my earliest tunes, “New Orleans Blues,” you can notice the Spanish tinge. In fact, if you can’t manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz.”[65]

    An excerpt of “New Orleans Blues” is shown below. In the excerpt, the left hand plays the tresillo rhythm, while the right hand plays variations on cinquillo.

    Morton was a crucial innovator in the evolution from the early jazz form known as ragtime to jazz piano, and could perform pieces in either style; in 1938, Morton made a series of recordings for the Library of Congress in which he demonstrated the difference between the two styles. Morton’s solos, however, were still close to ragtime, and were not merely improvisations over chord changes as in later jazz, but his use of the blues was of equal importance.

    Morton loosened ragtime’s rigid rhythmic feeling, decreasing its embellishments and employing a swing feeling.[92] Swing is the most important and enduring African-based rhythmic technique used in jazz. An oft quoted definition of swing by Louis Armstrong is: “if you don’t feel it, you’ll never know it.”[93] The New Harvard Dictionary of Music states that swing is: “An intangible rhythmic momentum in jazz…Swing defies analysis; claims to its presence may inspire arguments.” The dictionary does nonetheless provide the useful description of triple subdivisions of the beat contrasted with duple subdivisions:[94] swing superimposes six subdivisions of the beat over a basic pulse structure or four subdivisions. This aspect of swing is far more prevalent in African-American music than in Afro-Caribbean music. One aspect of swing, which is heard in more rhythmically complex Diaspora musics, places strokes in-between the triple and duple-pulse “grids”.[95]

    New Orleans brass bands are a lasting influence, contributing horn players to the world of professional jazz with the distinct sound of the city whilst helping black children escape poverty. The leader of New Orleans’ Camelia Brass Band, D’Jalma Ganier, taught Louis Armstrong to play trumpet; Armstrong would then popularize the New Orleans style of trumpet playing, and then expand it. Like Jelly Roll Morton, Armstrong is also credited with the abandonment of ragtime’s stiffness in favor of swung notes. Armstrong, perhaps more than any other musician, codified the rhythmic technique of swing in jazz and broadened the jazz solo vocabulary.[96]

    The Original Dixieland Jass Band made the music’s first recordings early in 1917, and their “Livery Stable Blues” became the earliest released jazz record.[97][98][99][100][101][102][103] That year, numerous other bands made recordings featuring “jazz” in the title or band name, but most were ragtime or novelty records rather than jazz. In February 1918 during World War I, James Reese Europe’s “Hellfighters” infantry band took ragtime to Europe,[104][105] then on their return recorded Dixieland standards including “Darktown Strutters’ Ball”.[106]

    In the northeastern United States, a “hot” style of playing ragtime had developed, notably James Reese Europe’s symphonic Clef Club orchestra in New York City, which played a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall in 1912.[106][107] The Baltimore rag style of Eubie Blake influenced James P. Johnson’s development of stride piano playing, in which the right hand plays the melody, while the left hand provides the rhythm and bassline.[108]

    In Ohio and elsewhere in the mid-west the major influence was ragtime, until about 1919. Around 1912, when the four-string banjo and saxophone came in, musicians began to improvise the melody line, but the harmony and rhythm remained unchanged. A contemporary account states that blues could only be heard in jazz in the gut-bucket cabarets, which were generally looked down upon by the Black middle-class.[109]

    From 1920 to 1933, Prohibition in the United States banned the sale of alcoholic drinks, resulting in illicit speakeasies which became lively venues of the “Jazz Age”, hosting popular music, dance songs, novelty songs, and show tunes. Jazz began to get a reputation as immoral, and many members of the older generations saw it as a threat to the old cultural values by promoting the decadent values of the Roaring 20s. Henry van Dyke of Princeton University wrote, “… it is not music at all. It’s merely an irritation of the nerves of hearing, a sensual teasing of the strings of physical passion.”[110] The New York Times reported that Siberian villagers used jazz to scare away bears, but the villagers had used pots and pans; another story claimed that the fatal heart attack of a celebrated conductor was caused by jazz.[110]

    In 1919, Kid Ory’s Original Creole Jazz Band of musicians from New Orleans began playing in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where in 1922 they became the first black jazz band of New Orleans origin to make recordings.[111][112] During the same year, Bessie Smith made her first recordings.[113] Chicago was developing “Hot Jazz”, and King Oliver joined Bill Johnson. Bix Beiderbecke formed The Wolverines in 1924.

    Despite its Southern black origins, there was a larger market for jazzy dance music played by white orchestras. In 1918, Paul Whiteman and his orchestra became a hit in San Francisco. He signed a contract with Victor and became the top bandleader of the 1920s, giving hot jazz a white component, hiring white musicians such as Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Frankie Trumbauer, and Joe Venuti. In 1924, Whiteman commissioned George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which was premiered by his orchestra. Jazz began to be recognized as a notable musical form. Olin Downes, reviewing the concert in The New York Times, wrote, “This composition shows extraordinary talent, as it shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk, struggling with a form of which he is far from being master. … In spite of all this, he has expressed himself in a significant and, on the whole, highly original form. … His first theme … is no mere dance-tune … it is an idea, or several ideas, correlated and combined in varying and contrasting rhythms that immediately intrigue the listener.”[114]

    After Whiteman’s band successfully toured Europe, huge hot jazz orchestras in theater pits caught on with other whites, including Fred Waring, Jean Goldkette, and Nathaniel Shilkret. According to Mario Dunkel, Whiteman’s success was based on a “rhetoric of domestication” according to which he had elevated and rendered valuable (read “white”) a previously inchoate (read “black”) kind of music.[115]

    Whiteman’s success caused blacks to follow suit, including Earl Hines (who opened in The Grand Terrace Cafe in Chicago in 1928), Duke Ellington (who opened at the Cotton Club in Harlem in 1927), Lionel Hampton, Fletcher Henderson, Claude Hopkins, and Don Redman, with Henderson and Redman developing the “talking to one another” formula for “hot” swing music.[116]

    In 1924, Louis Armstrong joined the Fletcher Henderson dance band for a year, as featured soloist. The original New Orleans style was polyphonic, with theme variation and simultaneous collective improvisation. Armstrong was a master of his hometown style, but by the time he joined Henderson’s band, he was already a trailblazer in a new phase of jazz, with its emphasis on arrangements and soloists. Armstrong’s solos went well beyond the theme-improvisation concept and extemporized on chords, rather than melodies. According to Schuller, by comparison, the solos by Armstrong’s bandmates (including a young Coleman Hawkins), sounded “stiff, stodgy”, with “jerky rhythms and a grey undistinguished tone quality”.[117] The following example shows a short excerpt of the straight melody of “Mandy, Make Up Your Mind” by George W. Meyer and Arthur Johnston (top), compared with Armstrong’s solo improvisations (below) (recorded 1924).[118] Armstrong’s solos were a significant factor in making jazz a true 20th-century language. After leaving Henderson’s group, Armstrong formed his Hot Five band, where he popularized scat singing.[119]

    The 1930s belonged to popular swing big bands, in which some virtuoso soloists became as famous as the band leaders. Key figures in developing the “big” jazz band included bandleaders and arrangers Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, Harry James, Jimmie Lunceford, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw. Although it was a collective sound, swing also offered individual musicians a chance to “solo” and improvise melodic, thematic solos which could at times be complex “important” music.

    Over time, social strictures regarding racial segregation began to relax in America: white bandleaders began to recruit black musicians and black bandleaders white ones. In the mid-1930s, Benny Goodman hired pianist Teddy Wilson, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and guitarist Charlie Christian to join small groups. In the 1930s, Kansas City Jazz as exemplified by tenor saxophonist Lester Young marked the transition from big bands to the bebop influence of the 1940s. An early 1940s style known as “jumping the blues” or jump blues used small combos, uptempo music and blues chord progressions, drawing on boogie-woogie from the 1930s.

    While swing was reaching the height of its popularity, Duke Ellington spent the late 1920s and 1930s developing an innovative musical idiom for his orchestra. Abandoning the conventions of swing, he experimented with orchestral sounds, harmony, and musical form with complex compositions that still translated well for popular audiences; some of his tunes became hits, and his own popularity spanned from the United States to Europe.[120]

    Ellington called his music American Music, rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as “beyond category”.[121] These included many musicians from his orchestra, some of whom are considered among the best in jazz in their own right, but it was Ellington who melded them into one of the most popular jazz orchestras in the history of jazz. He often composed for the style and skills of these individuals, such as “Jeep’s Blues” for Johnny Hodges, “Concerto for Cootie” for Cootie Williams (which later became “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” with Bob Russell’s lyrics), and “The Mooche” for Tricky Sam Nanton and Bubber Miley. He also recorded compositions written by his bandsmen, such as Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” and “Perdido”, which brought the “Spanish Tinge” to big-band jazz. Several members of the orchestra remained with him for several decades. The band reached a creative peak in the early 1940s, when Ellington and a small hand-picked group of his composers and arrangers wrote for an orchestra of distinctive voices who displayed tremendous creativity.[122]

    As only a limited number of American jazz records were released in Europe, European jazz traces many of its roots to American artists such as James Reese Europe, Paul Whiteman, and Lonnie Johnson, who visited Europe during and after World War I. It was their live performances which inspired European audiences’ interest in jazz, as well as the interest in all things American (and therefore exotic) which accompanied the economic and political woes of Europe during this time.[123] The beginnings of a distinct European style of jazz began to emerge in this interwar period.

    British jazz began with a tour by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1919. In 1926, Fred Elizalde and His Cambridge Undergraduates began broadcasting on the BBC. Thereafter jazz became an important element in many leading dance orchestras, and jazz instrumentalists became numerous.[124]

    This style entered full swing in France with the Quintette du Hot Club de France, which began in 1934. Much of this French jazz was a combination of African-American jazz and the symphonic styles in which French musicians were well-trained; in this, it is easy to see the inspiration taken from Paul Whiteman since his style was also a fusion of the two.[125] Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt popularized gypsy jazz, a mix of 1930s American swing, French dance hall “musette”, and Eastern European folk with a languid, seductive feel; the main instruments were steel stringed guitar, violin, and double bass. Solos pass from one player to another as guitar and bass form the rhythm section. Some researchers believe Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti pioneered the guitar-violin partnership characteristic of the genre,[126] which was brought to France after they had been heard live or on Okeh Records in the late 1920s.[127]

    The outbreak of World War II marked a turning point for jazz. The swing-era jazz of the previous decade had challenged other popular music as being representative of the nation’s culture, with big bands reaching the height of the style’s success by the early 1940s; swing acts and big bands traveled with U.S. military overseas to Europe, where it also became popular.[128] Stateside, however, the war presented difficulties for the big-band format: conscription shortened the number of musicians available; the military’s need for shellac (commonly used for pressing gramophone records) limited record production; a shortage of rubber (also due to the war effort) discouraged bands from touring via road travel; and a demand by the musicians’ union for a commercial recording ban limited music distribution between 1942 and 1944.[129]

    Many of the big bands who were deprived of experienced musicians because of the war effort began to enlist young players who were below the age for conscription, as was the case with saxophonist Stan Getz’s entry in a band as a teenager.[130] This coincided with a nationwide resurgence in the Dixieland style of pre-swing jazz; performers such as clarinetist George Lewis, cornetist Bill Davison, and trombonist Turk Murphy were hailed by conservative jazz critics as more authentic than the big bands.[129] Elsewhere, with the limitations on recording, small groups of young musicians developed a more uptempo, improvisational style of jazz,[128] collaborating and experimenting with new ideas for melodic development, rhythmic language, and harmonic substitution, during informal, late-night jam sessions hosted in small clubs and apartments. Key figures in this development were largely based in New York and included pianists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, drummers Max Roach and Kenny Clarke, saxophonist Charlie Parker, and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.[129] This musical development became known as bebop.[128]

    Bebop and subsequent post-war jazz developments featured a wider set of notes, played in more complex patterns and at faster tempos than previous jazz.[130] According to Clive James, bebop was “the post-war musical development which tried to ensure that jazz would no longer be the spontaneous sound of joy … Students of race relations in America are generally agreed that the exponents of post-war jazz were determined, with good reason, to present themselves as challenging artists rather than tame entertainers.”[131] The end of the war marked “a revival of the spirit of experimentation and musical pluralism under which it had been conceived”, along with “the beginning of a decline in the popularity of jazz music in America”, according to American academic Michael H. Burchett.[128]

    With the rise of bebop and the end of the swing era after the war, jazz lost its cachet as pop music. Vocalists of the famous big bands moved on to being marketed and performing as solo pop singers; these included Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Dick Haymes, and Doris Day.[130] Older musicians who still performed their pre-war jazz, such as Armstrong and Ellington, were gradually viewed in the mainstream as passé. Other younger performers, such as singer Big Joe Turner and saxophonist Louis Jordan, who were discouraged by bebop’s increasing complexity pursued more lucrative endeavors in rhythm and blues, jump blues, and eventually rock and roll.[128] Some, including Gillespie, composed intricate yet danceable pieces for bebop musicians in an effort to make them more accessible, but bebop largely remained on the fringes of American audiences’ purview. “The new direction of postwar jazz drew a wealth of critical acclaim, but it steadily declined in popularity as it developed a reputation as an academic genre that was largely inaccessible to mainstream audiences”, Burchett said. “The quest to make jazz more relevant to popular audiences, while retaining its artistic integrity, is a constant and prevalent theme in the history of postwar jazz.”[128] During its swing period, jazz had been an uncomplicated musical scene; according to Paul Trynka, this changed in the post-war years:

    Suddenly jazz was no longer straightforward. There was bebop and its variants, there was the last gasp of swing, there were strange new brews like the progressive jazz of Stan Kenton, and there was a completely new phenomenon called revivalism – the rediscovery of jazz from the past, either on old records or performed live by aging players brought out of retirement. From now on it was no good saying that you liked jazz, you had to specify what kind of jazz. And that is the way it has been ever since, only more so. Today, the word ‘jazz’ is virtually meaningless without further definition.[130]

    In the early 1940s, bebop-style performers began to shift jazz from danceable popular music toward a more challenging “musician’s music”. The most influential bebop musicians included saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianists Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown, and drummer Max Roach. Divorcing itself from dance music, bebop established itself more as an art form, thus lessening its potential popular and commercial appeal.

    Composer Gunther Schuller wrote: “In 1943 I heard the great Earl Hines band which had Bird in it and all those other great musicians. They were playing all the flatted fifth chords and all the modern harmonies and substitutions and Dizzy Gillespie runs in the trumpet section work. Two years later I read that that was ‘bop’ and the beginning of modern jazz … but the band never made recordings.”[132]

    Dizzy Gillespie wrote: “People talk about the Hines band being ‘the incubator of bop’ and the leading exponents of that music ended up in the Hines band. But people also have the erroneous impression that the music was new. It was not. The music evolved from what went before. It was the same basic music. The difference was in how you got from here to here to here…naturally each age has got its own shit.”[133]

    Since bebop was meant to be listened to, not danced to, it could use faster tempos. Drumming shifted to a more elusive and explosive style, in which the ride cymbal was used to keep time while the snare and bass drum were used for accents. This led to a highly syncopated music with a linear rhythmic complexity.[134]

    Bebop musicians employed several harmonic devices which were not previously typical in jazz, engaging in a more abstracted form of chord-based improvisation. Bebop scales are traditional scales with an added chromatic passing note;[135] bebop also uses “passing” chords, substitute chords, and altered chords. New forms of chromaticism and dissonance were introduced into jazz, and the dissonant tritone (or “flatted fifth”) interval became the “most important interval of bebop”[136] Chord progressions for bebop tunes were often taken directly from popular swing-era tunes and reused with a new and more complex melody and/or reharmonized with more complex chord progressions to form new compositions, a practice which was already well-established in earlier jazz, but came to be central to the bebop style. Bebop made use of several relatively common chord progressions, such as blues (at base, I–IV–V, but often infused with ii–V motion) and “rhythm changes” (I–VI–ii–V) – the chords to the 1930s pop standard “I Got Rhythm”. Late bop also moved towards extended forms that represented a departure from pop and show tunes.

    The harmonic development in bebop is often traced back to a moment experienced by Charlie Parker while performing “Cherokee” at Clark Monroe’s Uptown House, New York, in early 1942. “I’d been getting bored with the stereotyped changes that were being used…and I kept thinking there’s bound to be something else. I could hear it sometimes. I couldn’t play it…I was working over ‘Cherokee,’ and, as I did, I found that by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related changes, I could play the thing I’d been hearing. It came alive.”[137] Gerhard Kubik postulates that harmonic development in bebop sprang from blues and African-related tonal sensibilities rather than 20th-century Western classical music. “Auditory inclinations were the African legacy in [Parker’s] life, reconfirmed by the experience of the blues tonal system, a sound world at odds with the Western diatonic chord categories. Bebop musicians eliminated Western-style functional harmony in their music while retaining the strong central tonality of the blues as a basis for drawing upon various African matrices.”[137]

    Samuel Floyd states that blues was both the bedrock and propelling force of bebop, bringing about a new harmonic conception using extended chord structures that led to unprecedented harmonic and melodic variety, a developed and even more highly syncopated, linear rhythmic complexity and a melodic angularity in which the blue note of the fifth degree was established as an important melodic-harmonic device; and reestablishment of the blues as the primary organizing and functional principle.[134] Kubik wrote:

    While for an outside observer, the harmonic innovations in bebop would appear to be inspired by experiences in Western “serious” music, from Claude Debussy to Arnold Schoenberg, such a scheme cannot be sustained by the evidence from a cognitive approach. Claude Debussy did have some influence on jazz, for example, on Bix Beiderbecke’s piano playing. And it is also true that Duke Ellington adopted and reinterpreted some harmonic devices in European contemporary music. West Coast jazz would run into such debts as would several forms of cool jazz, but bebop has hardly any such debts in the sense of direct borrowings. On the contrary, ideologically, bebop was a strong statement of rejection of any kind of eclecticism, propelled by a desire to activate something deeply buried in self. Bebop then revived tonal-harmonic ideas transmitted through the blues and reconstructed and expanded others in a basically non-Western harmonic approach. The ultimate significance of all this is that the experiments in jazz during the 1940s brought back to African-American music several structural principles and techniques rooted in African traditions.[138]

    These divergences from the jazz mainstream of the time met a divided, sometimes hostile response among fans and musicians, especially swing players who bristled at the new harmonic sounds. To hostile critics, bebop seemed filled with “racing, nervous phrases”.[139] But despite the friction, by the 1950s bebop had become an accepted part of the jazz vocabulary.

    The general consensus among musicians and musicologists is that the first original jazz piece to be overtly based in clave was “Tanga” (1943), composed by Cuban-born Mario Bauza and recorded by Machito and his Afro-Cubans in New York City. “Tanga” began as a spontaneous descarga (Cuban jam session), with jazz solos superimposed on top.[140]

    This was the birth of Afro-Cuban jazz. The use of clave brought the African timeline, or key pattern, into jazz. Music organized around key patterns convey a two-celled (binary) structure, which is a complex level of African cross-rhythm.[141] Within the context of jazz, however, harmony is the primary referent, not rhythm. The harmonic progression can begin on either side of clave, and the harmonic “one” is always understood to be “one”. If the progression begins on the “three-side” of clave, it is said to be in 3–2 clave (shown below). If the progression begins on the “two-side”, it is in 2–3 clave.[142]

    Mario Bauzá introduced bebop innovator Dizzy Gillespie to Cuban conga drummer and composer Chano Pozo. Gillespie and Pozo’s brief collaboration produced some of the most enduring Afro-Cuban jazz standards. “Manteca” (1947) is the first jazz standard to be rhythmically based on clave. According to Gillespie, Pozo composed the layered, contrapuntal guajeos (Afro-Cuban ostinatos) of the A section and the introduction, while Gillespie wrote the bridge. Gillespie recounted: “If I’d let it go like [Chano] wanted it, it would have been strictly Afro-Cuban all the way. There wouldn’t have been a bridge. I thought I was writing an eight-bar bridge, but … I had to keep going and ended up writing a sixteen-bar bridge.”[143] The bridge gave “Manteca” a typical jazz harmonic structure, setting the piece apart from Bauza’s modal “Tanga” of a few years earlier.

    Gillespie’s collaboration with Pozo brought specific African-based rhythms into bebop. While pushing the boundaries of harmonic improvisation, cu-bop also drew from African rhythm. Jazz arrangements with a Latin A section and a swung B section, with all choruses swung during solos, became common practice with many Latin tunes of the jazz standard repertoire. This approach can be heard on pre-1980 recordings of “Manteca”, “A Night in Tunisia”, “Tin Tin Deo”, and “On Green Dolphin Street”.

    Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria first recorded his composition “Afro Blue” in 1959.[144]
    “Afro Blue” was the first jazz standard built upon a typical African three-against-two (3:2) cross-rhythm, or hemiola.[145] The piece begins with the bass repeatedly playing 6 cross-beats per each measure of 128, or 6 cross-beats per 4 main beats—6:4 (two cells of 3:2).

    The following example shows the original ostinato “Afro Blue” bass line. The cross noteheads indicate the main beats (not bass notes).

    When John Coltrane covered “Afro Blue” in 1963, he inverted the metric hierarchy, interpreting the tune as a 34 jazz waltz with duple cross-beats superimposed (2:3). Originally a B♭ pentatonic blues, Coltrane expanded the harmonic structure of “Afro Blue”.

    Perhaps the most respected Afro-cuban jazz combo of the late 1950s was vibraphonist Cal Tjader’s band. Tjader had Mongo Santamaria, Armando Peraza, and Willie Bobo on his early recording dates.

    In the late 1940s, there was a revival of Dixieland, harking back to the contrapuntal New Orleans style. This was driven in large part by record company reissues of jazz classics by the Oliver, Morton, and Armstrong bands of the 1930s. There were two types of musicians involved in the revival: the first group was made up of those who had begun their careers playing in the traditional style and were returning to it (or continuing what they had been playing all along), such as Bob Crosby’s Bobcats, Max Kaminsky, Eddie Condon, and Wild Bill Davison.[146] Most of these players were originally Midwesterners, although there were a small number of New Orleans musicians involved. The second group of revivalists consisted of younger musicians, such as those in the Lu Watters band, Conrad Janis, and Ward Kimball and his Firehouse Five Plus Two Jazz Band. By the late 1940s, Louis Armstrong’s Allstars band became a leading ensemble. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Dixieland was one of the most commercially popular jazz styles in the US, Europe, and Japan, although critics paid little attention to it.[146]

    Hard bop is an extension of bebop (or “bop”) music that incorporates influences from blues, rhythm and blues, and gospel, especially in saxophone and piano playing. Hard bop was developed in the mid-1950s, coalescing in 1953 and 1954; it developed partly in response to the vogue for cool jazz in the early 1950s and paralleled the rise of rhythm and blues. Miles Davis’ 1954 performance of “Walkin'” at the first Newport Jazz Festival announced the style to the jazz world.[147] The quintet Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, led by Blakey and featuring pianist Horace Silver and trumpeter Clifford Brown, were leaders in the hard bop movement with Davis.

    Modal jazz is a development which began in the later 1950s which takes the mode, or musical scale, as the basis of musical structure and improvisation. Previously, a solo was meant to fit into a given chord progression, but with modal jazz, the soloist creates a melody using one (or a small number of) modes. The emphasis is thus shifted from harmony to melody:[148] “Historically, this caused a seismic shift among jazz musicians, away from thinking vertically (the chord), and towards a more horizontal approach (the scale)”,[149] explained pianist Mark Levine.

    The modal theory stems from a work by George Russell. Miles Davis introduced the concept to the greater jazz world with Kind of Blue (1959), an exploration of the possibilities of modal jazz which would become the best selling jazz album of all time. In contrast to Davis’ earlier work with hard bop and its complex chord progression and improvisation, Kind of Blue was composed as a series of modal sketches in which the musicians were given scales that defined the parameters of their improvisation and style.[150]

    “I didn’t write out the music for Kind of Blue, but brought in sketches for what everybody was supposed to play because I wanted a lot of spontaneity,”[151] recalled Davis. The track “So What” has only two chords: D-7 and E♭-7.[152]

    Other innovators in this style include Jackie McLean,[153] and two of the musicians who had also played on Kind of Blue: John Coltrane and Bill Evans.

    Free jazz, and the related form of avant-garde jazz, broke through into an open space of “free tonality” in which meter, beat, and formal symmetry all disappeared, and a range of world music from India, Africa, and Arabia were melded into an intense, even religiously ecstatic or orgiastic style of playing.[154] While loosely inspired by bebop, free jazz tunes gave players much more latitude; the loose harmony and tempo was deemed controversial when this approach was first developed. The bassist Charles Mingus is also frequently associated with the avant-garde in jazz, although his compositions draw from myriad styles and genres.

    The first major stirrings came in the 1950s with the early work of Ornette Coleman (whose 1960 album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation coined the term) and Cecil Taylor. In the 1960s, exponents included Albert Ayler, Gato Barbieri, Carla Bley, Don Cherry, Larry Coryell, John Coltrane, Bill Dixon, Jimmy Giuffre, Steve Lacy, Michael Mantler, Sun Ra, Roswell Rudd, Pharoah Sanders, and John Tchicai. In developing his late style, Coltrane was especially influenced by the dissonance of Ayler’s trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, a rhythm section honed with Cecil Taylor as leader. In November 1961, Coltrane played a gig at the Village Vanguard, which resulted in the classic Chasin’ the ‘Trane, which Down Beat magazine panned as “anti-jazz”. On his 1961 tour of France, he was booed, but persevered, signing with the new Impulse! Records in 1960 and turning it into “the house that Trane built”, while championing many younger free jazz musicians, notably Archie Shepp, who often played with trumpeter Bill Dixon, who organized the 4-day “October Revolution in Jazz” in Manhattan in 1964, the first free jazz festival.

    A series of recordings with the Classic Quartet in the first half of 1965 show Coltrane’s playing becoming increasingly abstract, with greater incorporation of devices like multiphonics, utilization of overtones, and playing in the altissimo register, as well as a mutated return to Coltrane’s sheets of sound. In the studio, he all but abandoned his soprano to concentrate on the tenor saxophone. In addition, the quartet responded to the leader by playing with increasing freedom. The group’s evolution can be traced through the recordings The John Coltrane Quartet Plays, Living Space and Transition (both June 1965), New Thing at Newport (July 1965), Sun Ship (August 1965), and First Meditations (September 1965).

    In June 1965, Coltrane and 10 other musicians recorded Ascension, a 40-minute-long piece without breaks that included adventurous solos by young avante-garde musicians as well as Coltrane, and was controversial primarily for the collective improvisation sections that separated the solos. Dave Liebman later called it “the torch that lit the free jazz thing”. After recording with the quartet over the next few months, Coltrane invited Pharoah Sanders to join the band in September 1965. While Coltrane used over-blowing frequently as an emotional exclamation-point, Sanders would opt to overblow his entire solo, resulting in a constant screaming and screeching in the altissimo range of the instrument.

    Free jazz was played in Europe in part because musicians such as Ayler, Taylor, Steve Lacy, and Eric Dolphy spent extended periods of time there, and European musicians such as Michael Mantler and John Tchicai traveled to the U.S. to experience American music firsthand. European contemporary jazz was shaped by Peter Brötzmann, John Surman, Krzysztof Komeda, Zbigniew Namysłowski, Tomasz Stanko, Lars Gullin, Joe Harriott, Albert Mangelsdorff, Kenny Wheeler, Graham Collier, Michael Garrick and Mike Westbrook. They were eager to develop approaches to music that reflected their heritage.

    Since the 1960s, creative centers of jazz in Europe have developed, such as the creative jazz scene in Amsterdam. Following the work of drummer Han Bennink and pianist Misha Mengelberg, musicians started to explore by improvising collectively until a form (melody, rhythm, a famous song) is found Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead documented the free jazz scene in Amsterdam and some of its main exponents such as the ICP (Instant Composers Pool) orchestra in his book New Dutch Swing. Since the 1990s Keith Jarrett has defended free jazz from criticism. British writer Stuart Nicholson has argued European contemporary jazz has an identity different from American jazz and follows a different trajectory.[155]

    Latin jazz is jazz that employs Latin American rhythms and is generally understood to have a more specific meaning than simply jazz from Latin America. A more precise term might be Afro-Latin jazz, as the jazz subgenre typically employs rhythms that either have a direct analog in Africa or exhibit an African rhythmic influence beyond what is ordinarily heard in other jazz. The two main categories of Latin jazz are Afro-Cuban jazz and Brazilian jazz.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, many jazz musicians had only a basic understanding of Cuban and Brazilian music, and jazz compositions which used Cuban or Brazilian elements were often referred to as “Latin tunes”, with no distinction between a Cuban son montuno and a Brazilian bossa nova. Even as late as 2000, in Mark Gridley’s Jazz Styles: History and Analysis, a bossa nova bass line is referred to as a “Latin bass figure”.[156] It was not uncommon during the 1960s and 1970s to hear a conga playing a Cuban tumbao while the drumset and bass played a Brazilian bossa nova pattern. Many jazz standards such as “Manteca”, “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Song for My Father” have a “Latin” A section and a swung B section. Typically, the band would only play an even-eighth “Latin” feel in the A section of the head and swing throughout all of the solos. Latin jazz specialists like Cal Tjader tended to be the exception. For example, on a 1959 live Tjader recording of “A Night in Tunisia”, pianist Vince Guaraldi soloed through the entire form over an authentic mambo.[157]

    For most of its history, Afro-Cuban jazz had been a matter of superimposing jazz phrasing over Cuban rhythms. But by the end of the 1970s, a new generation of New York City musicians had emerged who were fluent in both salsa dance music and jazz, leading to a new level of integration of jazz and Cuban rhythms. This era of creativity and vitality is best represented by the Gonzalez brothers Jerry (congas and trumpet) and Andy (bass).[158] During 1974–1976, they were members of one of Eddie Palmieri’s most experimental salsa groups: salsa was the medium, but Palmieri was stretching the form in new ways. He incorporated parallel fourths, with McCoy Tyner-type vamps. The innovations of Palmieri, the Gonzalez brothers and others led to an Afro-Cuban jazz renaissance in New York City.

    This occurred in parallel with developments in Cuba[159] The first Cuban band of this new wave was Irakere. Their “Chékere-son” (1976) introduced a style of “Cubanized” bebop-flavored horn lines that departed from the more angular guajeo-based lines which were typical of Cuban popular music and Latin jazz up until that time. It was based on Charlie Parker’s composition “Billie’s Bounce”, jumbled together in a way that fused clave and bebop horn lines.[160] In spite of the ambivalence of some band members towards Irakere’s Afro-Cuban folkloric / jazz fusion, their experiments forever changed Cuban jazz: their innovations are still heard in the high level of harmonic and rhythmic complexity in Cuban jazz and in the jazzy and complex contemporary form of popular dance music known as timba.

    Brazilian jazz, such as bossa nova, is derived from samba, with influences from jazz and other 20th-century classical and popular music styles. Bossa is generally moderately paced, with melodies sung in Portuguese or English, whilst the related jazz-samba is an adaptation of street samba into jazz.

    The bossa nova style was pioneered by Brazilians João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim and was made popular by Elizete Cardoso’s recording of “Chega de Saudade” on the Canção do Amor Demais LP. Gilberto’s initial releases, and the 1959 film Black Orpheus, achieved significant popularity in Latin America; this spread to North America via visiting American jazz musicians. The resulting recordings by Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz cemented bossa nova’s popularity and led to a worldwide boom, with 1963’s Getz/Gilberto, numerous recordings by famous jazz performers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, and the eventual entrenchment of the bossa nova style as a lasting influence in world music.

    Brazilian percussionists such as Airto Moreira and Naná Vasconcelos also influenced jazz internationally by introducing Afro-Brazilian folkloric instruments and rhythms into a wide variety of jazz styles, thus attracting a greater audience to them.[161][162][163]

    The first jazz standard composed by a non-Latino to use an overt African 128 cross-rhythm was Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” (1967).[164] On the version recorded on Miles Smiles by Miles Davis, the bass switches to a 44 tresillo figure at 2:20. “Footprints” is not, however, a Latin jazz tune: African rhythmic structures are accessed directly by Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) via the rhythmic sensibilities of swing. Throughout the piece, the four beats, whether sounded or not, are maintained as the temporal referent. The following example shows the 128 and 44 forms of the bass line. The slashed noteheads indicate the main beats (not bass notes), where one ordinarily taps their foot to “keep time”.

    The use of pentatonic scales was another trend associated with Africa. The use of pentatonic scales in Africa probably goes back thousands of years.[165]

    McCoy Tyner perfected the use of the pentatonic scale in his solos,[166] and also used parallel fifths and fourths, which are common harmonies in West Africa.[167]

    The minor pentatonic scale is often used in blues improvisation, and like a blues scale, a minor pentatonic scale can be played over all of the chords in a blues. The following pentatonic lick was played over blues changes by Joe Henderson on Horace Silver’s “African Queen” (1965).[168]

    Jazz pianist, theorist, and educator Mark Levine refers to the scale generated by beginning on the fifth step of a pentatonic scale as the V pentatonic scale.[169]

    Levine points out that the V pentatonic scale works for all three chords of the standard II–V–I jazz progression.[170] This is a very common progression, used in pieces such as Miles Davis’ “Tune Up”. The following example shows the V pentatonic scale over a II–V–I progression.[171]

    Accordingly, John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” (1960), with its 26 chords per 16 bars, can be played using only three pentatonic scales. Coltrane studied Nicolas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, which contains material that is virtually identical to portions of “Giant Steps”.[172] The harmonic complexity of “Giant Steps” is on the level of the most advanced 20th-century art music. Superimposing the pentatonic scale over “Giant Steps” is not merely a matter of harmonic simplification, but also a sort of “Africanizing” of the piece, which provides an alternate approach for soloing. Mark Levine observes that when mixed in with more conventional “playing the changes”, pentatonic scales provide “structure and a feeling of increased space”.[173]

    As noted above, jazz has incorporated from its inception aspects of African-American sacred music including spirituals and hymns. Secular jazz musicians often performed renditions of spirituals and hymns as part of their repertoire or isolated compositions such as “Come Sunday,” part of “Black and Beige Suite” by Duke Ellington. Later many other jazz artists borrowed from black gospel music. However, it was only after World War II that a few jazz musicians began to compose and perform extended works intended for religious settings and/or as religious expression. Since the 1950s, sacred and liturgical music has been performed and recorded by many prominent jazz composers and musicians.[174] The “Abyssinian Mass” by Wynton Marsalis (Blueengine Records, 2016) is a recent example.

    Relatively little has been written about sacred and liturgical jazz. In a 2013 doctoral dissertation, Angelo Versace examined the development of sacred jazz in the 1950s using disciplines of musicology and history. He noted that the traditions of black gospel music and jazz were combined in the 1950s to produce a new genre, “sacred jazz”.[175] Versace maintained that the religious intent separates sacred from secular jazz. Most prominent in initiating the sacred jazz movement were pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, known for her jazz masses in the 1950s and Duke Ellington. Prior to his death in 1974 in response to contacts from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Duke Ellington wrote three Sacred Concerts: 1965 – A Concert of Sacred Music; 1968 – Second Sacred Concert; 1973 – Third Sacred Concert.

    The most prominent form of sacred and liturgical jazz is the jazz mass. Although most often performed in a concert setting rather than church worship setting, this form has many examples. An eminent example of composers of the jazz mass was Mary Lou Williams. Williams converted to Catholicism in 1957, and proceeded to compose three masses in the jazz idiom.[176] One was composed in 1968 to honor the recently assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. and the third was commissioned by a pontifical commission. It was performed once in 1975 in St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. However the Catholic church has not embraced jazz as appropriate for worship. In 1966 Joe Masters recorded “Jazz Mass” for Columbia Records. A jazz ensemble was joined by soloists and choir using the English text of the Roman Catholic Mass.[177] Other examples include “Jazz Mass in Concert” by Lalo Schiffrin(Aleph Records, 1998, UPC 0651702632725) and “Jazz Mass” by Vince Guaraldi (Fantasy Records, 1965). In England, classical composer Will Todd recorded his “Jazz Missa Brevis” with a jazz ensemble, soloists and the St Martin’s Voices on a 2018 Signum Records release, “Passion Music/Jazz Missa Brevis” also released as “Mass in Blue,” and jazz organist James Taylor composed “The Rochester Mass” (Cherry Red Records, 2015).[178] In 2013, Versace put forth bassist Ike Sturm and New York composer Deanna Witkowski as contemporary exemplars of sacred and liturgical jazz.[175]

    In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the hybrid form of jazz-rock fusion was developed by combining jazz improvisation with rock rhythms, electric instruments and the highly amplified stage sound of rock musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. Jazz fusion often uses mixed meters, odd time signatures, syncopation, complex chords, and harmonies.

    According to AllMusic:

    … until around 1967, the worlds of jazz and rock were nearly completely separate. [However, …] as rock became more creative and its musicianship improved, and as some in the jazz world became bored with hard bop and did not want to play strictly avant-garde music, the two different idioms began to trade ideas and occasionally combine forces.[179]

    In 1969, Davis fully embraced the electric instrument approach to jazz with In a Silent Way, which can be considered his first fusion album. Composed of two side-long suites edited heavily by producer Teo Macero, this quiet, static album would be equally influential to the development of ambient music.

    As Davis recalls:

    The music I was really listening to in 1968 was James Brown, the great guitar player Jimi Hendrix, and a new group who had just come out with a hit record, “Dance to the Music”, Sly and the Family Stone … I wanted to make it more like rock. When we recorded In a Silent Way I just threw out all the chord sheets and told everyone to play off of that.[180]

    Two contributors to In a Silent Way also joined organist Larry Young to create one of the early acclaimed fusion albums: Emergency! (1969) by The Tony Williams Lifetime.

    Weather Report’s self-titled electronic and psychedelic Weather Report debut album caused a sensation in the jazz world on its arrival in 1971, thanks to the pedigree of the group’s members (including percussionist Airto Moreira), and their unorthodox approach to music. The album featured a softer sound than would be the case in later years (predominantly using acoustic bass with Shorter exclusively playing soprano saxophone, and with no synthesizers involved), but is still considered a classic of early fusion. It built on the avant-garde experiments which Joe Zawinul and Shorter had pioneered with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew, including an avoidance of head-and-chorus composition in favor of continuous rhythm and movement – but took the music further. To emphasize the group’s rejection of standard methodology, the album opened with the inscrutable avant-garde atmospheric piece “Milky Way”, which featured by Shorter’s extremely muted saxophone inducing vibrations in Zawinul’s piano strings while the latter pedaled the instrument. Down Beat described the album as “music beyond category”, and awarded it Album of the Year in the magazine’s polls that year.

    Weather Report’s subsequent releases were creative funk-jazz works.[181]

    Although some jazz purists protested against the blend of jazz and rock, many jazz innovators crossed over from the contemporary hard bop scene into fusion. As well as the electric instruments of rock (such as electric guitar, electric bass, electric piano and synthesizer keyboards), fusion also used the powerful amplification, “fuzz” pedals, wah-wah pedals and other effects that were used by 1970s-era rock bands. Notable performers of jazz fusion included Miles Davis, Eddie Harris, keyboardists Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock, vibraphonist Gary Burton, drummer Tony Williams (drummer), violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, guitarists Larry Coryell, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Ryo Kawasaki, and Frank Zappa, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and bassists Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke. Jazz fusion was also popular in Japan, where the band Casiopea released more than thirty fusion albums.

    According to jazz writer Stuart Nicholson, “just as free jazz appeared on the verge of creating a whole new musical language in the 1960s … jazz-rock briefly suggested the promise of doing the same” with albums such as Williams’ Emergency! (1970) and Davis’ Agharta (1975), which Nicholson said “suggested the potential of evolving into something that might eventually define itself as a wholly independent genre quite apart from the sound and conventions of anything that had gone before.” This development was stifled by commercialism, Nicholson said, as the genre “mutated into a peculiar species of jazz-inflected pop music that eventually took up residence on FM radio” at the end of the 1970s.[182]

    By the mid-1970s, the sound known as jazz-funk had developed, characterized by a strong back beat (groove), electrified sounds[183] and, often, the presence of electronic analog synthesizers. Jazz-funk also draws influences from traditional African music, Afro-Cuban rhythms and Jamaican reggae, notably Kingston bandleader Sonny Bradshaw. Another feature is the shift of emphasis from improvisation to composition: arrangements, melody and overall writing became important. The integration of funk, soul, and R&B music into jazz resulted in the creation of a genre whose spectrum is wide and ranges from strong jazz improvisation to soul, funk or disco with jazz arrangements, jazz riffs and jazz solos, and sometimes soul vocals.[184]

    Early examples are Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters band and Miles Davis’ On the Corner album, which, in 1972, began Davis’ foray into jazz-funk and was, he claimed, an attempt at reconnecting with the young black audience which had largely forsaken jazz for rock and funk. While there is a discernible rock and funk influence in the timbres of the instruments employed, other tonal and rhythmic textures, such as the Indian tambora and tablas and Cuban congas and bongos, create a multi-layered soundscape. The album was a culmination of sorts of the musique concrète approach that Davis and producer Teo Macero had begun to explore in the late 1960s.

    The 1980s saw something of a reaction against the fusion and free jazz that had dominated the 1970s. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis emerged early in the decade, and strove to create music within what he believed was the tradition, rejecting both fusion and free jazz and creating extensions of the small and large forms initially pioneered by artists such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, as well as the hard bop of the 1950s. It is debatable whether Marsalis’ critical and commercial success was a cause or a symptom of the reaction against Fusion and Free Jazz and the resurgence of interest in the kind of jazz pioneered in the 1960s (particularly modal jazz and post-bop); nonetheless there were many other manifestations of a resurgence of traditionalism, even if fusion and free jazz were by no means abandoned and continued to develop and evolve.

    For example, several musicians who had been prominent in the fusion genre during the 1970s began to record acoustic jazz once more, including Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Other musicians who had experimented with electronic instruments in the previous decade had abandoned them by the 1980s; for example, Bill Evans, Joe Henderson, and Stan Getz. Even the 1980s music of Miles Davis, although certainly still fusion, adopted a far more accessible and recognizably jazz-oriented approach than his abstract work of the mid-1970s, such as a return to a theme-and-solos approach.

    The emergence of young jazz talent beginning to perform in older, established musicians’ groups further impacted the resurgence of traditionalism in the jazz community. In the 1970s, the groups of Betty Carter and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers retained their conservative jazz approaches in the midst of fusion and jazz-rock, and in addition to difficulty booking their acts, struggled to find younger generations of personnel to authentically play traditional styles such as hard bop and bebop. In the late 1970s, however, a resurgence of younger jazz players in Blakey’s band began to occur. This movement included musicians such as Valery Ponomarev and Bobby Watson, Dennis Irwin and James Williams.
    In the 1980s, in addition to Wynton and Branford Marsalis, the emergence of pianists in the Jazz Messengers such as Donald Brown, Mulgrew Miller, and later, Benny Green, bassists such as Charles Fambrough, Lonnie Plaxico (and later, Peter Washington and Essiet Essiet) horn players such as Bill Pierce, Donald Harrison and later Javon Jackson and Terence Blanchard emerged as talented jazz musicians, all of whom made significant contributions in the 1990s and 2000s.

    The young Jazz Messengers’ contemporaries, including Roy Hargrove, Marcus Roberts, Wallace Roney and Mark Whitfield were also influenced by Wynton Marsalis’s emphasis toward jazz tradition. These younger rising stars rejected avant-garde approaches and instead championed the acoustic jazz sound of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and early recordings of the first Miles Davis quintet. This group of “Young Lions” sought to reaffirm jazz as a high art tradition comparable to the discipline of classical music.[185]

    In addition, Betty Carter’s rotation of young musicians in her group foreshadowed many of New York’s preeminent traditional jazz players later in their careers. Among these musicians were Jazz Messenger alumni Benny Green, Branford Marsalis and Ralph Peterson Jr., as well as Kenny Washington, Lewis Nash, Curtis Lundy, Cyrus Chestnut, Mark Shim, Craig Handy, Greg Hutchinson and Marc Cary, Taurus Mateen and Geri Allen.

    O.T.B. ensemble included a rotation of young jazz musicians such as Kenny Garrett, Steve Wilson, Kenny Davis, Renee Rosnes, Ralph Peterson Jr., Billy Drummond, and Robert Hurst.[186]

    A similar reaction[vague] took place against free jazz. According to Ted Gioia:

    the very leaders of the avant garde started to signal a retreat from the core principles of free jazz. Anthony Braxton began recording standards over familiar chord changes. Cecil Taylor played duets in concert with Mary Lou Williams, and let her set out structured harmonies and familiar jazz vocabulary under his blistering keyboard attack. And the next generation of progressive players would be even more accommodating, moving inside and outside the changes without thinking twice. Musicians such as David Murray or Don Pullen may have felt the call of free-form jazz, but they never forgot all the other ways one could play African-American music for fun and profit.[187]

    Pianist Keith Jarrett—whose bands of the 1970s had played only original compositions with prominent free jazz elements—established his so-called ‘Standards Trio’ in 1983, which, although also occasionally exploring collective improvisation, has primarily performed and recorded jazz standards. Chick Corea similarly began exploring jazz standards in the 1980s, having neglected them for the 1970s.

    In 1987, the United States House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill proposed by Democratic Representative John Conyers Jr. to define jazz as a unique form of American music, stating “jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable national American treasure to which we should devote our attention, support and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood and promulgated.” It passed in the House on September 23, 1987, and in the Senate on November 4, 1987.[188]

    In the early 1980s, a commercial form of jazz fusion called “pop fusion” or “smooth jazz” became successful, garnering significant radio airplay in “quiet storm” time slots at radio stations in urban markets across the U.S. This helped to establish or bolster the careers of vocalists including Al Jarreau, Anita Baker, Chaka Khan, and Sade, as well as saxophonists including Grover Washington Jr., Kenny G, Kirk Whalum, Boney James, and David Sanborn. In general, smooth jazz is downtempo (the most widely played tracks are of 90–105 beats per minute), and has a lead melody-playing instrument (saxophone, especially soprano and tenor, and legato electric guitar are popular).

    In his Newsweek article “The Problem With Jazz Criticism”,[189] Stanley Crouch considers Miles Davis’ playing of fusion to be a turning point that led to smooth jazz. Critic Aaron J. West has countered the often negative perceptions of smooth jazz, stating:

    I challenge the prevalent marginalization and malignment of smooth jazz in the standard jazz narrative. Furthermore, I question the assumption that smooth jazz is an unfortunate and unwelcomed evolutionary outcome of the jazz-fusion era. Instead, I argue that smooth jazz is a long-lived musical style that merits multi-disciplinary analyses of its origins, critical dialogues, performance practice, and reception.[190]

    Acid jazz developed in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s, influenced by jazz-funk and electronic dance music. Acid jazz often contains various types of electronic composition (sometimes including sampling or live DJ cutting and scratching), but it is just as likely to be played live by musicians, who often showcase jazz interpretation as part of their performance. Richard S. Ginell of AllMusic considers Roy Ayers “one of the prophets of acid jazz”.[191]

    Nu jazz is influenced by jazz harmony and melodies, and there are usually no improvisational aspects. It can be very experimental in nature and can vary widely in sound and concept. It ranges from the combination of live instrumentation with the beats of jazz house (as exemplified by St Germain, Jazzanova, and Fila Brazillia) to more band-based improvised jazz with electronic elements (for example, The Cinematic Orchestra, Kobol and the Norwegian “future jazz” style pioneered by Bugge Wesseltoft, Jaga Jazzist, and Nils Petter Molvær).

    Jazz rap developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s and incorporates jazz influences into hip hop. In 1988, Gang Starr released the debut single “Words I Manifest”, which sampled Dizzy Gillespie’s 1962 “Night in Tunisia”, and Stetsasonic released “Talkin’ All That Jazz”, which sampled Lonnie Liston Smith. Gang Starr’s debut LP No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989) and their 1990 track “Jazz Thing” sampled Charlie Parker and Ramsey Lewis. The groups which made up the Native Tongues Posse tended toward jazzy releases: these include the Jungle Brothers’ debut Straight Out the Jungle (1988), and A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990) and The Low End Theory (1991). Rap duo Pete Rock & CL Smooth incorporated jazz influences on their 1992 debut Mecca and the Soul Brother. Rapper Guru’s Jazzmatazz series began in 1993 using jazz musicians during the studio recordings.

    Although jazz rap had achieved little mainstream success, Miles Davis’ final album Doo-Bop (released posthumously in 1992) was based on hip hop beats and collaborations with producer Easy Mo Bee. Davis’ ex-bandmate Herbie Hancock also absorbed hip-hop influences in the mid-1990s, releasing the album Dis Is Da Drum in 1994.

    The relaxation of orthodoxy which was concurrent with post-punk in London and New York City led to a new appreciation of jazz. In London, the Pop Group began to mix free jazz and dub reggae into their brand of punk rock.[192] In New York, No Wave took direct inspiration from both free jazz and punk. Examples of this style include Lydia Lunch’s Queen of Siam,[193] Gray, the work of James Chance and the Contortions (who mixed Soul with free jazz and punk)[193] and the Lounge Lizards[193] (the first group to call themselves “punk jazz”).

    John Zorn took note of the emphasis on speed and dissonance that was becoming prevalent in punk rock, and incorporated this into free jazz with the release of the Spy vs. Spy album in 1986, a collection of Ornette Coleman tunes done in the contemporary thrashcore style.[194] In the same year, Sonny Sharrock, Peter Brötzmann, Bill Laswell, and Ronald Shannon Jackson recorded the first album under the name Last Exit, a similarly aggressive blend of thrash and free jazz.[195] These developments are the origins of jazzcore, the fusion of free jazz with hardcore punk.

    The M-Base movement started in the 1980s, when a loose collective of young African-American musicians in New York which included Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, and Gary Thomas developed a complex but grooving[196] sound.

    In the 1990s, most M-Base participants turned to more conventional music, but Coleman, the most active participant, continued developing his music in accordance with the M-Base concept.[197]

    Coleman’s audience decreased, but his music and concepts influenced many musicians, according to pianist Vijay Iver and critic Ben Ratlifff of The New York Times.[198][199]

    M-Base changed from a movement of a loose collective of young musicians to a kind of informal Coleman “school”,[200] with a much advanced but already originally implied concept.[201] Steve Coleman’s music and M-Base concept gained recognition as “next logical step” after Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman.[202]

    Since the 1990s, jazz has been characterized by a pluralism in which no one style dominates, but rather a wide range of styles and genres are popular. Individual performers often play in a variety of styles, sometimes in the same performance. Pianist Brad Mehldau and The Bad Plus have explored contemporary rock music within the context of the traditional jazz acoustic piano trio, recording instrumental jazz versions of songs by rock musicians. The Bad Plus have also incorporated elements of free jazz into their music. A firm avant-garde or free jazz stance has been maintained by some players, such as saxophonists Greg Osby and Charles Gayle, while others, such as James Carter, have incorporated free jazz elements into a more traditional framework.

    Harry Connick Jr. began his career playing stride piano and the dixieland jazz of his home, New Orleans, beginning with his first recording when he was 10 years old.[203] Some of his earliest lessons were at the home of pianist Ellis Marsalis.[204] Connick had success on the pop charts after recording the soundtrack to the movie When Harry Met Sally, which sold over two million copies.[203] Crossover success has also been achieved by Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Kurt Elling, and Jamie Cullum.

    A number of players who usually perform in largely straight-ahead settings have emerged since the 1990s, including pianists Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Terence Blanchard, saxophonists Chris Potter and Joshua Redman, clarinetist Ken Peplowski and bassist Christian McBride.

    Although jazz-rock fusion reached the height of its popularity in the 1970s, the use of electronic instruments and rock-derived musical elements in jazz continued in the 1990s and 2000s. Musicians using this approach include Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, John Scofield and the Swedish group e.s.t. Since the beginning of the 1990s, electronic music had significant technical improvements that popularized and created new possibilities for the genre. Jazz elements such as improvisation, rhythmic complexities and harmonic textures were introduced to the genre and consequently had a big impact in new listeners and in some ways kept the versatility of jazz relatable to a newer generation that did not necessarily relate to what the traditionalists call real jazz (bebop, cool and modal jazz).[205] Artists such as Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus and sub genres like IDM, Drum n’ Bass, Jungle and Techno ended up incorporating a lot of these elements.[206] Squarepusher being cited as one big influence for jazz performers drummer Mark Guiliana and pianist Brad Mehldau, showing the correlations between jazz and electronic music are a two-way street.[207]

    In 2001, Ken Burns’s documentary Jazz was premiered on PBS, featuring Wynton Marsalis and other experts reviewing the entire history of American jazz to that time. It received some criticism, however, for its failure to reflect the many distinctive non-American traditions and styles in jazz that had developed, and its limited representation of US developments in the last quarter of the 20th century.

    The mid-2010s saw an increasing influence of R&B, hip-hop, and pop music on jazz. In 2015, Kendrick Lamar released his third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly. The album heavily featured prominent contemporary jazz artists such as Thundercat[208] and redefined jazz rap with a larger focus on improvisation and live soloing rather than simply sampling. In that same year, saxophonist Kamasi Washington released his nearly three-hour long debut, The Epic. Its hip-hop inspired beats and R&B vocal interludes was not only acclaimed by critics for being innovative in keeping jazz relevant,[209] but also sparked a small resurgence in jazz on the internet.

    Another internet-aided trend of 2010’s jazz was that of extreme reharmonization, inspired by both virtuosic players known for their speed and rhythm such as Art Tatum, as well as players known for their ambitious voicings and chords such as Bill Evans. Supergroup Snarky Puppy adopted this trend, allowing players like Cory Henry[210] to shape the grooves and harmonies of modern jazz soloing. YouTube phenomenon Jacob Collier also gained recognition for his ability to play an incredibly large number of instruments and his ability to use microtones, advanced polyrhythms, and blend a spectrum of genres in his largely homemade production process.[211][212]


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    Cyclic Patterns in John Coltrane’s Melodic Vocabulary as Influenced by Nicolas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns: An Analysis of Selected ImprovisationsDownloads-icon

    Louis Daniel Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971), nicknamed “Satchmo”, “Satch”, and “Pops”,[2] was an American trumpeter and vocalist. He is among the most influential figures in jazz. His career spanned five decades and different eras in the history of jazz.[3]

    Armstrong was born and raised in New Orleans. Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an inventive trumpet and cornet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance.[4] Around 1922, he followed his mentor, Joe “King” Oliver, to Chicago to play in the Creole Jazz Band. In Chicago, he spent time with other popular jazz musicians, reconnecting with his friend Bix Beiderbecke and spending time with Hoagy Carmichael and Lil Hardin. He earned a reputation at “cutting contests” and his fame reached band leader Fletcher Henderson. Henderson persuaded Armstrong to come to New York City, where he became a featured and musically influential band soloist and recording artist. Hardin became Armstrong’s second wife and they returned to Chicago to play together and then he began to form his own “Hot” jazz bands. After years of touring, he settled in Queens, and by the 1950s, he was a national musical icon, assisted in part, by his appearances on radio and in film and television, in addition to his concerts.

    With his instantly recognizable rich, gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer and skillful improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song. He was also skilled at scat singing. Armstrong is renowned for his charismatic stage presence and voice as well as his trumpet playing. By the end of Armstrong’s life, his influence had spread to popular music in general. Armstrong was one of the first popular African-American entertainers to “cross over” to wide popularity with white (and international) audiences. He rarely publicly politicized his race, to the dismay of fellow African Americans, but took a well-publicized stand for desegregation in the Little Rock crisis. He was able to access the upper echelons of American society at a time when this was difficult for black men.

    Armstrong appeared in films such as High Society (1956) alongside Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra, and Hello, Dolly! (1969) starring Barbra Streisand. He received many accolades including three Grammy Award nominations and a win for his vocal performance of Hello, Dolly! in 1964.[5] In 2017, he was posthumously inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

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    Armstrong was born in New Orleans on August 4, 1901.[6][7][8][a] His parents were Mary Albert and William Armstrong. Mary Albert was from Boutte, Louisiana, and gave birth at home when she was about sixteen. William Armstrong abandoned the family shortly after.[11] About two years later, he had a daughter, Beatrice “Mama Lucy” Armstrong, who was raised by Albert.[12]

    Louis Armstrong was raised by his grandmother until the age of five when he was returned to his mother.[11] He spent his youth in poverty in a rough neighborhood known as The Battlefield.[13] At six he attended the Fisk School for Boys,[14] a school that accepted black children in the racially segregated system of New Orleans.

    From the age of 7 he lived with the Karnoffskys, a family of Lithuanian Jews, at their home. Mrs Karnoffsky used to sing lullabies for him at night before bed in Yiddish and Russian. The Karnoffskys[15] took him in and treated him like family. Knowing he lived without a father, they fed and nurtured him.[16][17] In his memoir Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La., the Year of 1907, he described his discovery that this family was also subject to discrimination by “other white folks” who felt that they were better than Jews: “I was only seven years old but I could easily see the ungodly treatment that the white folks were handing the poor Jewish family whom I worked for.”[18] He wrote about what he learned from them: “how to live—real life and determination.”[16] His first musical performance may have been at the side of the Karnoffskys’ junk wagon. To distinguish them from other hawkers, he tried playing a tin horn to attract customers. Morris Karnoffsky gave Armstrong an advance toward the purchase of a cornet from a pawn shop.[19]

    Fluent in Yiddish, Armstrong wore a Star of David until the end of his life in memory of this family who had raised him.[20]

    When Armstrong was eleven, he dropped out of school.[14] His mother moved into a one-room house on Perdido Street with him, Lucy, and her common-law husband, Tom Lee, next door to her brother Ike and his two sons.[21] Armstrong joined a quartet of boys who sang in the streets for money. He also got into trouble. Cornetist Bunk Johnson said he taught the eleven-year-old to play by ear at Dago Tony’s honky tonk.[22] (In his later years Armstrong credited King Oliver.) He said about his youth, “Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine—I look right in the heart of good old New Orleans … It has given me something to live for.”[23]

    Borrowing his stepfather’s gun without permission, he fired a blank into the air and was arrested on December 31, 1912. He spent the night at New Orleans Juvenile Court, then was sentenced the next day to detention at the Colored Waif’s Home.[24] Life at the home was spartan. Mattresses were absent; meals were often little more than bread and molasses. Captain Joseph Jones ran the home like a military camp and used corporal punishment.[25]

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  • Armstrong developed his cornet skills by playing in the band. Peter Davis, who frequently appeared at the home at the request of Captain Jones,[26] became Armstrong’s first teacher and chose him as bandleader. With this band, the thirteen-year-old Armstrong attracted the attention of Kid Ory.[27]

    On June 14, 1914, Armstrong was released into the custody of his father and his new stepmother, Gertrude. He lived in this household with two stepbrothers for several months. After Gertrude gave birth to a daughter, Armstrong’s father never welcomed him, so he returned to his mother, Mary Albert. In her small home, he had to share a bed with his mother and sister.[28] His mother still lived in The Battlefield, leaving him open to old temptations, but he sought work as a musician. He found a job at a dance hall owned by Henry Ponce, who had connections to organized crime. He met the six-foot tall drummer Black Benny, who became his guide and bodyguard.[29] Around the age of fifteen, he pimped for a prostitute named Nootsy, but that relationship failed after she stabbed Armstrong in the shoulder and his mother choked her nearly to death.[30]

    He briefly studied shipping management at the local community college, but was forced to quit after being unable to afford the fees.[31] While selling coal in Storyville, he heard spasm bands, groups that played music out of household objects. He heard the early sounds of jazz from bands that played in brothels and dance halls such as Pete Lala’s, where King Oliver performed.[32]

    Armstrong played in brass bands and riverboats in New Orleans, first on an excursion boat in September 1918. He traveled with the band of Fate Marable, which toured on the steamboat Sidney with the Streckfus Steamers line up and down the Mississippi River.[33] Marable was proud of his musical knowledge, and he insisted that Armstrong and other musicians in his band learn sight reading. Armstrong described his time with Marable as “going to the University”, since it gave him a wider experience working with written arrangements. He did return to New Orleans periodically.[34] In 1919, Oliver decided to go north and resigned his position in Kid Ory’s band; Armstrong replaced him. He also became second trumpet for the Tuxedo Brass Band.[35]

    Throughout his riverboat experience, Armstrong’s musicianship began to mature and expand. At twenty, he could read music. He became one of the first jazz musicians to be featured on extended trumpet solos, injecting his own personality and style. He started singing in his performances.[36] In 1922, he moved to Chicago at the invitation of King Oliver. With Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, he could make enough money to quit his day jobs. Although race relations were poor, Chicago was booming. The city had jobs for blacks making good wages at factories with some left over for entertainment.[37]: 86 

    Oliver’s band was among the most influential jazz bands in Chicago in the early 1920s. Armstrong lived luxuriously in his own apartment with his first private bath. Excited as he was to be in Chicago, he began his career-long pastime of writing letters to friends in New Orleans. Armstrong could blow two hundred high Cs in a row. As his reputation grew, he was challenged to cutting contests by other musicians.[38]

    His first studio recordings were with Oliver for Gennett Records on April 5–6, 1923. They endured several hours on the train to remote Richmond, Indiana, and the band was paid little. The quality of the performances was affected by lack of rehearsal, crude recording equipment, bad acoustics, and a cramped studio. In addition, Richmond was associated with the Ku Klux Klan.[39]

    Lil Hardin Armstrong urged him to seek more prominent billing and develop his style apart from the influence of Oliver. She encouraged him to play classical music in church concerts to broaden his skills. She prodded him into wearing more stylish attire to offset his girth. Her influence eventually undermined Armstrong’s relationship with his mentor, especially concerning his salary and additional money that Oliver held back from Armstrong and other band members.[40] Armstrong’s mother, May Ann Albert, came to visit him in Chicago during the summer of 1923 after being told that Armstrong was “out of work, out of money, hungry, and sick”; Hardin located and decorated an apartment for her to live in while she stayed.[41]

    Armstrong and Oliver parted amicably in 1924. Shortly afterward, Armstrong received an invitation to go to New York City to play with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, the top African-American band of the time. He switched to the trumpet to blend in better with the other musicians in his section. His influence on Henderson’s tenor sax soloist, Coleman Hawkins, can be judged by listening to the records made by the band during this period.[citation needed]

    Armstrong adapted to the tightly controlled style of Henderson, playing trumpet and experimenting with the trombone. The other members were affected by Armstrong’s emotional style. His act included singing and telling tales of New Orleans characters, especially preachers.[42] The Henderson Orchestra played in prominent venues for patrons only, including the Roseland Ballroom, with arrangements by Don Redman. Duke Ellington’s orchestra went to Roseland to catch Armstrong’s performances.

    During this time, Armstrong recorded with Clarence Williams (a friend from New Orleans), the Williams Blue Five, Sidney Bechet, and blues singers Alberta Hunter, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith.[43][44]

    In 1925, Armstrong returned to Chicago largely at the insistence of Lil, who wanted to expand his career and his income. In publicity, much to his chagrin, she billed him as “the World’s Greatest Trumpet Player”. For a time he was a member of the Lil Hardin Armstrong Band and working for his wife.[45] He formed Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five and recorded the hits “Potato Head Blues” and “Muggles”. The word “muggles” was a slang term for marijuana, something he used often during his life.[37]

    The Hot Five included Kid Ory (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo), Lil Armstrong on piano, and usually no drummer. Over a twelve-month period starting in November 1925, this quintet produced twenty-four records.[46] Armstrong’s band leading style was easygoing, as St. Cyr noted, “One felt so relaxed working with him, and he was very broad-minded … always did his best to feature each individual.”[47] Among the most notable of the Hot Five and Seven records were “Cornet Chop Suey”, “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”, “Hotter Than that” and “Potato Head Blues,” all featuring highly creative solos by Armstrong. According to Thomas Brothers, recordings, such as “Struttin’ with Some Barbeque,” were so superb, “planned with density and variety, bluesyness, and showiness,” that they were probably showcased at the Sunset Café.[48] His recordings soon after with pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines (most famously their 1928 “Weather Bird” duet) and Armstrong’s trumpet introduction to and solo in “West End Blues” remain some of the most famous and influential improvisations in jazz history. Armstrong was now free to develop his personal style as he wished, which included a heavy dose of effervescent jive, such as “Whip That Thing, Miss Lil” and “Mr. Johnny Dodds, Aw, Do That Clarinet, Boy!”[49]

    Armstrong also played with Erskine Tate’s Little Symphony, which played mostly at the Vendome Theatre. They furnished music for silent movies and live shows, including jazz versions of classical music, such as “Madame Butterfly”, which gave Armstrong experience with longer forms of music and with hosting before a large audience. He began to scat sing (improvise vocal jazz using nonsensical words) and was among the first to record it, on the Hot Five recording “Heebie Jeebies” in 1926. The recording was so popular that the group became the most famous jazz band in the United States, even though they had not performed live to any great extent. Young musicians across the country, black or white, were turned on by Armstrong’s new type of jazz.[50]

    After separating from Lil, Armstrong started to play at the Sunset Café for Al Capone’s associate Joe Glaser in the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra, with Earl Hines on piano, which was renamed Louis Armstrong and his Stompers,[51] though Hines was the music director and Glaser managed the orchestra. Hines and Armstrong became fast friends and successful collaborators. It was at the Sunset Café that Armstrong accompanied singer Adelaide Hall. It was during Hall’s tenure at the venue that she experimented, developed and expanded her use and art of scat singing with Armstrong’s guidance and encouragement.[52]

    In the first half of 1927, Armstrong assembled his Hot Seven group, which added drummer Al “Baby” Dodds and tuba player, Pete Briggs, while preserving most of his original Hot Five lineup. John Thomas replaced Kid Ory on trombone. Later that year he organized a series of new Hot Five sessions which resulted in nine more records. In the last half of 1928, he started recording with a new group: Zutty Singleton (drums), Earl Hines (piano), Jimmy Strong (clarinet), Fred Robinson (trombone), and Mancy Carr (banjo).[53]

    Armstrong returned to New York in 1929, where he played in the pit orchestra for the musical Hot Chocolates, an all-black revue written by Andy Razaf and pianist Fats Waller. He also made a cameo appearance as a vocalist, regularly stealing the show with his rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin'”. His version of the song became his biggest selling record to date.[54]

    Armstrong started to work at Connie’s Inn in Harlem, chief rival to the Cotton Club, a venue for elaborately staged floor shows,[55] and a front for gangster Dutch Schultz. Armstrong also had considerable success with vocal recordings, including versions of famous songs composed by his old friend Hoagy Carmichael. His 1930s recordings took full advantage of the new RCA ribbon microphone, introduced in 1931, which imparted a characteristic warmth to vocals and immediately became an intrinsic part of the ‘crooning’ sound of artists like Bing Crosby. Armstrong’s famous interpretation of Carmichael’s “Stardust” became one of the most successful versions of this song ever recorded, showcasing Armstrong’s unique vocal sound and style and his innovative approach to singing songs that had already become standards.

    Armstrong’s radical re-working of Sidney Arodin and Carmichael’s “Lazy River” (recorded in 1931) encapsulated many features of his groundbreaking approach to melody and phrasing. The song begins with a brief trumpet solo, then the main melody is introduced by sobbing horns, memorably punctuated by Armstrong’s growling interjections at the end of each bar: “Yeah! …”Uh-huh”…”Sure”…”Way down, way down.” In the first verse, he ignores the notated melody entirely and sings as if playing a trumpet solo, pitching most of the first line on a single note and using strongly syncopated phrasing. In the second stanza he breaks into an almost fully improvised melody, which then evolves into a classic passage of Armstrong “scat singing”.

    As with his trumpet playing, Armstrong’s vocal innovations served as a foundation stone for the art of jazz vocal interpretation. The uniquely gravelly coloration of his voice became a musical archetype that was much imitated and endlessly impersonated. His scat singing style was enriched by his matchless experience as a trumpet soloist. His resonant, velvety lower-register tone and bubbling cadences on sides such as “Lazy River” exerted a huge influence on younger white singers such as Bing Crosby.

    The Great Depression of the early 1930s was especially hard on the jazz scene. The Cotton Club closed in 1936 after a long downward spiral, and many musicians stopped playing altogether as club dates evaporated. Bix Beiderbecke died and Fletcher Henderson’s band broke up. King Oliver made a few records but otherwise struggled. Sidney Bechet became a tailor, later moving to Paris and Kid Ory returned to New Orleans and raised chickens.[56]

    Armstrong moved to Los Angeles in 1930 to seek new opportunities. He played at the New Cotton Club in Los Angeles with Lionel Hampton on drums. The band drew the Hollywood crowd, which could still afford a lavish night life, while radio broadcasts from the club connected with younger audiences at home. Bing Crosby and many other celebrities were regulars at the club. In 1931, Armstrong appeared in his first movie, Ex-Flame and was also convicted of marijuana possession but received a suspended sentence.[57] He returned to Chicago in late 1931 and played in bands more in the Guy Lombardo vein and he recorded more standards. When the mob insisted that he get out of town,[58] Armstrong visited New Orleans, had a hero’s welcome, and saw old friends. He sponsored a local baseball team known as Armstrong’s Secret Nine and had a cigar named after him.[59] But soon he was on the road again. After a tour across the country shadowed by the mob, he fled to Europe.

    After returning to the United States, he undertook several exhausting tours. His agent Johnny Collins’s erratic behavior and his own spending ways left Armstrong short of cash. Breach of contract violations plagued him. He hired Joe Glaser as his new manager, a tough mob-connected wheeler-dealer, who began to straighten out his legal mess, his mob troubles, and his debts. Armstrong also began to experience problems with his fingers and lips, which were aggravated by his unorthodox playing style. As a result, he branched out, developing his vocal style and making his first theatrical appearances. He appeared in movies again, including Crosby’s 1936 hit Pennies from Heaven. In 1937, Armstrong substituted for Rudy Vallee on the CBS radio network and became the first African American to host a sponsored, national broadcast.[60]

    During the 1920s, Louis Armstrong brought a huge impact during the Harlem Renaissance within the Jazz world. The music he created was an incredible part of his life during the Harlem Renaissance.[61] His impact touched many, including a well-known man during that time named Langston Hughes. Hughes admired Armstrong and acknowledged him as one of the most recognized musicians during the era.[62] Within Hughes’ writings, he created many books which held the central idea of jazz and recognition to Armstrong as one of the most important persons to be part of the newfound love of their culture.[63] The sound of jazz, along with many other musicians such as Armstrong, helped shape Hughes as a writer. Just as the musicians, Hughes wrote his words with jazz.[64]

    Armstrong changed jazz during the Harlem Renaissance. Being known as “The World’s Greatest Trumpet Player” during this time,[65] Armstrong continued his legacy and continued a focus on his own vocal career. The popularity he gained brought together many black and white audiences to watch him perform.[66]

    After spending many years on the road, Armstrong settled permanently in Queens, New York in 1943 in contentment with his fourth wife, Lucille. Although subject to the vicissitudes of Tin Pan Alley and the gangster-ridden music business, as well as anti-black prejudice, he continued to develop his playing. He recorded Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair” for Okeh Records.

    During the next 30 years, Armstrong played more than 300 performances a year. Bookings for big bands tapered off during the 1940s due to changes in public tastes: ballrooms closed, and there was competition from television and from other types of music becoming more popular than big band music. It became impossible under such circumstances to finance a 16-piece touring band.

    During the 1940s, a widespread revival of interest in the traditional jazz of the 1920s made it possible for Armstrong to consider a return to the small-group musical style of his youth. Armstrong was featured as a guest artist with Lionel Hampton’s band at the famed second Cavalcade of Jazz concert held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles which was produced by Leon Hefflin Sr. on October 12, 1946.[67] Following a highly successful small-group jazz concert at New York Town Hall on May 17, 1947, featuring Armstrong with trombonist/singer Jack Teagarden, Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser dissolved the Armstrong big band on August 13, 1947, and established a six-piece traditional jazz group featuring Armstrong with (initially) Teagarden, Earl Hines and other top swing and Dixieland musicians, most of whom were previously leaders of big bands. The new group was announced at the opening of Billy Berg’s Supper Club.

    This group was called Louis Armstrong and His All Stars and included at various times Earl “Fatha” Hines, Barney Bigard, Edmond Hall, Jack Teagarden, Trummy Young, Arvell Shaw, Billy Kyle, Marty Napoleon, Big Sid “Buddy” Catlett, Cozy Cole, Tyree Glenn, Barrett Deems, Mort Herbert, Joe Darensbourg, Eddie Shu, Joe Muranyi and percussionist Danny Barcelona. During this period, Armstrong made many recordings and appeared in over thirty films. He was the first jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time magazine, on February 21, 1949. Louis Armstrong and his All Stars were featured at the ninth Cavalcade of Jazz concert also at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles produced by Leon Hefflin Sr. held on June 7, 1953, along with Shorty Rogers, Roy Brown, Don Tosti and His Mexican Jazzmen, Earl Bostic, and Nat “King” Cole.[68]

    what was the real first name of the jazz perf

    By the 1950s, Armstrong was a widely beloved American icon and cultural ambassador who commanded an international fanbase. However, a growing generation gap became apparent between him and the young jazz musicians who emerged in the postwar era such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Sonny Rollins. The postwar generation regarded their music as abstract art and considered Armstrong’s vaudevillian style, half-musician and half-stage entertainer, outmoded and Uncle Tomism, “… he seemed a link to minstrelsy that we were ashamed of.”[69] He called bebop “Chinese music”.[70] While touring Australia in 1954, he was asked if he could play bebop. “Bebop?” he husked. “I just play music. Guys who invent terms like that are walking the streets with their instruments under their arms.”[71]

    On February 28, 1948, Suzy Delair sang the French song C’est si bon at the Hotel Negresco during the first Nice Jazz Festival. Louis Armstrong was present and loved the song. On June 26, 1950, he recorded the American version of the song (English lyrics by Jerry Seelen) in New York City with Sy Oliver and his Orchestra. When it was released, the disc was a worldwide success and the song was then performed by the greatest international singers.

    In the 1960s, he toured Ghana and Nigeria.[72][73]

    After finishing his contract with Decca Records, he became a freelance artist and recorded for other labels.[74][75] He continued an intense international touring schedule, but in 1959 he suffered a heart attack in Italy and had to rest.[76]

    In 1964, after over two years without setting foot in a studio, he recorded his biggest-selling record, “Hello, Dolly!”, a song by Jerry Herman, originally sung by Carol Channing. Armstrong’s version remained on the Hot 100 for 22 weeks, longer than any other record produced that year, and went to No. 1 making him, at 62 years, 9 months and 5 days, the oldest person ever to accomplish that feat. In the process, he dislodged the Beatles from the No. 1 position they had occupied for 14 consecutive weeks with three different songs.[77]

    Armstrong kept touring well into his 60s, even visiting part of the communist bloc in 1965. He also toured Africa, Europe, and Asia under the sponsorship of the US State Department with great success, earning the nickname “Ambassador Satch” and inspiring Dave Brubeck to compose his jazz musical The Real Ambassadors. By 1968, he was approaching 70 and his health began to give out. He suffered heart and kidney ailments that forced him to stop touring. He did not perform publicly at all in 1969 and spent most of the year recuperating at home. Meanwhile, his longtime manager Joe Glaser died. By the summer of 1970, his doctors pronounced him fit enough to resume live performances. He embarked on another world tour, but a heart attack forced him to take a break for two months.[79]

    Armstrong made his last recorded trumpet performances on his 1968 album Disney Songs the Satchmo Way.[80]

    The Louis Armstrong House Museum website states:

    Judging from home recorded tapes now in our Museum Collections, Louis pronounced his own name as “Lewis”. On his 1964 record “Hello, Dolly”, he sings, “This is Lewis, Dolly” but in 1933 he made a record called “Laughin’ Louie”. Many broadcast announcers, fans, and acquaintances called him “Louie” and in a videotaped interview from 1983 Lucille Armstrong calls her late husband “Louie” as well. Musicians and close friends usually called him “Pops”.[81]

    In a memoir written for Robert Goffin between 1943 and 1944, Armstrong states, “All white folks call me Louie,” perhaps suggesting that he himself did not or, on the other hand, that no whites addressed him by one of his nicknames such as Pops.[82] That said, Armstrong was registered as “Lewie” for the 1920 U.S. Census. On various live records he’s called “Louie” on stage, such as on the 1952 “Can Anyone Explain?” from the live album In Scandinavia vol.1. The same applies to his 1952 studio recording of the song “Chloe”, where the choir in the background sings “Louie … Louie”, with Armstrong responding “What was that? Somebody called my name?” “Lewie” is the French pronunciation of “Louis” and is commonly used in Louisiana.

    Armstrong was performing at the Brick House in Gretna, Louisiana, when he met Daisy Parker, a local prostitute. He started the affair as a client. He returned to Gretna on several occasions to visit her. He found the courage to look for her home to see her away from work. It was on this occasion that he found out that she had a common-law husband. Not long after this fiasco, Parker traveled to Armstrong’s home on Perdido Street.[83] They checked into Kid Green’s hotel that evening. On the next day, March 19, 1919, Armstrong and Parker married at City Hall.[83][84] They adopted a three-year-old boy, Clarence, whose mother, Armstrong’s cousin Flora, had died soon after giving birth. Clarence Armstrong was mentally disabled as the result of a head injury at an early age, and Armstrong spent the rest of his life taking care of him.[85] His marriage to Parker ended when they separated in 1923.

    On February 4, 1924, he married Lil Hardin Armstrong, King Oliver’s pianist. She had divorced her first husband a few years earlier. His second wife helped him develop his career, but they separated in 1931 and divorced in 1938. Armstrong then married Alpha Smith.[86] His relationship with Alpha, however, began while he was playing at the Vendome during the 1920s and continued long after.[87] His marriage to his third wife lasted four years, and they divorced in 1942. Louis then married Lucille Wilson, a singer at the Cotton Club in New York, in October 1942; they remained married until his death in 1971.[88]

    Armstrong’s marriages never produced any offspring.[89] However, in December 2012, 57-year-old Sharon Preston-Folta claimed to be his daughter from a 1950s affair between Armstrong and Lucille “Sweets” Preston, a dancer at the Cotton Club.[90] In a 1955 letter to his manager, Joe Glaser, Armstrong affirmed his belief that Preston’s newborn baby was his daughter, and ordered Glaser to pay a monthly allowance of $400 (US$4,830 in 2020 dollars[91]) to mother and child.[92]

    Armstrong was noted for his colorful and charismatic personality. His autobiography vexed some biographers and historians, as he had a habit of telling tales, particularly of his early childhood when he was less scrutinized, and his embellishments of his history often lack consistency.[93]

    In addition to being an entertainer, Armstrong was a leading personality of the day. He was beloved by an American public that gave even the greatest African American performers little access beyond their public celebrity, and he was able to live a private life of access and privilege afforded to few other African Americans during that era.[93]

    He generally remained politically neutral, which at times alienated him from members of the black community who looked to him to use his prominence with white America to become more of an outspoken figure during the civil rights movement. However, he did criticize President Eisenhower for not acting forcefully enough on civil rights.[93]

    The trumpet is a notoriously hard instrument on the lips, and Armstrong suffered from lip damage over much of his life due to his aggressive style of playing and preference for narrow mouthpieces that would stay in place more easily, but which tended to dig into the soft flesh of his inner lip. During his 1930s European tour, he suffered an ulceration so severe that he had to stop playing entirely for a year. Eventually he took to using salves and creams on his lips and also cutting off scar tissue with a razor blade. By the 1950s, he was an official spokesman for Ansatz-Creme Lip Salve.[94]

    During a backstage meeting with trombonist Marshall Brown in 1959, Armstrong received the suggestion that he should go to a doctor and receive proper treatment for his lips instead of relying on home remedies, but he did not get around to arranging it until the final years of his life, by which point his health was failing and doctors considered surgery too risky.[95]

    Also in 1959, Armstrong was hospitalized for pneumonia while on tour in Italy. Doctors were concerned about his lungs and heart, but by June 26 he rallied.[96]

    The nicknames “Satchmo” and “Satch” are short for “Satchelmouth”. The nickname has many possible origins.[93] The most common tale that biographers tell is the story of Armstrong as a young boy in New Orleans dancing for pennies. He scooped the coins off the street and stuck them into his mouth to prevent bigger children from stealing them. Someone dubbed him “satchel mouth” for his mouth acting as a satchel. Another tale is that because of his large mouth, he was nicknamed “satchel mouth” which was shortened to “Satchmo”.[93]

    Early on he was also known as “Dipper”, short for “Dippermouth”, a reference to the piece Dippermouth Blues[97] and something of a riff on his unusual embouchure.

    The nickname “Pops” came from Armstrong’s own tendency to forget people’s names and simply call them “Pops” instead. The nickname was turned on Armstrong himself. It was used as the title of a 2010 biography of Armstrong by Terry Teachout.[93]

    After a competition at the Savoy, he was crowned and nicknamed “King Menelik,” after the Emperor of Ethiopia, for slaying “ofay jazz demons”.[98]

    Armstrong was largely accepted into white society, both on stage and off, a rarity for a Black person at the time. Some musicians criticized Armstrong for playing in front of segregated audiences, and for not taking a strong enough stand in the American civil rights movement.[99] When he did speak out, it made national news, including his criticism of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, calling him “two-faced” and “gutless” because of his inaction during the conflict over school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. As a protest, Armstrong canceled a planned tour of the Soviet Union on behalf of the State Department saying: “The way they’re treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell” and that he could not represent his government abroad when it was in conflict with its own people.[100][101] The FBI kept a file on Armstrong for his outspokenness about integration.[102]

    When asked about his religion, Armstrong answered that he was raised a Baptist, always wore a Star of David, and was friends with the pope.[103] He wore the Star of David in honor of the Karnoffsky family, who took him in as a child and lent him money to buy his first cornet. He was baptized a Catholic in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in New Orleans,[103] and he met Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI.[93]

    Armstrong was concerned with his health. He used laxatives to control his weight, a practice he advocated both to acquaintances and in the diet plans he published under the title Lose Weight the Satchmo Way.[93] Armstrong’s laxative of preference in his younger days was Pluto Water, but when he discovered the herbal remedy Swiss Kriss, he became an enthusiastic convert,[93] extolling its virtues to anyone who would listen and passing out packets to everyone he encountered, including members of the British Royal Family. (Armstrong also appeared in humorous, albeit risqué, cards that he had printed to send out to friends; the cards bore a picture of him sitting on a toilet—as viewed through a keyhole—with the slogan “Satch says, ‘Leave it all behind ya!'”)[104] The cards have sometimes been incorrectly described as ads for Swiss Kriss.[105] In a live recording of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Velma Middleton, he changes the lyric from “Put another record on while I pour” to “Take some Swiss Kriss while I pour”.[106] His laxative use began as a child when his mother would collect dandelions and peppergrass around the railroad tracks to give to her children for their health.[107]

    Armstrong was a heavy marijuana smoker for much of his life and spent nine days in jail in 1930 after being arrested for drug possession outside a club. He described marijuana as “a thousand times better than whiskey”.[108]

    The concern with his health and weight was balanced by his love of food, reflected in such songs as “Cheesecake”, “Cornet Chop Suey”,[109] though “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” was written about a fine-looking companion, not about food.[110] He kept a strong connection throughout his life to the cooking of New Orleans, always signing his letters, “Red beans and ricely yours …”[111]

    A fan of Major League Baseball, he founded a team in New Orleans that was known as Raggedy Nine and transformed the team into his Armstrong’s “Secret Nine Baseball”.[112]

    Armstrong’s gregariousness extended to writing. On the road, he wrote constantly, sharing favorite themes of his life with correspondents around the world. He avidly typed or wrote on whatever stationery was at hand, recording instant takes on music, sex, food, childhood memories, his heavy “medicinal” marijuana use—and even his bowel movements, which he gleefully described.[113]

    Louis Armstrong was not, as is often claimed, a Freemason. Although he is usually listed as being a member of Montgomery Lodge No. 18 (Prince Hall) in New York, no such lodge has ever existed. However, Armstrong stated in his autobiography that he was a member of the Knights of Pythias, which although real is not a Masonic group.[114]
    During the krewe’s 1949 Mardi Gras parade, Armstrong presided as King of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, for which he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine.[115]

    In his early years, Armstrong was best known for his virtuosity with the cornet and trumpet. Along with his “clarinet-like figurations and high notes in his cornet solos”, he was also known for his “intense rhythmic ‘swing’, a complex conception involving … accented upbeats, upbeat to downbeat slurring, and complementary relations among rhythmic patterns.”[116] The most lauded recordings on which Armstrong plays trumpet include the Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions, as well as those of the Red Onion Jazz Babies. Armstrong’s improvisations, while unconventionally sophisticated for that era, were also subtle and highly melodic. The solo that Armstrong plays during the song “Potato Head Blues” has long been considered his best solo of that series.[93][117]

    Prior to Armstrong, most collective ensemble playing in jazz, along with its occasional solos, simply varied the melodies of the songs. Armstrong was virtually the first to create significant variations based on the chord harmonies of the songs instead of merely on the melodies. This opened a rich field for creation and improvisation, and significantly changed the music into a soloist’s art form.[93]

    Often, Armstrong re-composed pop-tunes he played, simply with variations that made them more compelling to jazz listeners of the era. At the same time, however, his oeuvre includes many original melodies, creative leaps, and relaxed or driving rhythms. Armstrong’s playing technique, honed by constant practice, extended the range, tone and capabilities of the trumpet. In his records, Armstrong almost single-handedly created the role of the jazz soloist, taking what had been essentially a collective folk music and turning it into an art form with tremendous possibilities for individual expression.[93]

    Armstrong was one of the first artists to use recordings of his performances to improve himself. Armstrong was an avid audiophile. He had a large collection of recordings, including reel-to-reel tapes, which he took on the road with him in a trunk during his later career. He enjoyed listening to his own recordings, and comparing his performances musically. In the den of his home, he had the latest audio equipment and would sometimes rehearse and record along with his older recordings or the radio.[118]

    As his music progressed and popularity grew, his singing also became very important. Armstrong was not the first to record scat singing, but he was masterful at it and helped popularize it with the first recording on which he scatted, “Heebie Jeebies”. At a recording session for Okeh Records, when the sheet music supposedly fell on the floor and the music began before he could pick up the pages, Armstrong simply started singing nonsense syllables while Okeh president E.A. Fearn, who was at the session, kept telling him to continue. Armstrong did, thinking the track would be discarded, but that was the version that was pressed to disc, sold, and became an unexpected hit. Although the story was thought to be apocryphal, Armstrong himself confirmed it in at least one interview as well as in his memoirs.[119] On a later recording, Armstrong also sang out “I done forgot the words” in the middle of recording “I’m A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas”.

    Such records were hits and scat singing became a major part of his performances. Long before this, however, Armstrong was playing around with his vocals, shortening and lengthening phrases, interjecting improvisations, using his voice as creatively as his trumpet.[93] Armstrong once told Cab Calloway that his scat style was derived “from the Jews rockin”, an Orthodox Jewish style of chanting during prayer.[120][121]

    Armstrong was a gifted composer who wrote more than fifty songs, some of which have become jazz standards (e.g. “Gully Low Blues”, “Potato Head Blues” and “Swing That Music”).

    During his long career he played and sang with some of the most important instrumentalists and vocalists of the time; among them were Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, Jimmie Rodgers, Bessie Smith and perhaps most famously Ella Fitzgerald. His influence upon Crosby is particularly important with regard to the subsequent development of popular music: Crosby admired and copied Armstrong, as is evident on many of his early recordings, notably “Just One More Chance” (1931).[93] The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz describes Crosby’s debt to Armstrong in precise detail, although it does not acknowledge Armstrong by name:

    Crosby … was important in introducing into the mainstream of popular singing an Afro-American concept of song as a lyrical extension of speech … His techniques—easing the weight of the breath on the vocal cords, passing into a head voice at a low register, using forward production to aid distinct enunciation, singing on consonants (a practice of black singers), and making discreet use of appoggiaturas, mordents, and slurs to emphasize the text—were emulated by nearly all later popular singers.

    Armstrong recorded two albums with Ella Fitzgerald: Ella and Louis, and Ella and Louis Again for Verve Records, with the sessions featuring the backing musicianship of the Oscar Peterson Trio and drummers Buddy Rich (on the first album), and Louie Bellson (on the second). Norman Granz then had the vision for Ella and Louis to record Porgy and Bess.

    His recordings for Columbia Records, Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy (1954) and Satch Plays Fats (all Fats Waller tunes) (1955) were both being considered masterpieces, as well as moderately well selling. In 1961 the All Stars participated in two albums—The Great Summit and The Great Reunion (now together as a single disc) with Duke Ellington. The albums feature many of Ellington’s most famous compositions (as well as two exclusive cuts) with Duke sitting in on piano. His participation in Dave Brubeck’s high-concept jazz musical The Real Ambassadors (1963) was critically acclaimed, and features “Summer Song”, one of Armstrong’s most popular vocal efforts.

    In the week beginning May 9, 1964, his recording of the song “Hello, Dolly” went to number one. An album of the same title was quickly created around the song, and also shot to number one (knocking The Beatles off the top of the chart). The album sold very well for the rest of the year, quickly going “Gold” (500,000). His performance of “Hello Dolly” won for best male pop vocal performance at the 1964 Grammy Awards.

    Armstrong had nineteen “Top Ten” records[122] including “Stardust”, “What a Wonderful World”, “When The Saints Go Marching In”, “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, “Ain’t Misbehavin'”, “You Rascal You”, and “Stompin’ at the Savoy”. “We Have All the Time in the World” was featured on the soundtrack of the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and enjoyed renewed popularity in the UK in 1994 when it featured on a Guinness advertisement. It reached number 3 in the charts on being re-released.

    In 1964, Armstrong knocked The Beatles off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Hello, Dolly!”, which gave the 63-year-old performer a U.S. record as the oldest artist to have a number one song. His 1964 song “Bout Time” was later featured in the film Bewitched.[93]

    In February 1968, he appeared with Lara Saint Paul on the Italian RAI television channel where he performed “Grassa e Bella”, a track he sang in Italian for the Italian market and C.D.I. label.[123]

    In 1968, Armstrong scored one last popular hit in the United Kingdom with “What a Wonderful World”, which topped the British charts for a month. Armstrong appeared on the October 28, 1970, Johnny Cash Show, where he sang Nat King Cole’s hit “Ramblin’ Rose” and joined Cash to re-create his performance backing Jimmie Rodgers on “Blue Yodel No. 9”.

    Armstrong enjoyed many types of music, from blues to the arrangements of Guy Lombardo, to Latin American folksongs, to classical symphonies and opera. He incorporated influences from all these sources into his performances, sometimes to the bewilderment of fans who wanted him to stay in convenient narrow categories. Armstrong was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence. Some of his solos from the 1950s, such as the hard rocking version of “St. Louis Blues” from the WC Handy album, show that the influence went in both directions.[93]

    Armstrong appeared in more than a dozen Hollywood films, usually playing a bandleader or musician. His most familiar role was as the bandleader cum narrator in the 1956 musical High Society starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Celeste Holm. He appears throughout the film, also sings the title song as well as performs a duet with Crosby, “Now You Has Jazz”.[124] In 1947, he played himself in the movie New Orleans opposite Billie Holiday, which chronicled the demise of the Storyville district and the ensuing exodus of musicians from New Orleans to Chicago. In the 1959 film The Five Pennies he played himself, sang, and played several classic numbers. With Danny Kaye he performed a duet of “When the Saints Go Marching In” during which Kaye impersonated Armstrong. He had a part in the film alongside James Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story.

    In 1937, Armstrong was the first African American to host a nationally broadcast radio show.[125] In 1969, he had a cameo role in Gene Kelly’s film version of Hello, Dolly! as the bandleader Louis. He sang the title song with actress Barbra Streisand. His solo recording of “Hello, Dolly!” is one of his most recognizable performances.[93] He was heard on such radio programs as The Story of Swing (1937) and This Is Jazz (1947), and he also made television appearances, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, including appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.[93]

    Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, a self-described Armstrong admirer, asserted that a 1952 Louis Armstrong concert at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris played a significant role in inspiring him to create the fictional creatures called Cronopios that are the subject of a number of Cortázar’s short stories. Cortázar once called Armstrong himself “Grandísimo Cronopio” (The Great Cronopio).[93]

    There is a pivotal scene in Stardust Memories (1980) in which Woody Allen is overwhelmed by a recording of Armstrong’s “Stardust” and experiences a nostalgic epiphany.[126]

    Against his doctor’s advice, Armstrong played a two-week engagement in March 1971 at the Waldorf-Astoria’s Empire Room. At the end of it, he was hospitalized for a heart attack.[127] He was released from the hospital in May, and quickly resumed practicing his trumpet playing. Still hoping to get back on the road, Armstrong died of a heart attack in his sleep on July 6, 1971, a month before his 70th birthday.[128] He was residing in Corona, Queens, New York City, at the time of his death.[129] He was interred in Flushing Cemetery, Flushing, in Queens, New York City.
    His honorary pallbearers included Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Earl Wilson, Alan King, Johnny Carson and David Frost.[130] Peggy Lee sang The Lord’s Prayer at the services while Al Hibbler sang “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and Fred Robbins, a long-time friend, gave the eulogy.[131]

    Armstrong was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1972 by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Recording Academy’s National Trustees to performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording.[132]

    Recordings of Armstrong were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least 25 years old, and that have “qualitative or historical significance”.[133][134]

    The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed Armstrong’s West End Blues on the list of 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll.[135]

    In 1995, the U.S. Post Office issued a Louis Armstrong 32 cents commemorative postage stamp.

    In 1999 Armstrong was nominated for inclusion in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years … 100 Stars.[137]

    The influence of Armstrong on the development of jazz is virtually immeasurable. His irrepressible personality both as a performer and as a public figure was so strong that to some it sometimes overshadowed his contributions as a musician and singer.

    As a virtuoso trumpet player, Armstrong had a unique tone and an extraordinary talent for melodic improvisation. Through his playing, the trumpet emerged as a solo instrument in jazz and is used widely today. Additionally, jazz itself was transformed from a collectively improvised folk music to a soloist’s serious art form largely through his influence. He was a masterful accompanist and ensemble player in addition to his extraordinary skills as a soloist. With his innovations, he raised the bar musically for all who came after him.

    Though Armstrong is widely recognized as a pioneer of scat singing, Ethel Waters precedes his scatting on record in the 1930s according to Gary Giddins and others.[138] Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra are just two singers who were greatly indebted to him. Holiday said that she always wanted Bessie Smith’s ‘big’ sound and Armstrong’s feeling in her singing. Even special musicians like Duke Ellington have praised Armstrong through strong testimonials. Duke Ellington, DownBeat magazine in 1971, said, “If anybody was a master, it was Louis Armstrong. He was and will continue to be the embodiment of jazz.”[139] In 1950, Bing Crosby, the most successful vocalist of the first half of the 20th century, said, “He is the beginning and the end of music in America.”[140]

    In the summer of 2001, in commemoration of the centennial of Armstrong’s birth, New Orleans’s main airport was renamed Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

    In 2002, the Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (1925–1928) were preserved in the United States National Recording Registry, a registry of recordings selected yearly by the National Recording Preservation Board for preservation in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.[141]

    The US Open tennis tournament’s former main stadium was named Louis Armstrong Stadium in honor of Armstrong who had lived a few blocks from the site.[142]

    Congo Square was a common gathering place for African-Americans in New Orleans for dancing and performing music. The park where Congo Square is located was later renamed Louis Armstrong Park.[143] Dedicated in April 1980, the park includes a 12-foot statue of Armstrong, trumpet in hand.[144]

    The house where Armstrong lived for almost 28 years was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and is now a museum. The Louis Armstrong House Museum, at 34-56 107th Street between 34th and 37th avenues in Corona, Queens, presents concerts and educational programs, operates as a historic house museum and makes materials in its archives of writings, books, recordings and memorabilia available to the public for research. The museum is operated by the Queens College, City University of New York, following the dictates of Lucille Armstrong’s will. The museum opened to the public on October 15, 2003. A new visitors center is planned.[145]

    According to literary critic Harold Bloom, “The two great American contributions to the world’s art, in the end, are Walt Whitman and, after him, Armstrong and jazz … If I had to choose between the two, ultimately, I wouldn’t. I would say that the genius of this nation at its best is indeed Walt Whitman and Louis Armstrong.”[146]

    Louis Armstrong was among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[147]


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    The five members of the band took the lift to the 12th Floor of the Victor Talking Machine Company’s building on 38th Street in New York City. They were known for playing while wearing white shirts with top collars buttoned and no neckties but black dinner jackets with shiny lapels. The song this quintet would play for the waiting microphones was silly, and not rendered with the greatest of technical skill – its most memorable moment is when a clarinet imitates the sound of a rooster; a cornet, a whinnying horse; and a trombone, a cow. The Beatles playing Ed Sullivan this was not. And yet this was as significant a moment in US musical history. The date was 26 February 1917, and this novelty song, Livery Stable Blues by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, was the first jazz recording.

    The Original Dixieland Jass Band’s Livery Stable Blues was the first jazz recording but their later song Tiger Rag would be more influential (Credit: Wikipedia)

    That would be a remarkable milestone in its own right, but embedded into Livery Stable Blues are issues that have haunted jazz, and popular music as a whole, ever since. We all know the debates, from Elvis to Taylor Swift, over white copycats appropriating the sound and style of black musicians. When they recorded Livery Stable Blues the all-white Original Dixieland Jass Band borrowed to the point of plagiarism from the African-American musicians they’d heard in their native New Orleans. We follow the legal challenges over who wrote Stairway to Heaven or whether Blurred Lines should have listed Marvin Gaye as a co-author. Livery Stable Blues, one of the first true hit singles, selling over one million copies at a time most still preferred to buy sheet music over recordings, inspired its own attribution battle. We’ve all heard the arguments, usually from very concerned parents, about what defines good taste or aesthetic achievement in popular music. The judge who presided over the lawsuit about who wrote Livery Stable Blues ultimately ruled that since the song was in bad taste and composed by people who couldn’t actually read or write sheet music it would be remanded to the “public domain” with no writer attributed at all.

    what was the real first name of the jazz perf

    More than other forms of popular music Jazz is particularly fraught with these kind of debates, but some of the most heated arguments among jazz aficionados are even more fundamental: what qualifies as jazz? Does jazz have some essential ingredient? Where does the term “jazz” even come from? One hundred years after the first jazz recording, the answers remain elusive, but the story of Livery Stable Blues shows how early the questions that still surround the genre were raised.

    Word play

    ‘Jazz’ was named the Word of the 20th Century by the American Dialect Society, which is remarkable since we don’t actually know for sure from where the term originates. One of the most striking features of jazz to its earliest listeners was its speed, its sheer energy. Dating back to 1860 there had been an African-American slang term, ‘jasm’, which means ‘vim’ or ‘energy’.  On 14 November 1916, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper referred for the first time to “jas bands”.  That particular spelling suggests “jas” could have come from jasm. Or perhaps it referred to the jasmine perfume that prostitutes in New Orleans’ famed Storyville red light district often wore – jazz music had developed, in part, as the music played in brothels. Early jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton, whose own name was a euphemism for sex, first developed his own style playing piano in these ‘sporting houses’ and to get extra tips he’d peek at a prostitute and her client through a peephole and time his playing with the pace of their revels.

    In 1915 Jelly Roll Morton published jazz’s first sheet music – he lived a wild life, playing piano in brothels as a teen and replacing a front tooth with a diamond (Credit: Alamy)

    The Original Dixieland Jass Band itself shows the etymological mystery of jazz. Like ‘jas’, ‘jass’ probably has a sexual connotation, as a reference to a woman’s backside. Musician Eubie Blake said, in an interview with National Public Radio before his death in 1983: “When Broadway picked it up, they called it ‘J-A-Z-Z.’ It wasn’t called that. It was spelled ‘J-A-S-S.’ That was dirty, and if you knew what it was, you wouldn’t say it in front of ladies.” Or perhaps by the time ‘jass’ made it to New York City from New Orleans, bandleaders were simply tired of pranksters scratching off the ‘j’ from their posters. A few months after that recording of Livery Stable Blues, the fivesome would change their name to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band for good.

    The prostitutes in New Orleans’ red light district often wore jasmine – an early spelling of jazz, ‘jas’, suggests the music took its name from the scent (Credit: EJ Bellocq)

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  • Livery Stable Blues also helps answer the question ‘What is jazz?’ by pointing to its roots. The song is structured around three chords and into 12 bars, like virtually all blues songs emerging from the African-American tradition. Its barnyard sounds connect it to the setting of the work songs black field labourers would sing. Its habanera beat, common to so much of jazz, reflects the influence of bouncy Caribbean melodies on New Orleans music – there were several ferries arriving in New Orleans from Havana every day in the early 20th Century. Its repetition indicates the call-and-response tradition of black Baptist churches. The clarinet, cornet and trombone in its arrangement reflect the influence of march music, which was wildly popular in New Orleans during and after the Civil War and resulted in an excess of brass and woodwind instruments floating around the city for would-be musicians to play. Its piano comes from the tradition of ragtime, the musical form that directly proceeded jazz. And its sense of humour comes from minstrelsy, the tradition of parodying opera and operettas and poking fun, often most insensitively, at the racial divide between white and black. Minstrelsy most commonly featured white musicians in blackface projecting their own cartoonish idea of what it meant to be black – and it was by far the most popular form of music in the US from 1840 to 1920. But while minstrelsy involved white Americans parodying their idea of African-Americans, many other white musicians like those of the Original Dixieland Jass Band chose to copy African-American musical traditions wholesale.

    The musical DNA in Livery Stable Blues comes from black artists and shows that jazz is a fundamentally African-American music, even if an all-white band was first to record it. The particular mix of African-style drumbeats and the Caribbean rhythm, found in this song but so common to jazz as a whole, points to the time from 1817 to 1843, when black slaves – some from Africa, some from the Caribbean, some from the interior of the American South – would gather on Sundays in New Orleans’ Congo Square to play music and cross-pollinate their traditions. New Orleans Creoles of colour, who were the mixed-race descendants of black and white ancestors, typically identified more with European culture than with Africa’s. After the Jim Crow laws of 1890 classified the city’s mixed-race Creoles as ‘black’, they were only allowed to play with other black musicians and this brought a greater musical fluency and technical skill to black music because many Creoles of colour were trained in classical music. Jazz emerged from this merger of forms.

    Full circle

    But as to who actually invented jazz, if such an achievement could be attributed to one person, that’s a tricky matter. Some say Elvis Presley or Chuck Berry invented rock n’ roll, others would argue DJ Kool Herc or Grandmaster Flash created hip hop. Nick La Rocca, the Original Dixieland Jass Band’s cornet player and composer, claimed that he personally invented jazz – though the cornetist Buddy Bolden had a much better claim, or even the Creole artist Morton, who certainly was the first to write jazz out as sheet music and always said he’d invented it. As jazz historian Gary Giddins puts it, “LaRocca turned racist, and proceeded to make horrible statements about how whites invented jazz, and how they were there before the black guys, and so forth, scurrilous stuff — a cartoon cliché of the Southern bigot.” Louis Armstrong was more charitable in his 1936 book Swing That Music, calling the Original Dixieland Jass Band “the first great jazz orchestra” and that LaRocca “had an instrumentation different from anything before, an instrumentation that made the old songs sound new.” But LaRocca’s later statements follow a long tradition in the US of white artists dependent on African-American culture publicly degrading it in order to justify their exploitation of it.

    Albert Gleizes’ painting Composition Pour Jazz, from 1915, shows how quickly jazz became an idea that inspired artists in other media (Credit: The Guggenheim, New York)

    It’s not only the racism and the cultural appropriation that makes even Dixieland jazz aficionados uncomfortable with the Original Dixieland Jass Band – it’s the bad taste of it all too: LaRocca’s inflammatory comments, yes, but also the silliness of the animal sounds the musicians imitate in their performances, their lack of technical proficiency, the association of their sound with minstrelsy. But the loudest voices who declare ‘this is not jazz’ about any particular band or sound are usually jazz obsessives splitting musical hairs that only the infatuated would care about. It’s an internal civil war.

    Henri Matisse produced an entire volume of his famous cutouts, accompanied by his own poetic, written thoughts, dedicated to jazz in 1947 (Credit: Christie’s)

    Jazz as a whole also came under attack as an example of bad taste, however, in much the same way rock n’ roll and hip-hop would later, by people who had no knowledge of the music whatsoever. The New York Times published editorial after editorial throughout the late 1910s and 1920s touting the dangers of jazz, which had historically been associated with the brothels where it was initially played; just months after Livery Stable Blues became a hit recording, the Storyville red light district, previous tolerated by the city leaders of New Orleans, was completely shut down. And Edward Baxter Perry wrote in the popular music magazine The Etude that ragtime, into which he was lumping early jazz songs like Livery Stable Blues and the Original Dixieland Jass Band’s even more popular 1917 follow-up Tiger Rag, “is syncopation gone mad. And its victims in my opinion can only be treated like the dog with rabies, with a dose of lead. Whether it is simply a passing phase in our decadent art culture, or an infectious disease which has come to say, like leprosy, time will tell.”

    These attacks on jazz from both outsiders and insiders still occur today. Even the film La La Land taps into this, with Emma Stone’s jazz neophyte Mia declaring “I hate jazz” while Ryan Gosling’s jazz pianist Seb frets endlessly about what is and isn’t jazz and whether the form has a future – “it’s conflict and it’s compromise, it’s new every time, and it’s dying.”

    Over the 100-year journey from Livery Stable Blues to La La Land the music has changed drastically, while the discourse has remained the same. Perhaps it’s time to stop talking and start listening.

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    From iconic bandleaders to unique talents, the best jazz pianists both shaped the genre and revolutionized the role of the piano in music.

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    In jazz, the horns – the saxophones and trumpets – have traditionally been the music’s glamour instruments and its main focus. But the piano has played an important role in the development of the genre, both as a spotlighted solo instrument and due to its role in the rhythm section, and the world’s best jazz pianists have elevated it to a crucial element of any jazz ensemble.

    While you’re reading, listen to our Jazz Piano Classics playlist here.

    what was the real first name of the jazz perf

    The piano’s importance in jazz stretches back to the time of Scott Joplin, at the turn of the 19th Century, when ragtime – with its jaunty, percussive rhythms – proved an important early building block in the evolution of jazz music.

    From ragtime piano came the more sophisticated and virtuosic “stride” style of James P Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith – with its locomotive, two-step, left-hand accompaniment – in the 20s and 30s, which in turn led to Fats Waller and ultimately culminated with Art Tatum. Hands down one of the best jazz pianists in history, Tatum was a blind genius who arguably created the most densely polyphonic and sophisticated pre-bebop piano style of all, fusing stride with swing.

    In the mid-40s, the bebop revolution, instigated by horn players Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, resulted in a generation of artists (led by Bud Powell) who would enter the ranks of the best jazz pianists with an approach that treated the instrument like a trumpet or saxophone, picking out syncopated right-hand melodies with horn-style phrasing. When the 50s arrived, there were others, such as Bill Evans, who fused the bop aesthetic with a sensibility nurtured on classical and romantic music, producing a densely-harmonized piano style that was supremely lyrical and richly expressive. Evans’ influence – like Bud Powell’s before him – was pervasive, and many future jazz piano stars (from Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea to Keith Jarrett and, more recently, Brad Mehldau) are indebted to him.

    The jazz world has produced an abundance of super-talented piano masters in the past 100 years – many more than can be accommodated in this list of the 50 best jazz pianists of all time. Indeed, whittling it down was not an easy task, but we’ve persevered and come up with a list of names that we believe represent the most important ivory-ticklers of the genre.

    In our estimation, the 50 best jazz pianists of all time are…

    Opinions differ on the significance of this blind, Chicago-born pianist who played with Charlie Parker in the late 40s and went on to establish himself as a musician with a unique sound and style. What is certain is that Tristano was an uncompromising innovator whose unorthodox conception of melody and harmony presaged the birth of free jazz. He also experimented with multi-tracking recording in the early 50s – which most jazz musicians considered anathema – by overdubbing improvised piano parts. Tristano was also a noted jazz teacher and it is claimed that his influence affected Miles Davis (on Birth Of The Cool) as well as Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan.

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  • From Brooklyn, New York, Kirkland had a fruitful association with the Marsalis brothers, Wynton and Branford, in the 80s and 90s, appearing as a sideman on many of their albums. Kirkland also played with jazz greats, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Elvin Jones, in the 80s, and appeared on five albums by ex-Police frontman, Sting. His own discography contains just one solo album, 1991’s Kenny Kirkland, for GRP, though it’s likely that, had he not died prematurely, aged 43, from congestive heart failure, Kirkland would have recorded many more solo albums.

    A founding father of an accessible, R&B-inflected form of instrumental music called smooth jazz, Grusin is rare among the best jazz pianists for having also set up his own record label, GRP, in 1978. Originally from Colorado, Grusin began releasing piano-led albums under his own name in the early 60s, a decade that also saw him break into the world of television music, where he wrote themes for numerous US TV shows. Grusin went on to become a prolific composer of movie scores (among them On Golden Pond and The Fabulous Baker Boys) and has also released a raft of keyboard-oriented studio albums.

    Born Columbus Calvin Pearson in Atlanta, Georgia, Pearson’s career took off when he moved to New York City in 1959. That was the year he recorded his debut album for Blue Note, and he went onto become one of the best jazz pianists the iconic label signed. Enjoying a long association with Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff’s outfit, he not only recorded his own music, but worked as an in-house arranger and A&R man. A capable and versatile pianist, Pearson’s own records veered more towards the soul jazz style.

    A sideman for noted saxophonists Lou Donaldson, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Harold Land in the 50s, New Yorker Hope (real name St Elmo Sylvester Hope) was a bebop pianist with a bright sound, dynamic touch and, like Thelonious Monk, had a penchant for dissonance. He recorded for Blue Note, Prestige, and Pacific Jazz in the 50s. Sadly, his life was blighted by drug addiction, which hastened his premature death at the age of 43.

    As a teacher, this capable Philadelphia pianist can count Maynard Ferguson pianist Earl MacDonald, and recent Blue Note signing Aaron Parks, as his star pupils. Barron’s own career began with sideman stints with Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz. A nine-time Grammy nominee, Barron has been recording since the late 60s and his many collaborators include fellow pianists Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris. A master who is fluent in both the bebop and post-bop styles, Barron is one of the best jazz pianists alive today.

    As one of the charter members of The Modern Jazz Quartet, a pioneering group that fused bebop with classical music aesthetics, Lewis was an influential musician whose gleaming, staccato piano style was indebted to Count Basie and saxophonist Lester Young. Prior to the MJQ, he was a sideman for Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. Outside of his band, Lewis made many albums under his own name, the earliest in 1955.

    Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Mabern is unique among the best jazz pianists for having begun as a drummer before switching to piano. Moving to Chicago, and then New York, he was regarded as a go-to sideman in the late 50s and early 60s (playing with the likes of Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, Roland Kirk, and Wes Montgomery) before beginning his own recording career, which started at Prestige Records in 1968. A virtuoso who is fully fluent in bebop, modal, and post-bop jazz styles, Mabern is still actively recording and performing today at the age of 81.

    New York City-born Drew – who served his musical apprenticeship as a sideman for Buddy DeFranco, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker – was a highly-regarded bebop pianist and composer who enjoyed a long and fruitful association with tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, when both musicians lived in Denmark during the 60s and 70s. Cutting his first solo LP in 1953, Drew recorded regularly for a variety of different labels up until his death. He died and was buried in Copenhagen.

    An eclectic, versatile pianist who also played saxophone, Massachusetts-born Byard’s own music drew on everything from ragtime to free jazz and also covered all styles in between. He played with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson in the late 50s, but his career really took off when he moved to New York City in the 60s. He spent two years with Charles Mingus, as well as working with Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk. Though revered by the critics, Byard’s unique sound was less well-received by the public, but he remains one of the best jazz pianists in history, not only because of his impact on jazz in general, but also in relation to his role in the evolution of the piano itself.

    40: Cedar Walton (1934-2013)
    From Dallas, Texas, as a child this hard bop piano giant was raised on a diet of Art Tatum, Nat “King” Cole, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk. Though their music infused Walton’s own style, he found his own voice on the piano and, after a stint with Kenny Dorham, John Coltrane, and The Jazztet, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1961, going on to cut nine albums with the group. Walton’s own career as a leader began in 1967 and, in the 70s, he dabbled with jazz-funk and fusion. In addition to being a gifted pianist, Walton was also a noted composer, contributing “Bolivia” and “Mode For Joe” to the jazz standards repertoire.
    39: Barry Harris (born 1929)
    Born and raised in Detroit, Harris, whose mother played piano in church, was an early starter, taking up his chosen instrument at the age of four. When he was older, he was smitten by jazz and fell under the spell of modernists Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. By the 50s, Harris was a jobbing pianist and worked with Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, and Gene Ammons; in the 60s he gigged with Cannonball Adderley. Stylistically, Harris is a staunch disciple of hard bop, which is reflected in the horn-like phrasing of his right-hand melodies, complex rhythmic syncopations, and dense harmonization. One of the best jazz pianists still with us from the bebop era.

    38: Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981)
    Born Mary Elfrieda Scruggs in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Pittsburgh, Williams was a self-taught pianist who rose to fame as a teenage prodigy in the 20s. By the 30s, she was working as a freelance arranger, writing charts for Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, and, later, Duke Ellington. When bebop arrived, in the mid-40s, she had an affinity for the revolutionary new style, and was a mentor to Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. A prodigiously talented musician, Williams was an inspirational figure and paved the way for noted contemporary female pianists such as Tania Maria, the late Geri Allen, Eliane Elias, and Diana Krall.
    37: Bobby Timmons (1935-1974)
    One of a multitude of musicians who came through Art Blakey’s “Hard Bop Academy,” The Jazz Messengers, this Philadelphia musician was the son of a preacher and grew up playing in church. Gospel music left an indelible mark on Timmons and its DNA can be detected in his playing and much of the music he wrote, which included the classic tunes “Moanin’,” “This Here,” and “Dat Dere,” which earned him his place among the best jazz pianists for laying the blueprint for what became known as soul jazz in the late 50s and early 60s. Sadly, Timmons’ career was cut short, at 38, by his chronic alcoholism.
    36: Andrew Hill (1931-2007)
    Hailing from Chicago, as a boy Hill earned small change playing accordion on the Windy City’s streets. He worked mainly as a sideman in the 50s, but in 1963, after a move to New York, Hill began a long association with Blue Note Records that resulted in 16 albums. Though influenced by Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum, Hill forged his own distinctive and complex style, both as a pianist and composer. His music tended to be chromatic and angular, and while it pushed the barriers, it also remained rooted in jazz tradition.
    35: Brad Mehldau (born 1970)
    From Jacksonville, Florida, Mehldau is undoubtedly one of the leading pianists in contemporary jazz. Though, compared to many of the best jazz pianists, his influences are wide and varied – ranging from pop, rock, folk, and classical music, to bebop, country, and even electronic music – he has distilled them all into a unique style which is inspired by the lyricism of Bill Evans and spellbinding virtuosic improvisation of Keith Jarrett. Mehldau’s long-running piano trio has also continually broken new ground with its near-telepathic collective improvisation and eclectic repertoire.
    34: Cecil Taylor (1929-2018)
    A poet as well as a pianist/composer, this New Yorker was a leading light of the avant-garde movement in the late 50s and early 60s. Not for the faint-hearted, Taylor’s energetic style is often fiercely atonal, employing jarring cluster chords and a dense, polyrhythmic complexity. He released his debut LP in 1956 and recorded regularly for a raft of different labels up until 2009.

    33: Nat “King” Cole (1919-1965)
    Given his fame in the 50s as a pop singer with a silky croon, it’s perhaps not surprising that many often forget that Alabama-born Cole was also one of the best jazz pianists of his time. Starting out playing gospel music on the organ before being formally tutored in piano, Cole was schooled in classical music but quickly gravitated to jazz. He was especially influenced by Earl Hines, whose ornate, heavily embellished approach was the foundation for Cole’s own style, which developed within the confines of his own trio in the 30s and 40s. From 1943 onwards, it was Cole’s voice that drew more acclaim, however, and his success as a singer went on to eclipse his piano playing.
    32: Sonny Clark (1931-1963)
    Born Conrad Clark, this piano-playing exponent of hard bop from Herminie, Pennsylvania, enjoyed a brief period under the jazz spotlight between 1955 and 1961. Influenced by Bud Powell and noted for his horn-like right-hand melodies, Clark was a sideman for Dinah Washington, Sonny Rollins, and Charles Mingus, and also enjoyed a fecund five-year spell at Blue Note Records, where he served up nine albums, including the classic hard bop manifesto Cool Struttin’. Sadly, Clark was a heroin addict and died, aged 31, from a suspected (but never proven) overdose.
    31: Michel Petrucciani (1962-1999)
    Despite suffering from a genetic disease that stunted his growth, resulted in brittle bones, and gave him perpetual arm pain, France-born Petrucciani defied the odds to become one of the world’s best jazz pianists, and was inspired to take up the instrument after seeing Duke Ellington on TV. By 13, he was playing professionally, and at 18 recorded the first of many LPs. Though his lyrical approach to the piano was undoubtedly indebted to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, Petrucciani, who died at 36, nevertheless had an individual sound and style.
    30: Hank Jones (1918-2010)
    The elder sibling of trumpeter Thad, and drummer Elvin, Jones, this Mississippi-born/Michigan-raised pianist was initially influenced by Earl Hines and Fats Waller, but later fell under bebop’s spell. He recorded with Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker before embarking on a stellar solo career that blossomed in the 50s. Hired for his impeccable musical taste and sonic eloquence, Jones’ myriad sideman credits ranged from Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon to Anita O’Day and Marilyn Monroe.
    29: Scott Joplin (1868-1917)
    This Texas pianist’s music was largely forgotten until his tune, “The Entertainer” – which was used on the soundtrack to the 1973 blockbuster film The Sting, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman – revived interest in his work. In his heyday, in the early years of the 20th Century, Joplin was crowned King Of Ragtime, a jaunty, syncopated style of music that was an amalgam of African-American and Western European music. Though no recordings of Joplin exist, his status as one of history’s best jazz pianists is assured, thanks in part to piano rolls and sheet music from the time, illustrating his unique style, which went on to influence James P Johnson.
    28: Ramsey Lewis (born 1935)
    Emerging on Chess Records in the 50s fronting a piano trio, Chicago-born Lewis racked up a trio of finger-clicking crossover pop hits in the mid-60s (the biggest was 1965’s “The In Crowd”) before plugging his piano into the mains socket and going the way of funk and fusion in the 70s. A classically-trained pianist, Lewis fused jazz with rhythm’n’blues and gospel music to forge a distinctive soul jazz style that spawned a host of imitators.

    27: Wynton Kelly (1931-1977)
    Influenced by Teddy Wilson and Bud Powell, Brooklyn-born Kelly is best remembered for his association with Miles Davis between 1959 and 1961 (he played on the iconic 1959 LP Kind Of Blue). He also recorded a slew of solo albums, all of which highlighted his glistening, horn-like right-hand melodies and penchant for block chordal accompaniment. Contemporary pianists who claim to have been influenced by him include Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau.
    26: Willie “The Lion” Smith (1897-1973)
    Together with James P Johnson and Fats Waller, William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith (to give him his full name) was a noted practitioner of the stride style of playing. Born in New York, he rose to fame in the 20s as an accompanist of blues singers. His propulsive, dynamic style, with its dazzling finger-work, exerted a profound influence on both Duke Ellington’s and George Gershwin’s approach to the piano.
    25: James P. Johnson (1894-1955)
    This New Jersey pianist helped bridge the transition from ragtime to jazz with his stride piano technique, which built on ragtime’s locomotive, see-saw jauntiness but added more sophisticated harmonies and a stronger blues element. Though his music is mostly forgotten now, Johnson – who was also a noted accompanist for singers Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters – was a pioneer who earns his place among the best jazz singers in part because of his powerful influence over Fats Waller, Count Basie, and Art Tatum.

    24: Bob James (born 1939)
    Though Missouri-born James is widely acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of smooth jazz, ironically, he began his career in the vanguard of the early 60s avant-garde scene. By the 70s, though, James’ star was on the rise thanks to his being the in-house arranger at producer Creed Taylor’s influential CTI label. He made four hugely popular, radio-friendly albums for CTI, where he established himself as the doyen of a lighter, more accessible version of jazz-fusion. Though he’s an undoubted master of the electric Fender Rhodes keyboard (which dominated his classic 70s records), in recent years James has returned to the acoustic piano.
    23: George Shearing (1919-2011)
    Blind from birth, the much-honored London-born Shearing (who, uniquely among the best jazz pianists, was a Sir, having been knighted in 2007) displayed an aptitude for the piano and accordion at an early age. He eked a living as a jobbing pianist for hire until emigrating to the US in 1947, where he quickly made a name for himself with his synthesis of swing, bebop, and elements drawn from classical music. A pioneer of block chords, Shearing’s group – which including the distinctive sound of the vibraphone – became hugely popular and influential in the 50s.
    22: Joe Zawinul (1932-2007)
    Inspired to take up jazz after hearing Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” Austrian-born Zawinul ventured to the US in 1959, where he immediately made his mark as a pianist and composer in Cannonball Adderley’s band. Though Miles Davis tried to poach him (Zawinul worked on Miles’ groundbreaking In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew albums at the end of the 60s), the pianist stayed with Cannonball until 1970 and then co-founded famed fusion pioneers Weather Report.
    21: Teddy Wilson (1912-1986)
    Dubbed The Marxist Mozart for his espousal of left-wing political causes, Texas-born Theodore Wilson was a virtuosic pianist who gained prominence in the swing era and worked as a sideman with some of the biggest names in jazz, ranging from Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. He also made many recordings under his own name, but today is mostly remembered as Billie Holiday’s accompanist.

    20: Horace Silver (1928-2014)
    Born in Connecticut with Cape Verdean ancestry, Horace Silver was an archetypal hard bop pianist whose rise to fame began when he co-founded The Jazz Messengers (which Art Blakey later took over) in 1954. As well as a dexterous pianist who enjoyed a long and fruitful stretch at Blue Note between 1952 and 1980, Silver was a prolific tunesmith (among his most famous compositions is “Song For My Father”).
    19: Red Garland (1923-1984)
    For a jazz pianist who started out in life as a welterweight boxer, Texas-born William “Red” Garland had a decidedly delicate touch. He played as a sideman for Billy Eckstine and Charlie Parker, and was in bluesman Eddie Vinson’s band alongside a young John Coltrane. His path would cross with Coltrane’s again in the 50s, when both joined Miles Davis’ quintet and made several groundbreaking albums for Prestige and Columbia (among them Workin’ and ’Round About Midnight). Davis liked Garland for his Ahmad Jamal-like lightness of touch and use of space. Another hallmark of the Texan’s singular style was his use of two-handed block chords.
    18: Tommy Flanagan (1930-2001)
    For many, Detroiter Thomas Lee Flanagan’s name is synonymous with saxophone giant John Coltrane. He played on Trane’s totemic 1960 masterpiece, Giant Steps, and as a sideman also featured on significant LPs by Sonny Rollins (Saxophone Colossus) and guitarist Wes Montgomery (The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery). Describing his approach to piano, Flanagan once said, “I like to play like a horn player, like I’m blowing into the piano.” Though he was a valued sideman, he also made a slew of albums under his own name for a raft of different labels between 1957 and 1997.
    17: Erroll Garner (1923-1977)
    With his predilection for performing in an ornate style that comprised lush chords, liquid runs and complex syncopations, this Pennsylvanian from Pittsburgh was a child piano prodigy who first recorded in the 40s but blossomed spectacularly in the 50s. He would arguably earn his place among the best jazz pianists solely for giving the jazz world the perennially popular standard “Misty,” which he composed in 1954 and recorded many times thereafter. Arguably the most compelling album he made was 1955’s classic Concert By The Sea, which captures Garner in all his glory.
    16: Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)
    One of an elite handful of jazz artists to score a big crossover pop hit in the 60s (“Take Five”), California-born Brubeck, who grew up on a ranch, studied to be a vet but switched to music during college. A near-fatal diving accident in 1951 caused nerve damage to Brubeck’s hands and changed the way he played piano, where fleet-of-finger lines were replaced by dense block chords. Even so, Brubeck could still play with imagination and elegance, and often composed music using unusual and asymmetrical time signatures.
    15: Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941)
    Given that he once claimed to have singlehandedly invented jazz, modesty was most certainly not a recognizable trait in the character of this New Orleans pianist born Ferdinand LeMothe – though he wholly deserves recognition among the best jazz pianists. As both a composer and arranger, Morton was a seminal figure in the development of early jazz – among his most famous recordings is “Black Bottom Stomp” – and he was also a noted pianist whose propulsive, jaunty style grew out of ragtime and anticipated the stride development.
    14: Earl Hines (1903-1983)
    From Duquesne, Pennsylvania, Earl “Fatha” Hines was a key figure in the evolution of jazz piano-playing. He started as an orthodox stride-style player but soon introduced innovations. In a bid to be heard in a big band ensemble, Hines began articulating melodies with octaves (or what he called “trumpet notes”), as well as using a tremolo effect (a rapid alternation of two notes). Though he began his recording career in 1923, he was able to adapt to changing styles in jazz and kept recording until 1981. A jazz piano colossus.

    13: Count Basie (1904-1984)
    Like fellow jazz aristocrat Duke Ellington, Count Basie’s prowess at the piano was often eclipsed by his role as a successful bandleader. Originally from Red Bank, New Jersey, Bill Basie rose to fame during the big-band swing epoch with popular tunes such as “One O’clock Jump.” He usually led from the piano, adhering to a minimalistic less-is-more aesthetic and employing forceful percussive accenting and octaves so that his bluesy notes cut through the full band sound.
    12: Fats Waller (1904-1943)
    Native New Yorker Thomas “Fats” Waller didn’t live to see his 40th birthday (he succumbed to pneumonia at 39), but nevertheless proved to be an influential pianist, particularly for his contribution to the evolution of the highly rhythmic stride style, an important foundation stone in jazz piano. Waller was also an organist and composer whose repertoire included the immortal tunes “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose.”
    11: Duke Ellington (1899-1974)
    It’s often overlooked that Washington, DC-born Edward Kennedy Ellington was a tremendous jazz pianist with his own inimitable style. That’s because Ellington earned greater fame as a popular bandleader and composer during the big band swing era of the 30s. There are a few solo piano entries in the jazz aristocrat’s extensive discography (most notably, perhaps, 1953’s The Duke Plays Ellington) that reveal the full extent of Ellington’s skills.
    10: Ahmad Jamal (born 1930)
    Pittsburgh-born Jamal possesses a delicate, nimble touch and intuitively knows how to use space to good effect. It was the latter quality that made Miles Davis such a big fan of his music in the 50s, attempting to replicate Jamal’s light piano style in his groups of that era. Jamal first recorded for OKeh in 1951, but it was later in the same decade when took his position among the best jazz pianists of all time, with the best-selling live album At The Pershing, which took his music to a larger audience. A master of musical understatement.

    9: Chick Corea (1941-2021)
    Like Keith Jarrett, Armando “Chick” Corea, from Chelsea, Massachusetts, was an early starter – he began playing piano aged four – and later rose to fame as a sideman with the great Miles Davis (replacing Herbie Hancock). Though influenced by the romanticism of Bill Evans, there’s always been a palpable Latin inflection to Corea’s music, which has ranged from straight-ahead jazz to electric fusion (he led the jazz-rock behemoth Return To Forever in the 70s).
    8: Keith Jarrett (born 1945)
    From Allentown, Pennsylvania, Jarrett started playing piano at the age of two and rapidly blossomed into a precociously gifted child prodigy steeped in classical music. As a teenager, Jarrett was seduced by jazz and quickly became fluent in its idiom. He played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the mid-60s before joining the groups of Charles Lloyd and, later, Miles Davis. In the 70s, at ECM Records, Jarrett – eschewing electric instruments – patented a lyrical style and, in the same decade, released an improvised solo recital called The Köln Concert, which set a new benchmark for unaccompanied jazz piano. An intrepid improviser whose imagination knows no bounds.
    7: Bud Powell (1924-1966)
    This Harlem-born musician was the first pianist to approach the piano as if it were a horn instrument. Though he gleaned much from the left-hand stride-style of Art Tatum, alto saxophonist and bebop architect Charlie Parker was Powell’s main inspiration. As a result, Powell proved highly influential, even though his career was short (he died aged 41, after years of mental health problems). The missing link between Art Tatum and bebop, his status as one of the best jazz pianists of all time is forever assured.

    6: McCoy Tyner (1938-2020)
    From Philadelphia, Tyner rose to fame as a member of John Coltrane’s groundbreaking quartet between 1960 and 1965, playing on the saxophonist’s iconic 1965 album, A Love Supreme. An exponent of modal jazz with a passion for blues, Tyner’s main hallmark is using chords with prominent fourths. He also often attacks the piano with brute force, though he can also play with extreme delicacy, employing staccato right-hand runs. After Coltrane, Tyner established himself as one of contemporary jazz’s pre-eminent pianists with a series of astounding albums for Blue Note and, later, Milestone.
    5: Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)
    Originally from Quebec, Canada, Peterson was a classically-trained child prodigy who fell under the influence of Art Tatum and Nat “King” Cole. He made his first recording in 1945, but it was in the 50s, after he joined jazz impresario Norman Granz’s Verve label and led a piano trio, that he became a household name. Renowned for ornate filigrees and a hard-swinging style, Peterson was a dextrous improviser.
    4: Herbie Hancock (born 1940)
    Though he’s flirted with funk, dabbled with disco, and even dallied with electro and hip-hop (exemplified by his 1983 global hit, “Rockit”), at heart this Chicago-born musical chameleon is a committed jazz pianist. Though influenced by Bill Evans, Hancock forged his own style in the 60s, both as a solo artist and as a member of Miles Davis’ pathfinding post-bop quintet. Though he’s almost 80, Hancock still has the musical inquisitiveness of a teenager.
    3: Bill Evans (1929-1980)
    A troubled soul, this New Jersey pianist was plagued with drug addiction problems throughout his adult life and professional career, but it didn’t stop him producing a remarkably beautiful and consistent body of work. Reflective romantic ballads with lush chords were his undoubted forte, but Evans – who drew on both bebop and classical music for inspiration – could also swing with verve, especially in a live setting. Myriad pianists have fallen under Evans’ spell, including Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and, more recently, Brad Mehldau.

    2: Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)
    Misunderstood by many, this North Carolina-born maverick (who was rarely seen without a hat) is one of the most idiosyncratic of the world’s best jazz pianists. Emerging in the bebop dawn of the mid-to-late 40s, he pursued his own idiosyncratic path, creating a unique musical universe where angular but hummable melodies, dissonant cluster chords, and a lightly-swinging rhythmic pulse ruled. As a composer, Monk contributed several standards to the jazz songbook – including “’Round Midnight” and “Straight, No Chaser” – and, as a keyboardist, recorded several albums of unaccompanied piano, including the classic Thelonious Alone In San Francisco.

    1: Art Tatum (1909-1956)
    At the pinnacle of our list of the 50 best jazz pianists of all time is the man regarded as a keyboard deity. Visually impaired from infancy, Ohio-born Tatum learned to play the piano by ear as a child and, blessed with perfect pitch, quickly excelled at the instrument. He patented a technically advanced, uniquely florid style from an early age that melded elements from stride, swing and classical music. Though hugely influential – Oscar Peterson was one of his prime disciples – Tatum’s life came to an end shortly after his 47th birthday.

    Now you know the best jazz pianists of all time, discover the 50 best jazz trumpeters here.

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    From Dallas, Texas, as a child this hard bop piano giant was raised on a diet of Art Tatum, Nat “King” Cole, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk. Though their music infused Walton’s own style, he found his own voice on the piano and, after a stint with Kenny Dorham, John Coltrane, and The Jazztet, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1961, going on to cut nine albums with the group. Walton’s own career as a leader began in 1967 and, in the 70s, he dabbled with jazz-funk and fusion. In addition to being a gifted pianist, Walton was also a noted composer, contributing “Bolivia” and “Mode For Joe” to the jazz standards repertoire.

    Born and raised in Detroit, Harris, whose mother played piano in church, was an early starter, taking up his chosen instrument at the age of four. When he was older, he was smitten by jazz and fell under the spell of modernists Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. By the 50s, Harris was a jobbing pianist and worked with Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, and Gene Ammons; in the 60s he gigged with Cannonball Adderley. Stylistically, Harris is a staunch disciple of hard bop, which is reflected in the horn-like phrasing of his right-hand melodies, complex rhythmic syncopations, and dense harmonization. One of the best jazz pianists still with us from the bebop era.

    Born Mary Elfrieda Scruggs in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Pittsburgh, Williams was a self-taught pianist who rose to fame as a teenage prodigy in the 20s. By the 30s, she was working as a freelance arranger, writing charts for Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, and, later, Duke Ellington. When bebop arrived, in the mid-40s, she had an affinity for the revolutionary new style, and was a mentor to Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. A prodigiously talented musician, Williams was an inspirational figure and paved the way for noted contemporary female pianists such as Tania Maria, the late Geri Allen, Eliane Elias, and Diana Krall.

    One of a multitude of musicians who came through Art Blakey’s “Hard Bop Academy,” The Jazz Messengers, this Philadelphia musician was the son of a preacher and grew up playing in church. Gospel music left an indelible mark on Timmons and its DNA can be detected in his playing and much of the music he wrote, which included the classic tunes “Moanin’,” “This Here,” and “Dat Dere,” which earned him his place among the best jazz pianists for laying the blueprint for what became known as soul jazz in the late 50s and early 60s. Sadly, Timmons’ career was cut short, at 38, by his chronic alcoholism.

    Hailing from Chicago, as a boy Hill earned small change playing accordion on the Windy City’s streets. He worked mainly as a sideman in the 50s, but in 1963, after a move to New York, Hill began a long association with Blue Note Records that resulted in 16 albums. Though influenced by Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum, Hill forged his own distinctive and complex style, both as a pianist and composer. His music tended to be chromatic and angular, and while it pushed the barriers, it also remained rooted in jazz tradition.

    From Jacksonville, Florida, Mehldau is undoubtedly one of the leading pianists in contemporary jazz. Though, compared to many of the best jazz pianists, his influences are wide and varied – ranging from pop, rock, folk, and classical music, to bebop, country, and even electronic music – he has distilled them all into a unique style which is inspired by the lyricism of Bill Evans and spellbinding virtuosic improvisation of Keith Jarrett. Mehldau’s long-running piano trio has also continually broken new ground with its near-telepathic collective improvisation and eclectic repertoire.

    A poet as well as a pianist/composer, this New Yorker was a leading light of the avant-garde movement in the late 50s and early 60s. Not for the faint-hearted, Taylor’s energetic style is often fiercely atonal, employing jarring cluster chords and a dense, polyrhythmic complexity. He released his debut LP in 1956 and recorded regularly for a raft of different labels up until 2009.

    Given his fame in the 50s as a pop singer with a silky croon, it’s perhaps not surprising that many often forget that Alabama-born Cole was also one of the best jazz pianists of his time. Starting out playing gospel music on the organ before being formally tutored in piano, Cole was schooled in classical music but quickly gravitated to jazz. He was especially influenced by Earl Hines, whose ornate, heavily embellished approach was the foundation for Cole’s own style, which developed within the confines of his own trio in the 30s and 40s. From 1943 onwards, it was Cole’s voice that drew more acclaim, however, and his success as a singer went on to eclipse his piano playing.

    Born Conrad Clark, this piano-playing exponent of hard bop from Herminie, Pennsylvania, enjoyed a brief period under the jazz spotlight between 1955 and 1961. Influenced by Bud Powell and noted for his horn-like right-hand melodies, Clark was a sideman for Dinah Washington, Sonny Rollins, and Charles Mingus, and also enjoyed a fecund five-year spell at Blue Note Records, where he served up nine albums, including the classic hard bop manifesto Cool Struttin’. Sadly, Clark was a heroin addict and died, aged 31, from a suspected (but never proven) overdose.

    Despite suffering from a genetic disease that stunted his growth, resulted in brittle bones, and gave him perpetual arm pain, France-born Petrucciani defied the odds to become one of the world’s best jazz pianists, and was inspired to take up the instrument after seeing Duke Ellington on TV. By 13, he was playing professionally, and at 18 recorded the first of many LPs. Though his lyrical approach to the piano was undoubtedly indebted to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, Petrucciani, who died at 36, nevertheless had an individual sound and style.

    The elder sibling of trumpeter Thad, and drummer Elvin, Jones, this Mississippi-born/Michigan-raised pianist was initially influenced by Earl Hines and Fats Waller, but later fell under bebop’s spell. He recorded with Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker before embarking on a stellar solo career that blossomed in the 50s. Hired for his impeccable musical taste and sonic eloquence, Jones’ myriad sideman credits ranged from Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon to Anita O’Day and Marilyn Monroe.

    This Texas pianist’s music was largely forgotten until his tune, “The Entertainer” – which was used on the soundtrack to the 1973 blockbuster film The Sting, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman – revived interest in his work. In his heyday, in the early years of the 20th Century, Joplin was crowned King Of Ragtime, a jaunty, syncopated style of music that was an amalgam of African-American and Western European music. Though no recordings of Joplin exist, his status as one of history’s best jazz pianists is assured, thanks in part to piano rolls and sheet music from the time, illustrating his unique style, which went on to influence James P Johnson.

    Emerging on Chess Records in the 50s fronting a piano trio, Chicago-born Lewis racked up a trio of finger-clicking crossover pop hits in the mid-60s (the biggest was 1965’s “The In Crowd”) before plugging his piano into the mains socket and going the way of funk and fusion in the 70s. A classically-trained pianist, Lewis fused jazz with rhythm’n’blues and gospel music to forge a distinctive soul jazz style that spawned a host of imitators.

    Influenced by Teddy Wilson and Bud Powell, Brooklyn-born Kelly is best remembered for his association with Miles Davis between 1959 and 1961 (he played on the iconic 1959 LP Kind Of Blue). He also recorded a slew of solo albums, all of which highlighted his glistening, horn-like right-hand melodies and penchant for block chordal accompaniment. Contemporary pianists who claim to have been influenced by him include Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau.

    Together with James P Johnson and Fats Waller, William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith (to give him his full name) was a noted practitioner of the stride style of playing. Born in New York, he rose to fame in the 20s as an accompanist of blues singers. His propulsive, dynamic style, with its dazzling finger-work, exerted a profound influence on both Duke Ellington’s and George Gershwin’s approach to the piano.

    This New Jersey pianist helped bridge the transition from ragtime to jazz with his stride piano technique, which built on ragtime’s locomotive, see-saw jauntiness but added more sophisticated harmonies and a stronger blues element. Though his music is mostly forgotten now, Johnson – who was also a noted accompanist for singers Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters – was a pioneer who earns his place among the best jazz singers in part because of his powerful influence over Fats Waller, Count Basie, and Art Tatum.

    Though Missouri-born James is widely acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of smooth jazz, ironically, he began his career in the vanguard of the early 60s avant-garde scene. By the 70s, though, James’ star was on the rise thanks to his being the in-house arranger at producer Creed Taylor’s influential CTI label. He made four hugely popular, radio-friendly albums for CTI, where he established himself as the doyen of a lighter, more accessible version of jazz-fusion. Though he’s an undoubted master of the electric Fender Rhodes keyboard (which dominated his classic 70s records), in recent years James has returned to the acoustic piano.

    Blind from birth, the much-honored London-born Shearing (who, uniquely among the best jazz pianists, was a Sir, having been knighted in 2007) displayed an aptitude for the piano and accordion at an early age. He eked a living as a jobbing pianist for hire until emigrating to the US in 1947, where he quickly made a name for himself with his synthesis of swing, bebop, and elements drawn from classical music. A pioneer of block chords, Shearing’s group – which including the distinctive sound of the vibraphone – became hugely popular and influential in the 50s.

    Inspired to take up jazz after hearing Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” Austrian-born Zawinul ventured to the US in 1959, where he immediately made his mark as a pianist and composer in Cannonball Adderley’s band. Though Miles Davis tried to poach him (Zawinul worked on Miles’ groundbreaking In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew albums at the end of the 60s), the pianist stayed with Cannonball until 1970 and then co-founded famed fusion pioneers Weather Report.

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    Dubbed The Marxist Mozart for his espousal of left-wing political causes, Texas-born Theodore Wilson was a virtuosic pianist who gained prominence in the swing era and worked as a sideman with some of the biggest names in jazz, ranging from Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. He also made many recordings under his own name, but today is mostly remembered as Billie Holiday’s accompanist.

    Born in Connecticut with Cape Verdean ancestry, Horace Silver was an archetypal hard bop pianist whose rise to fame began when he co-founded The Jazz Messengers (which Art Blakey later took over) in 1954. As well as a dexterous pianist who enjoyed a long and fruitful stretch at Blue Note between 1952 and 1980, Silver was a prolific tunesmith (among his most famous compositions is “Song For My Father”).

    For a jazz pianist who started out in life as a welterweight boxer, Texas-born William “Red” Garland had a decidedly delicate touch. He played as a sideman for Billy Eckstine and Charlie Parker, and was in bluesman Eddie Vinson’s band alongside a young John Coltrane. His path would cross with Coltrane’s again in the 50s, when both joined Miles Davis’ quintet and made several groundbreaking albums for Prestige and Columbia (among them Workin’ and ’Round About Midnight). Davis liked Garland for his Ahmad Jamal-like lightness of touch and use of space. Another hallmark of the Texan’s singular style was his use of two-handed block chords.

    For many, Detroiter Thomas Lee Flanagan’s name is synonymous with saxophone giant John Coltrane. He played on Trane’s totemic 1960 masterpiece, Giant Steps, and as a sideman also featured on significant LPs by Sonny Rollins (Saxophone Colossus) and guitarist Wes Montgomery (The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery). Describing his approach to piano, Flanagan once said, “I like to play like a horn player, like I’m blowing into the piano.” Though he was a valued sideman, he also made a slew of albums under his own name for a raft of different labels between 1957 and 1997.

    With his predilection for performing in an ornate style that comprised lush chords, liquid runs and complex syncopations, this Pennsylvanian from Pittsburgh was a child piano prodigy who first recorded in the 40s but blossomed spectacularly in the 50s. He would arguably earn his place among the best jazz pianists solely for giving the jazz world the perennially popular standard “Misty,” which he composed in 1954 and recorded many times thereafter. Arguably the most compelling album he made was 1955’s classic Concert By The Sea, which captures Garner in all his glory.

    One of an elite handful of jazz artists to score a big crossover pop hit in the 60s (“Take Five”), California-born Brubeck, who grew up on a ranch, studied to be a vet but switched to music during college. A near-fatal diving accident in 1951 caused nerve damage to Brubeck’s hands and changed the way he played piano, where fleet-of-finger lines were replaced by dense block chords. Even so, Brubeck could still play with imagination and elegance, and often composed music using unusual and asymmetrical time signatures.

    Given that he once claimed to have singlehandedly invented jazz, modesty was most certainly not a recognizable trait in the character of this New Orleans pianist born Ferdinand LeMothe – though he wholly deserves recognition among the best jazz pianists. As both a composer and arranger, Morton was a seminal figure in the development of early jazz – among his most famous recordings is “Black Bottom Stomp” – and he was also a noted pianist whose propulsive, jaunty style grew out of ragtime and anticipated the stride development.

    From Duquesne, Pennsylvania, Earl “Fatha” Hines was a key figure in the evolution of jazz piano-playing. He started as an orthodox stride-style player but soon introduced innovations. In a bid to be heard in a big band ensemble, Hines began articulating melodies with octaves (or what he called “trumpet notes”), as well as using a tremolo effect (a rapid alternation of two notes). Though he began his recording career in 1923, he was able to adapt to changing styles in jazz and kept recording until 1981. A jazz piano colossus.

    Like fellow jazz aristocrat Duke Ellington, Count Basie’s prowess at the piano was often eclipsed by his role as a successful bandleader. Originally from Red Bank, New Jersey, Bill Basie rose to fame during the big-band swing epoch with popular tunes such as “One O’clock Jump.” He usually led from the piano, adhering to a minimalistic less-is-more aesthetic and employing forceful percussive accenting and octaves so that his bluesy notes cut through the full band sound.

    Native New Yorker Thomas “Fats” Waller didn’t live to see his 40th birthday (he succumbed to pneumonia at 39), but nevertheless proved to be an influential pianist, particularly for his contribution to the evolution of the highly rhythmic stride style, an important foundation stone in jazz piano. Waller was also an organist and composer whose repertoire included the immortal tunes “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose.”

    It’s often overlooked that Washington, DC-born Edward Kennedy Ellington was a tremendous jazz pianist with his own inimitable style. That’s because Ellington earned greater fame as a popular bandleader and composer during the big band swing era of the 30s. There are a few solo piano entries in the jazz aristocrat’s extensive discography (most notably, perhaps, 1953’s The Duke Plays Ellington) that reveal the full extent of Ellington’s skills.

    Pittsburgh-born Jamal possesses a delicate, nimble touch and intuitively knows how to use space to good effect. It was the latter quality that made Miles Davis such a big fan of his music in the 50s, attempting to replicate Jamal’s light piano style in his groups of that era. Jamal first recorded for OKeh in 1951, but it was later in the same decade when took his position among the best jazz pianists of all time, with the best-selling live album At The Pershing, which took his music to a larger audience. A master of musical understatement.

    Like Keith Jarrett, Armando “Chick” Corea, from Chelsea, Massachusetts, was an early starter – he began playing piano aged four – and later rose to fame as a sideman with the great Miles Davis (replacing Herbie Hancock). Though influenced by the romanticism of Bill Evans, there’s always been a palpable Latin inflection to Corea’s music, which has ranged from straight-ahead jazz to electric fusion (he led the jazz-rock behemoth Return To Forever in the 70s).

    From Allentown, Pennsylvania, Jarrett started playing piano at the age of two and rapidly blossomed into a precociously gifted child prodigy steeped in classical music. As a teenager, Jarrett was seduced by jazz and quickly became fluent in its idiom. He played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the mid-60s before joining the groups of Charles Lloyd and, later, Miles Davis. In the 70s, at ECM Records, Jarrett – eschewing electric instruments – patented a lyrical style and, in the same decade, released an improvised solo recital called The Köln Concert, which set a new benchmark for unaccompanied jazz piano. An intrepid improviser whose imagination knows no bounds.

    This Harlem-born musician was the first pianist to approach the piano as if it were a horn instrument. Though he gleaned much from the left-hand stride-style of Art Tatum, alto saxophonist and bebop architect Charlie Parker was Powell’s main inspiration. As a result, Powell proved highly influential, even though his career was short (he died aged 41, after years of mental health problems). The missing link between Art Tatum and bebop, his status as one of the best jazz pianists of all time is forever assured.

    From Philadelphia, Tyner rose to fame as a member of John Coltrane’s groundbreaking quartet between 1960 and 1965, playing on the saxophonist’s iconic 1965 album, A Love Supreme. An exponent of modal jazz with a passion for blues, Tyner’s main hallmark is using chords with prominent fourths. He also often attacks the piano with brute force, though he can also play with extreme delicacy, employing staccato right-hand runs. After Coltrane, Tyner established himself as one of contemporary jazz’s pre-eminent pianists with a series of astounding albums for Blue Note and, later, Milestone.

    Originally from Quebec, Canada, Peterson was a classically-trained child prodigy who fell under the influence of Art Tatum and Nat “King” Cole. He made his first recording in 1945, but it was in the 50s, after he joined jazz impresario Norman Granz’s Verve label and led a piano trio, that he became a household name. Renowned for ornate filigrees and a hard-swinging style, Peterson was a dextrous improviser.

    Though he’s flirted with funk, dabbled with disco, and even dallied with electro and hip-hop (exemplified by his 1983 global hit, “Rockit”), at heart this Chicago-born musical chameleon is a committed jazz pianist. Though influenced by Bill Evans, Hancock forged his own style in the 60s, both as a solo artist and as a member of Miles Davis’ pathfinding post-bop quintet. Though he’s almost 80, Hancock still has the musical inquisitiveness of a teenager.

    A troubled soul, this New Jersey pianist was plagued with drug addiction problems throughout his adult life and professional career, but it didn’t stop him producing a remarkably beautiful and consistent body of work. Reflective romantic ballads with lush chords were his undoubted forte, but Evans – who drew on both bebop and classical music for inspiration – could also swing with verve, especially in a live setting. Myriad pianists have fallen under Evans’ spell, including Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and, more recently, Brad Mehldau.

    Misunderstood by many, this North Carolina-born maverick (who was rarely seen without a hat) is one of the most idiosyncratic of the world’s best jazz pianists. Emerging in the bebop dawn of the mid-to-late 40s, he pursued his own idiosyncratic path, creating a unique musical universe where angular but hummable melodies, dissonant cluster chords, and a lightly-swinging rhythmic pulse ruled. As a composer, Monk contributed several standards to the jazz songbook – including “’Round Midnight” and “Straight, No Chaser” – and, as a keyboardist, recorded several albums of unaccompanied piano, including the classic Thelonious Alone In San Francisco.

    At the pinnacle of our list of the 50 best jazz pianists of all time is the man regarded as a keyboard deity. Visually impaired from infancy, Ohio-born Tatum learned to play the piano by ear as a child and, blessed with perfect pitch, quickly excelled at the instrument. He patented a technically advanced, uniquely florid style from an early age that melded elements from stride, swing and classical music. Though hugely influential – Oscar Peterson was one of his prime disciples – Tatum’s life came to an end shortly after his 47th birthday.

    Now you know the best jazz pianists of all time, discover the 50 best jazz trumpeters here.



    Charles Thompson


    September 29, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    Wonderful list but Phineas Newborn should at least be in the top 20; he isn’t on the list at all. Good cases could be made for John Lewis, James Williams, Mulgrew Miller, Don Pullen , Joe Sample and Muhal Richard Abrams.


    Erika Paul


    October 26, 2015 at 2:11 am

    Did someone forget Marian McPartland? Mary Lou Williams? Patrice Rushin? Diana Krall? Lil’ Hardin’?…


    eddieb


    January 15, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Diana Krall? Seriously? Just because she’s a woman? Even she wouldn’t think she should be on this list!


    Ned Rodgers


    June 29, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    Eddie, you need to give Diana Krall another listen. She’s an awesome pianist.


    Alexander Jeffrey Aerni


    June 30, 2016 at 12:53 am

    Plus, Diana Krall happens to be married to my favorite musical artist of all time, Mr. Elvis Costello!


    mike


    December 15, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    I dont think so 🙁 she is a fake


    Charles Wightman


    September 7, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Amen to that…She;s a terrific pianist…


    Dan Waldis


    June 30, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Thank you!


    Dan Waldis


    June 30, 2016 at 10:26 am

    Eliane Elias.


    Andrew Petersen


    October 23, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    AMEN to Mary Lou Williams!


    Jackie


    March 29, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Totally agree about Mary Lou Williams and Marian McPartland. And can’t believe you didn’t include Ellis Larkins aka Mr. Feather Fingers.


    Gary Berger


    October 24, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    While I don’t agree with all the choices/rankings (who does??) I agree Diana Krall does not belong anywhere near this list.


    Diana fuking Krall


    February 25, 2018 at 6:29 am

    While i appreciate most opinions, you dont belong anywhere on this planet.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 15, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    I highly doubt it that you are the REAL Diana Krall.


    Joeyjojo Shabadou


    November 9, 2017 at 1:55 am

    There are lots of great women jazz pianists but we shouldn’t put women on the list merely to be politically correct. Dianna Krall is a fine musician but is she really a great innovative pianist or just a good all around pianist and entertainer. I think you could make a strong case for Mary Lou Williams to be included on this list.


    Jim D


    November 10, 2017 at 12:54 am

    And Joanne Brackeen as well!


    Scott


    November 10, 2017 at 11:57 am

    Patrice Rushin? Diana Krall? This list is the all-time great jazz pianists. McPartland and Williams should probably make the list but the other two? Come on.


    ALBERTO


    March 31, 2018 at 12:13 am

    POR LO VISTO NO ENTRAN MUJERES, LAS MENCIONADAS Y HAZEL SCOTT


    Christopher Nowak


    September 15, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Diana Krall is a great singer but just a slightly above average jazz pianist.


    Funlola Famuyiwa


    October 26, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    I still can’t fathom how VInce Guaraldi didn’t get on the list. I mean, he was definitely one of the greatests of all time. Oscar Peterson should have been at the no 1 spot


    Jim D


    November 10, 2017 at 12:55 am

    Totally agree.He should be there.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 15, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    I was shocked to see Oscar at only #5.
    I had a few jazz theory classes with Oscar in 1985/86 at York University and I shall always cherish the moment when he shook my hand after playing a guitar solo.


    Joseph Russotti


    June 30, 2016 at 12:03 am

    My exact thought when reading this naive list. After Tatum , Monk and Evans its hard to set a pecking order, but the author needs to listen to Newborn; he was way ahead of many of the contemporaries listed.


    matt


    July 16, 2016 at 3:06 am

    Phineas Newborn Jr should, of course,…. etc.,etc.
    After Tatum, Monk, Lyrical Bill, there is a swarm of fine contenders. Enjoy.


    RICHARD D JACKSON


    October 28, 2018 at 3:43 am

    I love Bill Evans but he was not better then Bud Powell or Oscar Peterson! They have him ranked a little too high. He’s in my top 5.


    Villy Paraskevopoulos


    June 30, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    No Lenny Tristano at the list?How is this possible?Dave Grusin on the list? Before Andrew Hill?Cecil Taylor no 34?Keith Jarrett no 8?I think both three could be a little bit Higher.And Craig Taborn should be for sure on the list!Because I am not a sexist I can not forget of course one of my favorite Marilyn Crispell!


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    Lennie Tristano is #50.


    Hugh Palmer


    September 7, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Earl Hines would hold the No.1 spot for me. Another who could really deliver when the atmosphere was just right was Dorothy Donegan.


    Allen Lacewell


    October 13, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Agree on “Fatha.” Top five at least.


    MR. AL GEE


    September 9, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    What about Milt Buckner, Shirley Horn, Beegie Adair, Diana Krall, Joe Sample ??


    Viktor


    March 30, 2018 at 7:54 am

    No Cubans.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 16, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    Hey Charles. You have the same last name of another great pianist not mentioned on the list: DON THOMPSON.
    Yes, he diversifies his talent with bass and vibes but still deserves to be on the list of the greatest pianists.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 16, 2019 at 2:37 pm

    For the record Charles Thompson is the very first person to comment on this list.


    Edgar (Red) Martin


    February 11, 2020 at 12:06 am

    How about Monty Alexander, Nina Simone, Dr Billy Taylor, Les McCann, Denny Zeitlin & Organist, Jimmy Smith? (I think Marylou Williams should be rated higher)


    Dave


    October 7, 2020 at 7:34 pm

    absolutely totally agree with this…Phineas one of the all time greats


    illaysabag


    September 29, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    the list includes a great pianists, but what about mal waldron, jaki byard, bobby timmons, paul bley, cedar walton, sun ra, alice coltrane?


    Rodney Walton


    September 29, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    Thanks. Rodney Walton (Cedar’s son).


    steve


    February 16, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Cedar was awesome.Listen to him all the time.Always inventive, always funky. Maestro, no question. Respect from England.


    Camilla


    September 29, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    Yes you’re right
    ! What about them? They have been forgotten in the list?


    Josh


    September 30, 2015 at 1:40 am

    exact omissions i was thinking!


    Fabrizio Sebastiani


    October 27, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Mal Waldron should just be in the top 5. And I am surprised that Brad Mehldau was not mentioned …


    Christopher Nowak


    October 1, 2019 at 3:28 am

    I guess you are glad that MICHEL PETRUCCIANI is on the list.
    He was born in France but with a last name like that, his father probably is/was (?) Italian.
    I am 50% Italian myself. My other 50% is Polish (some people call me a POWOP).


    jud richardson


    April 30, 2020 at 2:08 am

    illaysabag – What does your moniker mean? You’re always in the bag? Because all those pianists you mention as in”but what about?”, are all on this list,except for Alice Coltrane. I can’t be bothered rereading to make sure I am absolutely right, because nothing is going to help you.


    Bob Windy


    September 29, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    No Sun Ra? Something is very wrong here.


    Markus Mueller


    September 29, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    ridiculous list: Crusin, Kirkland, all these “Jazzrock” losers. And there are people like von Schlippenbach, Tippett, Mengelberg, Morab, Ivers…


    Markus Mueller


    September 29, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    ridiculous list: Crusin, Kirkland, all these “Jazzrock” losers. And there are people like von Schlippenbach, Tippett, Mengelberg, Moran, Ivers…


    carlomorena


    September 30, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Would love to be a ‘loser’ the way Kenny Kirkland was…:)…


    Jazz Lover


    October 27, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    OMG! Kirkland a “rock loser”? One of the main proponents of the Herbie Hancock school of jazz who played with everyone, including the Marsalisis and Kenny Garrett is a loser! And rock no less! Go clean your ears and learn some lineage!! Next you’ll call Mulgrew Miller a folk musician who only played triads. Sheesh!!


    Alan Palanker


    September 8, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    I knew Kenny very well when we were students at MSM…Most important he was a wonderful soul who made you feel important….


    Pav


    January 15, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    Kirkland a jazz rock loser? Pfft


    Lynne Sampson


    September 29, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    Whenever I scroll through these lists I am pleased to find my CD collection has so many of the folks listed!!


    jacqueline friedrich


    September 29, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    No Ellis Larkins? List seems a bit sexist. No Marion McPartland? Barbara Carroll?


    Gerry McDougall


    September 29, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Sexist indeed! How come no mention of Eliane Elias, Diane Schuur, Blossom Dearie?


    Caroline Thord-Gray


    September 30, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Tanya Maria?


    Martin Paterson


    May 25, 2018 at 11:07 pm

    or Geri Allen (R.I.P.) and Marilyn Crispell!


    Robert G Guyer


    August 13, 2018 at 11:10 pm

    The great Jessica Williams. Haven’t heard her? Check out her rendition of Nice Work If You Can Get It, on youtube


    Jim D


    November 10, 2017 at 12:58 am

    Agree..many left off.Marian especially.A d what a out Joanne Brackeen?Phenomenal.


    Alan


    September 29, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    I would have included Gene Harris.


    Michael Lamprecht


    September 7, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Auf jeden Fall , ich auch..


    rich brunetti


    November 8, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Dammed Right!!


    Pete Gage


    September 29, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    Andrew Hill at 36 – ridiculous!


    John Evans


    October 25, 2015 at 3:26 am

    Exactly my reaction too.


    Lutz Bacher


    June 29, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    Mine as well, John. And I might add a few others not on the list or mentioned above: Mary Lou Williams, Lennie Tristano, Stanley Cowell, Kirk Lightsey, Dave Burrell.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 15, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    Lennie Tristano is $50.
    Is there any chance that DAVE BURRELL is related to the jazz guitarist KENNY BURRELL?


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    Sorry Folks. I meant Lennie Tristano is #50.


    Gerry McDougall


    September 29, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    No Eddie Higgins? No Eliane Elias? Where’s Marian McPartland, Bill Charlap, Joe Augustine?


    Jazzo


    March 14, 2019 at 6:56 pm

    I have listened to most on the list and they are all good….however Joe Augustine belongs in the top 5…his chord structures, nuances and inventiveness are unparalleled!


    James Fleming


    September 29, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    In that case, why not make a list of the top 88 greatest jazz pianists ?


    j Wilson


    September 29, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    I can’t agree with this list. Everybody goes ape over Art Tatum.. But he was all arpeggio and flash . Teddy Wilson and fats should be a lot higher on that list. and Monk was a great composer but a rather lousy pianist.


    Anton Spry


    June 30, 2016 at 10:24 am

    I always find “strong opinions” some kind of ridiculous, and mostly I don’t want to join in the battle of all the “experts” (I am, because my opinions are soooo different).
    But saying that Monk was “lousy as a piano player” … come on. If you don’t dig what his qualities as a pianist were then you don’t dig what jazz and blues are about.
    Apart from that: Nobody misses Cedar Walton?
    Cheers


    PianoPlayer


    September 29, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    Oscar Peterson 5 ?? Hahaha….he is the best . EVER>! after Tatum
    Fats Waller Earl Hines Erroll Garner 17 ??????
    the most shit rating ever! Teddy Wilson 21 WTF?
    it’s a joke? what about Hiromi ? What about Milt Buckner? Nat King Cole …… it’s a joke that’s what it is.


    Elliot Zimmerman


    October 1, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    Nat King Cole was one of Ahmad Jamal’s favorites. Ahmad told me this personally many times.


    Bryan


    November 8, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Yes, if you listen to the superb 1946 Sinatra recording of “Sweet Lorraine” with the Metronome All-Stars, Cole’s piano is wonderful.


    Funlola Famuyiwa


    October 26, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    Nat King Cole, was probably better known for his vocals, than being a piano player. His piano playing, to me was rather too simplistic and mundane when compared with the likes of Red Garland and Oscar Peterson.


    Terry Hicks


    February 24, 2018 at 11:25 pm

    To put Erroll Garner at 17 is ludicrous-if you listen extensively he is really unparallelled musically-also had a great technique and he was certainly the greatest composer among all the jazz giants.I happened to meet Erroll on tour in 1972 and he was the most self effacing lovely man you could meet.Junior Mance told me in 2015 that everyone was blown away by Erroll in the early days in NY and they all wanted to play like him,
    Erroll is justifiably living a second life on the net and part of the problem for fans now is that Erroll died long ago and may have got overlooked somewhat.I understand that Art Tatum was very taken with him (”one day he will become something”)and I think Erroll drove him around a bit and even went up against Art in a piano duel(s). So he has to be right up there and is my favourite primarily because of his unique musicianship and his unmatched intros-beat that! He influenced a generation;one notable was Dudley Moore who could imitate Erroll’s playing very well esp the left hand-but nobody has ever quite sounded the same though Errolls brother said there was a Tommy—? in US(Cincinatti??) who he couldnt tell the difference -Linton his brother said he couldnt play one bar like Erroll -strangely, but he was a fine player himself and played trumpet in Dukes band;what a family!
    And note Erroll looked and sounded like he was having the time of his life-tragically died too young from lung cacer at 55yrs.
    Erroll said ”playing is like life -either you feel it or you dont” -so true.


    Simon


    September 29, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    George Cables, Stan Tracy, Carla Bley, Monty Alexander, Pete Johnson, – I vote for 88 otherwise there isn’t enough room on the piano stool.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    I think that an even 100 would be even better.


    bob johnson


    September 29, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    many omissions:Geoff Keezer,Vic Feldman,Bobby Timmons,Derek Smith,Jimmy Rowles,Marcus Roberts,Vince Guaraldi.Lou Levy,Marian McPartland,Gerry Wiggins,Pete Jolly,Hamp Hawes,Monty Alexander,Cedar Walton,Russ Freeman,John Lewis,Ray Bryant,Joe Sample,Billy Taylor,Mulgrew Miller


    Joseph Jones


    September 29, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    I would move Ahmad Jamal higher on the list and include the great be-bop pianist Al Haig.


    Funlola Famuyiwa


    October 26, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    Include Junior Mance too.


    PhiDeck


    September 29, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    31) Pettuciani => Petrucciani


    ROBERTO TULLETT


    September 29, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Imposible que no figure uno de los creadores y geniales pianistas del principio: JELLY ROLL MORTON y luego el inmortal Fats Waller, el maravilloso Earl Hines, el grande Teddy Wilson.
    Parece que al o los autores de la lista no les gusta el jazz más tradicional, es una fea y equivocada discriminación.


    SergeantSlow


    September 29, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    No Lennie Tristano??


    Bud Tristano


    September 29, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    I noticed that too!


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    ARE YOU GUYS BLIND!! As I said before, LENNIE TRISTANO IS #50!!
    BUD: I thought that for sure you would pick up on this since you and Lennie have the same LAST NAME!


    john


    October 4, 2015 at 2:52 am

    a list of 36 jazz pianists with no Tristano, Billy Taylor of Timmons is completely stupid.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    I assume you mean the TOP 36? That is a strange number?
    I shall say it again Tristano is #50!!


    Robert Werdine


    September 29, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    What about Paul Bley? He should at least be in the top-10.


    Cameron Beattie


    September 29, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    Phineaso Newborn is a huge miss – as others have pointed out Mulgrew and James Williams can be easily be added in front of a few on the list – Billy Taylor as well – and Hampton Hawes should be in the top 20 – sorry but Dave Grusin and Bob James are great players but no where near the virtuoso’s listed above – and for that thought Monty Alexander could blow most of these guys away – and what about Dick Hyman – I love Joe Zawinul and all of his music – but the list is of Pianists and a huge amount of his recorded work is Keyboard based -so not in the top 30 – finally Fred Hersch needs to be in the top 30 – for his musical diversity alone – owe and there is that Mehldau guy….


    Joseph Jones


    September 29, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    You can’t have a list like this and leave off Al Haig!!!!


    Funlola Famuyiwa


    November 8, 2015 at 6:05 am

    And Michael Legrand!


    ouriel ohayon


    September 30, 2015 at 12:04 am

    hard to imagine a list like that without brad mehldau


    RENATO


    October 24, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    YOU ARE RIGHT.And HAMPTON HAWES, TEDDY WILSON- DUKE ELLINGTON- BJORN SVENSSON- WINTON KELLY -HORACE SILVER-MAL WALDRON-CEDAR WALTON ETC


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    Duke Ellington was known more as a composer.
    As good as Duke was at composing, I believe that most people have not noted that he wrote the simplest tune (melody) in the history of music.
    Yes. Even simpler than MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB:
    C JAM BLUES!


    Christopher Nowak


    December 15, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    MEHLDAU IS #35!!


    A. Barnes


    September 30, 2015 at 12:18 am

    Keith Jarrett, for god’s sakes, but not Martial Solal? Please. (And if you think Monk wasn’t a great pianist, you don’t understand a single thing about his compositions or his playing.)


    Don Scott


    September 30, 2015 at 12:20 am

    I think it’s on of the first lists that is pretty good…..I play and little piano and guitar and fancy myself as fairly knowledgeable in guitar, bass and drums……Maybe I know just enough to get into trouble……no one can ever agree on any list……ever. but this one is close without dissecting and nitpicking it to death.


    Robbin


    September 30, 2015 at 12:49 am

    Where is Joe Sample, brad mehldau, and Carlos ruvacabla?


    PHILIP HORN-BOTHA


    September 30, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Have to agree that these names could fit in there somewhere. I suppose one needs to lay out specific “judgment” criteria too – I personally never believe in “the best muso in the world” stuff – it is Art after all !


    Hans Bartenstein


    September 30, 2015 at 11:49 am

    You should be familiar with the Spanish language: It is Gonzalo Rubalcaba from Cuba


    Christopher Nowak


    December 15, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    MEHLDAU IS #35!!


    Daniel


    September 30, 2015 at 1:03 am

    Nice list, but far from perfect! Here are my thoughts:

    BRAD MEHLDAU. The absence of Brad Mehldau is unforgivable – I checked like 10 times to be sure I didn’t just miss him.

    For Fred Hersch I checked 5 times.

    I disagree on Monk ranking so highly, he’s a great composer but not an amazing pianist.

    I wouldn’t know who to place #1, but I’d be choosing between Evans, Mehldau and Jarrett. I feel there’s some distance between those 3 and everyone else since they achieve greater deepness – even drama – in their playing while being as technically profficient as the other great ones. They also seem to find the perfect balance between restraint and expressivity while the others are simply on another level.

    Just below these, in the very next level of sensitivity and deepness, I’d place Fred Hersch, Ahmad Jamal, Michel Petrucciani and Marian McPartland.

    Finally, if we took into account virtuosism (true virtuosism, which involves making it sound clear and perfect) I’d add Hancock, Tatum, Peterson and Corea; Hancock being the one pianist who can get the best SOUND out of a grand piano – he’s absolute perfection playing chords.


    Michael


    October 28, 2015 at 7:48 am

    Hey Daniel, yours is one of only few comments I could subscribe. Jarrett behind Monk? Never! As you said, the latter was a great composer and surely played an important role in jazz history, but he wasn’t a great pianist.


    Ephraim


    January 6, 2020 at 5:21 pm

    Jarrett doesn’t come near to monk


    Christopher Nowak


    December 15, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    MEHLDAU IS #35!!!


    Chrisrian Brockmeier


    September 30, 2015 at 1:52 am

    Charlie Parker, asked in an interview who would be hs favorite pianists, answered quickly “Al Haig.” The interviewer hesitated a bit obviously waiting for other names. “Some other names? finally he asked. Charlie’s Reply: “AL HAIG!”

    The very underestimated Dave MacKenna could be mentionned here. And Abdullah Ibrahim. And, of the younger generation, Robert Glasper. And, and, and…


    Kiredeid


    June 29, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for that piece of useful knowledge, I’m off exploring this mister Al haig’s world!


    Joseph Jones


    June 30, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    I wonder if people know just how good Al Haig was


    steve robertson


    September 30, 2015 at 2:44 am

    Grusin and James (nice people!) are odd choices. Hill, Cables and Hersch should be higher. And how about Jess Stacy? Both Teddy W and Earl Hines felt he was their equal, and both are rightfully on this list.


    Barbara Burke


    September 30, 2015 at 3:00 am

    Not one great jazz piano played by a woman????


    Joeyjojo Shabadou


    November 9, 2017 at 2:00 am

    I personally think Mary Lou Williams should be somewhere on the list, maybe even Elaine Elias but there are a lot more great male jazz pianists than female. I’m sorry. This is not the case with concert classical pianists.


    Percy W walters


    September 30, 2015 at 3:20 am

    No Dave Brubeck, what’s wrong with you people


    Christopher Nowak


    September 28, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Dave Brubeck is #16!


    John Engstrom


    September 30, 2015 at 4:16 am

    Gene Harris? Fred Hersch? Brad Mehldau? Shelly Berg?


    Gerald Fox


    October 24, 2016 at 3:50 am

    Yes. Where is Gene Harris?


    John Roberts


    September 30, 2015 at 4:27 am

    Hmm, didn’t see Kenny Barron there, y’all must not dig that muscular style. And Bill Evans really was the Master of them all.


    michael wesolek


    June 29, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    there is a more influence on jazz innovation than bill evans . I do have some issues with some on list but the top 5 ( in a different order ) is very good but is debateable in some people.


    Skip


    September 30, 2015 at 4:34 am

    Joanne Brackeen should definitely be in the list.


    Mary


    September 30, 2015 at 4:51 am

    kenny Barron!


    amelia


    September 30, 2015 at 5:00 am

    Dr Billy Taylor, Geri Allen, Johnny Costa, Marian & Mary Lou, Claude Bolling


    Johan Ahlgren


    September 30, 2015 at 6:02 am

    Without a doubt I would add Phineas Newborn and Brad Mehldau to that list, and I could easily leave out Bob James and Dave Grusin. And if you go outside of the USA, and you should, you have to mention Abdullah Ibrahim and Jan Johansson.


    Sven


    August 21, 2018 at 3:56 am

    Yes! Jan Johansson should be on this list. Steve Dobrogosz! (Fairytales)


    Laima


    September 30, 2015 at 6:17 am

    Gonzalo Rubalcaba should be on list.


    Laima


    September 30, 2015 at 6:18 am

    Gonzalo Rubalcaba should be on list.


    Pithy Prolix


    September 30, 2015 at 6:36 am

    Willie “The Lion” Smith is certainly a great oversight. His Commodore recordings are one of the great pinnacles of jazz.


    Christopher Nowak


    October 1, 2019 at 3:41 am

    Willie (The Lion) Smith is #26!


    Jason


    September 30, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Great list but where’s Sun Ra?


    Bill


    September 30, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Bill Evans
    Diana Krall


    Martin Jahn


    September 30, 2015 at 7:31 am

    I’m astonished, that nobody referred Hampton Hawes.


    hans oberbanscheidt(OBBY)


    September 30, 2015 at 7:33 am

    bitte angebote in deutscher Sprache


    Laima


    September 30, 2015 at 7:39 am

    Gonzalo Rubalcaba should be on list, somewhere near the top. And Brad Mehldau, of course. If the list would be longer, I definitely would add Jimmy Rowles, Bill Charlap and Georgy Szabados.


    dennis dlore


    September 7, 2017 at 10:15 am

    Hrrsch too


    Herman


    September 30, 2015 at 7:47 am

    And what about, f.e. Tete Montuliu?


    Ned Rodgers


    June 29, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    Thanks Herman. I kept thinking doesn’t anyone know Tete Montoliu? And then I saw your post. I love Tete. He’s head and shoulders more talented than many on the list. And George Gershwin! I was having a drink one evening with Frank Strazerri and he said “George Gershwin could cut me”.


    Amun-Re


    September 30, 2015 at 9:31 am

    Eddie Palmieri, Chucho Valdez should be on the list


    Gymrat


    November 8, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    I think Eddie’s brother, Charlie, would be an even better choice!


    harry


    September 30, 2015 at 9:56 am

    nina simone


    Russ Kassoff


    September 30, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Lists are silly. You can always make the case for any of these folks but as time goes on people forget the greats of a somewhat earlier day. Dave McKenna and Marian McPartland would certainly make my top 36 and it’s tough for me to exclude them in the top 20, Dave definitely in the top ten.


    Elias


    September 30, 2015 at 11:34 am

    Nat Cole, Lenny Tristano?


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    I GIVE UP!!!
    Tristano is #50!!!


    Jon


    September 30, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    No women! WTF. No Mary Lou Williams?


    cisneros


    September 30, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    such a list is a nice provocation…simply to recall all who are mentioned justifies the exercise. however, I feel that the inclusion of lyle mays, dave gruisin and bob james can not be justified next to the exclusion of Sun Ra, Paul Bley, Tete Monteliu and Lennie Tristano. Duke should be in the top ten…wish he had recorded a solo album…


    mike merrington


    October 24, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    Money jungle with minus and roach


    HEVF


    September 30, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    I disagree with the order of the entire list with the exception of Art Tatum. An I would move Bill Evans to #2 in front of Monk.

    The next time a poll like this is conducted, it should be taken among all the living jazz pianists. I mean Brubeck should be in the top 5, and Dave Grusin in the top 10 just based on the contribution they have made to jazz over the years. Other than that, might as well throw darts.


    Scott


    September 30, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    No Harry Conick Jr.?


    Brian Horn


    September 30, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    How this list can omit John Lewis, proves a point I always make that he is/was the most under rated pianist there is.. He was there at the start of modern jazz with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis etc. I rate him up with Monk and far better than Art Tatum in his jazz input. As for Dave Brubeck, I like him but wouldn’t rate him at 16. Whats the reason for his omission. It’s beyond me!!!


    Richard


    September 30, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Chucho Valdez.

    How does one compare pianists with different styles? Monk could have played like Tatum. Rather the genius opted to define his own style that fitted his original compositions and his improvisations. After a while, I find Tatum’s piano runs boring when compared to Monk’s dissonant notes and spacing.


    Jack Spencer


    October 3, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    And the arguing goes on! If that surprises anyone. Look, they’re all great, even the one you thought should be higher, or lower on the list.


    Shelody


    October 3, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    I think these lists are made up to include aspirants so when their agents or publicists are spinning they can through out the bomb ‘…they’ve been included in the Best Of …List’ and to wannabe enthusiasts it is the ultimate and for the lovers it’s a crime of omission. (yeah, McPartland, Dearie and Les McCann should NOT have been supplanted by anyone) Hell, even Jose Iturbi was a better jazz pianist than some of these listees.


    Michael Sturgulewski


    October 3, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    My interest is in most classical piano but admire jazz pianists who possess a solid thorough technique AND play with something resembling a pleasant singing tone. I have no use for the percussive style virtually devoid of dynamics that many exhibit. I agree with a couple of dozen on the list, but I would have thought that Maryanne McPartland deserved an entry somewhere. I agree with the guy who thought Iturbi was a better jazz pianists than many on this list.


    MJBonner


    October 4, 2015 at 1:18 am

    Wow -as a Jazz piano lover I could care less about the order, though it might be nice to see a list of living piano players. You should see the list I put together with the additional pianist mentioned in the comments here. My list is at 90 players, some of whom I have not heard before. I will enjoy the ride of just listening and enjoying…


    Paul


    October 4, 2015 at 3:05 am

    Scott Joplin is on this list. Hmmm, has anyone ever actually heard Scott Joplin play?? No, is the answer. How laughable is this list.


    Joeyjojo Shabadou


    November 9, 2017 at 2:02 am

    Scott Joplin made about 6 hand played piano rolls, including a composition by W.C Handy but he certainly should not be on this list. He wasn’t a jazz pianist and he was more of a composer than a performer anyways.


    daniel


    October 4, 2015 at 7:05 am

    Lamont Jhonson,Rubalcaba,Phineas Newborn Jr.,


    Werner


    October 4, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Great artists- but I miss Erroll Garner !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    Marko


    October 4, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    A great list, but as many people already said, loads of pretty good pianists are missing! Gil Evans?


    Jim Knapp


    October 4, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    I’ll second the nominations of Jimmy Rowles, and even stronger, Hampton Hawes. The biggest selling Jazz LP in ’56 was Andre Previn & Shelly Mann’s “My Fair Lady”. Andre was a young European hanging around LA at the time. Listen to Andre’s chops and then listen to Hampton Hawes. One guess where Previn got his inspiration!!


    Eduard Paul


    October 4, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    There are so many great Jazz Pianists!!!! They cannot possibly all fit in a list of 36 musicians!!! I guess the first 36 pianists are some of the best! That’s the way to see it !


    Peter Allen


    October 5, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Jessica Williams. Who? ‘The best unknown jazz piano player’


    Terry Hall


    October 7, 2015 at 12:28 am

    For me there is Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and then everybody else.


    Richard Leigh


    October 23, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Lists are a good way of focusing the mind, by making us consider who else could be there. I’d include Herbie Nichols, Richard Twardzik

    I’d include Richard Twardzik, Herbie Nichols, Mal Waldron, and of course the great Curley Kale, who died young (pre-natally, in fact), but would surely have been the best if he’d only survived long enough to get on record. He’s up there with George Hedges, another forgotten legend who never got to play with anyone at all. And what ***********headed moron is responsible for including the ham-fisted and unoriginal ……….


    Mike W


    October 24, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Don Pullen!


    Manuel


    October 26, 2015 at 1:59 am

    Duke Ellington! He may not have been the virtuoso that Tatum was (Monk wasn’t either), but being the greatest jazz composer and orchestrator, he had developed what every classical pianist craves for and not always reaches: an endless pallette of pianistic colors. What makes a great pianist, in any style of music, is not how fast or how many notes he can play, but his ability to develop the richest variety of colors. That’s the real big challenge the piano presents.


    moshe ron


    October 26, 2015 at 5:12 am

    Must agree with some of the preceding comments: Mary Lou Williams, John Lewis, Paul Bley, Randy Weston, Jessica Williams not there, but the likes of Bob James, Dave Grusin and even Lyle Mays not only figure, but rank above Andrew Hill!
    I say: No way Jose!


    Marinella


    October 26, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Brad Mehldau


    Christopher Nowak


    December 15, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Mehldau is #35!!


    João Pedro


    October 26, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    Errol Garner?


    Alexander Alabin


    October 26, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Danny Zeitlin? Clare Fischer? Marian McPartland? Sir Roland Hanna?


    Emery Dora


    October 26, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    What about Gonzalo Rubalcaba?


    Rodeobo


    October 26, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    Awesome list! I’d have moved Dave Brubeck up the list a bit as he was the first Jazz artist to really help Jazz get into the main stream by aggressively touring the college circuit in the 50’s and popularizing Jazz with the younger crowds. Also… a very important point, he and his band, “The Dave Brubeck Quartet” were the first ones to really compose, promote, and perform very difficult and amazing time signatures that were very progressive for that time. Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright, and Joe Morello, members of the quartet, were progressive too, with Joe really embracing the bizarre time signatures they’d use. Take Five is consistently regarded as the greatest Jazz tune of all time by many. Dave was also the second Jazz artist to be on the cover of Time Magazine, only second to the venerable Louis Armstrong.


    Sam


    October 27, 2015 at 7:26 am

    Richie Beirach???
    Clare Fischer???
    J.P. Johnson?
    Donald Lambert?

    Wtf ppl???

    At least Art is no1, but Oscar, Bud and Bill should be 2,3,4…


    Dan


    October 27, 2015 at 11:16 am

    1. Bill Evans
    2. …
    3. …
    4. …


    Harald Mikulla


    October 27, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Ein persönlicher Favorit von mir ist Alan Broadbent!


    michael


    October 27, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    oscar peterson ?????


    Cochise Heffelfinger


    October 31, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    Mose Allison


    Evan Ginzburg


    January 15, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    Lists are worthless when they leave out folk like this: Where’s Sun Ra who was far more influential and certainly more entertaining than the vast amount of folk on this list. Barry Harris? Nina Simone on keys as great a pure pianist as anyone? Billy Taylor? Randy Weston? DON PULLEN who played until his fingers bled? He doesn’t deserve a top 36 spot!?


    Antoine Devine


    January 15, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    Michel Camillo. Had people cheering and crying at the 2003 Monterey Jazz Festival.


    Alex


    January 15, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    where is Alan Broadbent, Milgrew Miller, Brad Mehldau?


    Phil Richards


    January 15, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    Mary Lou Williams didn’t make the cut? Really? Eldar Djangirov?


    Gustavo Lopes


    January 15, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    Oscar Peterson? Há outros e bem melhores!!!


    Michael


    January 16, 2016 at 3:03 am

    What about Brad Mehldau or Vijay Iyer?


    H Daniel Mujahid


    January 16, 2016 at 5:36 am

    I really think this is difficult work. Nevertheless, we must find a way to include several outstanding persons not on the list, in my order of priority they are: Johnny O’neal, Phineas Newborn Jr, Terry Pollard and Mulgrew Miller.


    H Daniel Mujahid


    January 16, 2016 at 5:38 am

    I really think this is difficult work. Nevertheless, we must find a way to include several outstanding persons not on the list, in my order of priority they are: Johnny O’neal, Phineas Newborn Jr, Terry Pollard and Mulgrew Miller. In time, Benny Green will need to be on the list as well.


    Shecky


    January 16, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    No list is complete without Vince Guaraldi, Monty Alexander, John Beasley and Nat King Cole


    Keis Ohtsuka


    April 25, 2016 at 2:17 am

    Why 36 men?


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Maybe the original list was only 36 men.
    I guess that is why everyone is wondering why LENNIE TRISTANO was left out.


    lutzSTÖHR


    May 5, 2016 at 8:53 am

    The best of all Jazz Pianist ist Keith Jarrett!
    In the combination of musical technique und being a great composer.


    JFSC3


    May 13, 2016 at 12:49 am

    Great list. WK is top ten for me. But the big name often overlooked is Sonny Clark – unmatched feel. Sonny is a “musician’s musician” – he would rank higher if this were polled from a sample only consisting of jazz pianists.


    stranger


    June 2, 2016 at 3:00 am

    Erroll Garner is a forgotten genius, should be placed at no.1 or no.2, his playing range was so wild and his style was so distinctive, his musical ability is outstanding. he was left handed and ambidextrous, he often fuses classical elements into his improvisation, this man really revolutionized jazz piano ,the no.10 Ahmad Jamal said Erroll Garner and Maurice Ravel were the supreme melodists of the 20th century, most of these top jazz pianists list will always be like art tatum- herbie hancock-bill evans so and so, I mean they are good, but people need to listen to more music.


    Amano Khambata


    June 29, 2016 at 11:06 am

    1. Keith Jarrett & Chick Corea
    2. Ketil Bjornstadt
    3. Ahmad Jamal
    4. Joe Zawinul
    5. Herbie Hancock
    6. Claude Bolling
    7. Mc Coy Tyner
    8. Hiromi
    9. Oscar Peterson
    10. Gonzalo Rubalcaba
    ( These are the pianists who define jazz today. The contributions of Duke Ellington, Nat KIng Cole, Scott Joplin, Dave Brubeck, Art Tatum , Brad Mehldau , Nina Simone, Gil Evans, Michel Legrand & Jelly Roll Morton cannot be overestimated )


    Samuel L. Chell


    January 10, 2020 at 7:47 pm

    No list of seminal, great pianists can be taken seriously if it omits the artist who, more than anyone else, shared and lived the aesthetic of the Romantic poet John Keats (from “Ode on a Grecian Urn”–Beauty is Truth; Truth Is Beauty–the counsel Bill issued to Tony Bennett in 1978). After leaving Miles Davis in ’58, Miles called him back for a truly innovative recording: the result was “Kind of Blue,” the most successful jazz album of all time (artistically and commercially–still among the top sellers in jazz). And it introduced modes and greater freedom to jazz.

    Next Bill would form a jazz trio that revolutionized the piano trio by making each instrumentalist, not merely supportive of the pianist, but a contributor of equal importance. Moreover, Bill kept the flame going, traveling round the world, too busy to go into a recording studio. Thankfully, his last trio with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera has been well documented. Everyone obsesses on his ’61 Vanguard recording, but his valedictory was jazz’ equivalent of Mozart’s or Verdi’s Requiem–an 8-night stand in San Francisco, ending a week before his death in NYC. It’s music that cements Bill Evans’ place as one of the 2 most important musicians in the 2nd half of jazz history. Coltrane has always been the first–though after Elvin and McCoy left him, the music of his last year was chaotic, obvious, cacophonous–leading to mass exits. Trane’s Romanticism was heaven-bent and spiritual in contrast. Bill, on the other hand, completed his archetypal journey be going full circle. He started out as jazz’ foremost “impressionist” (cf. Debussy, Ravel); he ended as a full-blown “expressionist” (think Moussoursky, Rachmaninoff)–two opposite sides of the same coin of “Romantic art.” Bill had the biggest, heaviest hands of any pianist–his touch, always “deep in the keys,” could coax from the most stubborn piano the fullest ppp and fff in closely-voiced harmonies or the most evenly-played rapid runs thanks to minimal body movement and heavy, dead accurate fingers. Never forcing a things while maintaining the same body and hand position during loud or soft passages (Keith simply lacked this physical advantage, making things worse when he stood up while playing). People ignore this last period by Bill, whose drug addiction was due not only to the horrible tragedies in his life but to his determination not to betray either his art or the two young musicians who, for the first time, constituted “his” trio, expressing his vision and aesthetic. He was one of the few remaining, one of the last, groups in jazz that continued to carry the flame. Whereas Keith selected his “spots’ on the basis of crowd size, money, etc., Bill remained an active soldier, about to go on another world tour when his body betrayed him. (The lives of other Romantic composers–Schubert, Schumann, etc.–are equally dark.). But the sublime beauty and powerful emotion (often thunderous in his last period, 1978 to Sept. 15, 1980) was proportionate to his suffering.


    skierpage


    November 11, 2020 at 3:17 am

    Bill Evans is #3 on the list, you clod!

    It is very disrespectful of other readers to write without paying attention.


    Kjeld Madsen


    June 29, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    You forgot Kenny Drew and Cecil Tayler should have had a higher range. And Scott Joplin on the list? Lists are silly.


    Kool2bbop


    June 29, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    Gene Harris should be among the best 10!!!


    Jaguar


    June 29, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Being an Old Cool Cat, I think that it is difficult to choose the top 50 let alone 36!
    I have seen live Count Basie, Duke Ellington with their Bands, Earl “Fatha” Hines (Solo).
    Jacques Loussier, John Lewis, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Petersen with their groups. Also worth a mention was Joshua Riffkin playing Scott Joplin. Diana Kroll mentioned by others continues to grow in stature, and should make the top 50. Live for me the Number One spot has to be Earl “Fatha” Hines, I stood behind him, within touching distance, at a Jazz Club in the UK whilst he played “All night long”, (sorry Lionel), thrilling the Club Cats in the 60’s. Old hands playing very sweet music..


    skierpage


    November 11, 2020 at 3:23 am

    I love Joshua Rifkin’s _performances_ of Scott Joplin, but they don’t make him a jazz pianist. He’s a classical performer, conductor, and musicologist whose immaculate performances gave Joplin’s ragtime compositions the respect they deserved.


    Charlie West


    June 29, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Jessica Williams is not well known by most jazz lovers (though she has released dozens of excellent CDs: http://www.jessicawilliams.com/). She is much admired by jazz pianists and the few jazz radio stations that still exist (e. g., KCSM). I think she should have made the list.


    Joe Wilson


    June 29, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Thelonius Monk?? What? Not one of the 36 Best?


    skierpage


    November 11, 2020 at 3:30 am

    Thelonius Monk is #2!!

    Are people not paying attention, or is this list changing?


    Ned Rodgers


    June 29, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    Tete Montoliu belongs very high on the list.


    Pete Muller


    June 29, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    It’s a great list, but I’m willing to bet that every time you poll the same people you’d end up with different results. No one has a timeless list of The Greatest. For instance we could compile a list of the best percussive players the list would completely change — if you get my drift.


    Robert McKenzie


    June 29, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    Gone but not forgotten is Nat ” king ” Cole, accomplished jazz pianist before his voice overcame the ” 88 .”


    Sam


    June 30, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Kenny Barron and Cedar Walton!!!!!!!!!!


    ray


    June 30, 2016 at 1:18 am

    Alan Broadbent, Aaron Diehl, Hiromi,
    there are so many out there. A list of the ten greats certainly would include
    Tatum, Evans, Bud Powell. Shearing, Oscar, Michele Le Grand ( for the few of us who have heard him live).
    Bill Charlap deserves recognition. Monk is in the Pantheon, not for his playing, but for the totality that he brings to the genre


    Joethefish


    June 30, 2016 at 1:37 am

    No Linus?


    Sheri


    June 30, 2016 at 3:58 am

    Bill Evans is my number 1. And Shirley Horn should be on the list.


    Sheri


    June 30, 2016 at 4:00 am

    Brad Mehldau is wonderful also.


    John T. Wilkinson


    June 30, 2016 at 7:19 am

    I want to add Stevie Wonder… yeah… he’s not be bopping or doing fancy jazz rifts… but no one can play like him nor can anyone have thought of the insanely beautiful and complex phrasing. And quite frankly I tire of “patterns” that a few of the persons above play over and over and over and over… regardless of how technically difficult they are to execute.


    Gary Gardner


    June 30, 2016 at 8:05 am

    Where’s Dave Brubeck and Nat King Cole? They surely must be up there with the best. Brubeck was one of the most innovative pianists of his time. Nat king Cole was a jazz pianist before he became a singer. So please give credit where credit is due.


    edu iglesia


    June 30, 2016 at 9:51 am

    1.- Bill Evans
    2.- Keith Jarrett
    3.- Oscar Peterson


    Dan Waldis


    June 30, 2016 at 10:36 am

    I think there are two important ones missing. First, Lennie Tristano had a bigger influence on jazz piano than most people think about. Tristano contributed some extremely interesting rhythmic perspectives.

    Secondly, Clare Fischer had a huge influence, and no one (as far as I could see) has mentioned him. Herbie Hancock, several times during interviews, has given Clare credit for a significant part of his harmonic knowledge. Clare’s vocal arrangements were unique, beginning with the Hi-Lo’s. :And he used all that harmonic knowledge in his playing.


    Dan Waldis


    June 30, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Ok, I take it back. Two other people mentioned Clare Fischer. My faith is restored! 🙂


    Dan Waldis


    June 30, 2016 at 10:37 am

    And the list has 36 pianists because there are 36 black keys on the piano? Oh good lord… 🙂


    Bruce Colman


    June 30, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Hank Jones much, much higher…and I’m the biggest Basie fan you can imagine, but don’t believe as a PLAYER he rates with players who were or are featured in trios and quartets…as some have said, Mary Lou Williams should be in here.


    Bruce Colman


    June 30, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    does anyone think Herbie should be moved lower for inflicting “Watermelon Man” on the world–and still playing it in public in the 20-teens? (but he IS one of the great interviews, commentators, raps, talkers in the jazz world…and, in the 1960s, helped direct where the music would go.)


    Phil Levering


    June 30, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    My top ten list would definitely include Kenny Barron. And Bill Charlap, in the top 36.


    Keith Dubois


    July 1, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    Wow, Bill Evans before Oscar Peterson. Even Bill wouldn’t agree with that. Certainly Fats Waller should have been further up the list, and what about James P. Johnson, who’s name should have gone above Waller’s. There’s also seminal figure Jelly Roll Morton, flamboyant nemesis of Jame P. Speaking of nemesis about how could you forget Donald Lambert one of Art Tatum’s rivals, I know a little to obscure for you. How was Phineas Newborn, adversary of Oscar Peterson left of the list, or Al Haig or Lenny Tristano, or Clyde Hart or Kenny Drew., just to name a few. Hampton Hawes is another deserving pianist who both Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson admired so greatly. Why is Bud Powell rated so low when most pianist during his time “and much later” tried to emulate him.? How Nat King Cole was left out boggles the mind, he was only crucial in developing the Jazz trio, a format that made Bill Evans and so many others so popular.


    Rolf Westerberg


    August 1, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Bill Evans is the greatest of all jazzpinaist.Oscar Petersson as you mentionedmissused his tecnical ability.and his playing sterotype and you could foresight until boring.what happens.Bill evans had an nusicality creativity and a deep the is unmatched by any player.His beautifully sound and inovativ chord and sofisticated rythm was outstanding.He manged to allways play with such an high level despite his drug problem.He was a genious that contributed to the music as the great classical composers


    Kody Manning


    January 6, 2020 at 5:33 pm

    Bill is overrated. Herbie ranks higher as a complete pianist. And there is no way he should be higher up the list than Bud Powell. There’s a good case that Bill is a Top 10 pianist, but that’s when the lauding should end.


    Tom Randall


    July 11, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Lenny Tristano? Oh, I know. Lenny Tristano! How about Lenny Tristano? Or Dave McKenna. Don Shirley? Not sure what category he goes in. Nat King Cole was marvelous.
    And now heresy time. Tatum’s technique was phenomenal. Second to none. But his playing is mechanical and soulless. After hearing a few songs I just want to move on to someone with with some heart in their playing. I’d listen to just about anyone else on the list before Tatum.


    Mikol Shane


    August 21, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    The top 10 is MINT……….JIMMY SMITH is a HUGE oversight, though. “The Sermon”was a game changer.


    John Preece


    September 9, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Lists are always subjective, I rate McPartland Peterson and Waller very highly. McPartland because apart from her undoubted talent she was very gracious when I spoke to her between sets at the Hickory House. At 88 yrs I have heard most of the musicians on the various lists. I told Benny Green that so much of the music around the 60’s was musicians music, he told me how difficult a particular note was, but hey, I just like the sound . By the way nobody has mentioned George Zack, his contribution to Muggsies Someday Sweetheart and others really pleased me.
    While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, everyone hears beautiful music as it appeals to their ear.


    Paul Alsing


    October 16, 2016 at 4:28 am

    I can’t believe that Dorothy Donegan has not been mentioned at all! This amazing musician has got to be the most overlooked jazz pianist of all time!


    James D’Olimpio


    October 23, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Agree with many comments,especially Marion MacPartland. and Vince Guaraldi.And did I miss Dr Billy Taylor?What about George Gershwin? And Nat Cole ? The list goes on ,doesnt it?


    Pete Meyer


    October 23, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    Can’t believe no one is mentioning Kenny Barron.


    CALVIN NEWBORN


    October 24, 2016 at 12:34 am

    I can”t believe no one mentioned PHINEAS NEWBORN JR.!


    bakasha


    October 24, 2016 at 3:47 am

    YOU MUST be CRAZY!!!!
    NO CHUCHO VALDES!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Between Chucho and Art Tatum a toss up as #1..2-3 Oscar


    charlie


    October 24, 2016 at 9:40 am

    I would have included John Lewis and everybody has their own list but this is YOUR list so there should be no criticism at all. Nobody can make a favorite list for someone else. If you made this list top 100 there would still be people with their favorites not on it. You explained that in the beginning so there should be no complaining. I did pick up a few names that I will make an effort to find for my own listening pleasure.


    DAN CELLI


    January 5, 2017 at 11:57 pm

    Johnny Costa is comparable to Art Tatum. I don’t see him on the list, maybe he’s 37 and there isn’t any room for him.Some pianist’s here are GOOD but not great. Costa Is GREAT. Check out his FLYING FINGER”S CD. DAN CELLI.


    Joseph Jones


    March 30, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    A staple on Mr. Rogers neighborhood


    Ben Shaw


    February 11, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    From the early 30’s to the late 40’s boogie woogie was a commercial force in jazz. My list:
    1. Meade Lux Lewis
    2. Pete Johnson
    3. Albert Ammons
    4. Jimmy Yancey
    5. Mary Lou Williams
    6. Freddie Slack
    7.Alan Toussant
    8.Pinetop Smith
    9. Hazel Scott
    10. Art Hodes


    RICK


    February 11, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Erroll Garner, Dave Brubeck, “Count” Basie, “Fats ” Waller & “Duke” Ellington not in the top ten….”SCANDALOUS” ! Who conducted this survey ? A bunch of rock musicians ?????


    Bill


    February 11, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    You made an attempt that is insurmountalble for each have left an indubitable mark on jazz from Tatum to Evans to Brubeck to Jamal………but Chick……come on.


    JBs


    February 11, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    Ahmad Jamal’s The Awakening solidifies his spot as one of the best pianists of all time, if not the greatest.


    frank nuciforo


    February 11, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    No Kenny Barron but you have that crackpot Keith Jarrett on this list?…… Please……


    Peter Calascione


    February 12, 2017 at 12:30 am

    As with all harmonic instruments (and probably even melodic ones) there are so many elements in playing them). Probably, the pianoforte is the most complex in terms of expression – so I am quite unsure about the validity of “the greatest piano player”. Greatest how; for what?
    There are a few names missing on your list, such as Vince Guaraldi, Russ Freeman, Dudley Moore, Egberto Gismonti, Claude Bolling; each of these have special talents that deserve mention.
    In short, I suggest you might devise a poll based on categories – such as as harmonic creativity, melodic creativity, originality, interpretation, composition and form building, playing technique, influence on other musicians etc etc


    BrooklynG


    February 12, 2017 at 12:41 am

    I love Monk, but respectfully disagree about placing him at #2. As Leonard Feather wrote in The Encyclopedia of Jazz when ranking pianists, Monk’s influence was primarily as a composer and a leader, not an instrumentalist.


    Peter Calascione


    February 12, 2017 at 12:42 am

    Further to my earlier comment:

    If there is one piano player who, in my opinion, comes out tops in all categories it has to be
    the astounding Bill Evans.
    OK – Keith Jarrett a close second; Art Tatum for playing technique; Erroll Garner for sheer swing;
    Michel Petrucciani for lyrical style; Thelonious Monk for innovation – but there’s more, of course,
    and Oscar Peterson has had his moments (Blues for the Prairies, Hogtown Blues etc) – his rubato is pretty good too.


    Jay Nelson


    February 12, 2017 at 12:43 am

    1 Bill Evans
    2 Thelonious Monk
    3 Ahmad Jamal
    4 Dave Brubeck
    5 Oscar Peterson
    6 Red Garland
    7 Bud Powell
    8 Keith Jarrett
    9 Art Tatum
    10 Chick Corea
    11 Duke Ellington
    12 Fats Waller
    13 Count Basie
    14 Earl Hines
    15 Jelly Roll Morton
    16 Herbie Hancock
    17 Vince Guaraldi
    18 Tommy Flanagan
    19 McCoy Tyner
    20 Horace Silver
    21 Teddy Wilson
    22 Joe Zawinul
    23 George Shearing
    24 Bob James
    25 Kenny Kirkland
    26 James P Johnson
    27 Wynton Kelly
    28 Ramsey Lewis
    29 Scott Joplin
    30 Hank Jones
    31 Michel Petrucciani
    32 Sonny Clark
    33 Lyle Mays
    34 Cecil Taylor
    35 Dave Grusin


    Gilad


    February 12, 2017 at 1:02 am

    Seriously?
    First of all, there is a severe under-representation of brilliant, young pianists: Hiromi, Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, Brad Mehldau, Fabian Almazan, Bill Laurance, Cory Henry, James Francies, Tigran Hamasyan, perhaps even the Wunderkind Joey Alexander. And from the older (but still highly active!) one should mention Eliane Elias, Chucho Valdes, Uri Caine. The problem with lists like this is that they draw a stagnant picture of a very vibrant art. Jazz is not a relic, it’s alive and kicking (and in new directions!).


    Pål Westerbeek


    February 12, 2017 at 1:24 am

    Let’s take the white keys on the piano too? Plenty more good jazzpianists! I give you two european pianists: Jan Johansson, Sweden and Louis van Dyke from Holland.


    Pål Westerbeek


    February 12, 2017 at 1:24 am

    Let’s take the white keys on the piano too? Plenty more good jazzpianists! I give you two european pianists: Jan Johansson, Sweden and Louis van Dyke from Holland.


    Ignacio buhacoff


    February 12, 2017 at 2:13 am

    Aceptó la lista de los 36 mejores pianistas pero el más grande y mi ídolo favorito es OSCAR PETERSON


    Ben


    February 12, 2017 at 3:34 am

    Art Tatum definitely #1. I would not put Monk at #2. Also, McCoy should be higher ranking than #6. Maybe swap with Monk…
    But, still a pretty good list of all the greats I know of. Thank you!


    Charles Dawkins


    February 13, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    And what about Hadda Brooks?


    joseph cavano


    February 15, 2017 at 7:09 am

    Of course then there is Erroll Garner. Downgraded by some because he was accepted by the unwashed masse and not given to pontification about the very real profound nature of jazz, he is hardly to blame that playing piano came so effortlessly to him or that he always believed audiences should be entertained. Hell, he was playing the most complex chords and rhythmns long before self-described experts got around to giving them names.
    Sometimes I think Garner was not human. It was as if in some deep, dismal basement some music happy monster of an inventor asembled all those traits needed to master the piano and placed them inside the Elf’s five foot two frame. Garner’s ear for music was legendary. He did not have to rely on playing set riffs and pretending it was improvisation. He merely heard a song in his head and made up the new melody using that tune alone. As to rhythmn, as they say in NY,” Forget about it”. He was completely ambidextrous and playing three against fours etc ( a horror to most human pianists) was like taking candy from a baby to him. He swung like no other. Check out Ellington’s and Juan Tizol’s Caravan if you want to see what it is like to muscially pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time.
    Sure some of the more obvious and elememtary things he did on piano could be imitated by lesser pianists. Taken as a whole , however, I doub t there has ever been as spontaneously creative a pianist as Erroll Garner.
    Some scientists claim if you put a monkey at a typewriter and gave him 100,000 years or so, he would eventually write MacBeth or Romeo and Juliet.
    I’m pretty confident it will be just as long before we have another Erroll Garner.


    Edward L Glassner


    February 15, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    All men? No Mary Lou Williams, Geri Allen, Renee Rosnos, Marian McPartland …


    Joseph Jones


    March 30, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    Also Jessica Williams and Alice Coltrane


    somedrunkbloke


    February 17, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    You forgot to include Mal Waldron and Paul Bley.

    1 Thelonious Monk
    2 Andrew Hill
    3 McCoy Tyner
    4 Mal Waldron
    5 Paul Bley
    6 Cecil Taylor
    7 Every other jazz pianist


    somedrunkbloke


    February 17, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    @anyone that hasn’t heard Mal Waldron – First Encounter yet, I’d love to hear your thoughts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgckQmjUtcU


    ypsi-slim


    February 23, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    C’mon people – waht about Barry Harris?


    Thaddeus Lovelock


    March 6, 2017 at 11:22 am

    What about Herbie Nichols and Kenny Drew, both of them brilliant pianists.


    Thaddeus Lovelock


    April 13, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    I enjoy Monk’s music but I wouldn’t put him at number two. Probably top ten. There were better pure piano players. But Art definitely deserves to be number one.


    Red Daddio


    April 22, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    Lists such as these are never definitive but are made to be debated and argued; to think of them in any other way is pointless. My take-away is we can enjoy live music from several ‘all-time’ greats – Ahmad, Chick, Keith, McCoy, Herbie –whether they are Top 10 or not is irrelevant.


    Michael Chesler


    April 23, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Aki Takase, Marilyn Crispell, Paul Bley, Joel Futterman, Connie Crothers, Stanley Cowell, Sun Ra, Fred Van Hove, Mal Waldron, Misha Mengelberg, Don Pullen, Alice Coltrane and so many more. AND WHEN WILL MOSAIC MOVE FORWARD WITH ANY OF THESE ARTISTS, PLEASE??? Can we move beyond the Count Basie, Benny Goodman, The 1940’s-50’s and at least start looking at free jazz in a meaningful way? Ok, you gave us a Braxton and Threadgill set..MORE???


    Bob Matthews


    April 23, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Another vote for Al Haig.
    Al Haig was Bud Powell’s favorite pianist. “He’s my idea of a perfect pianist.”


    Martin Davidson


    April 23, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    My top 14 jazz pianists in alphabetical order, based on 60 years of listening:
    Paul Bley
    Eddie Costa
    Hasaan Ibn Ali
    Earl Hines
    James P Johnson
    Thelonious Monk
    Jelly Roll Morton
    Herbie Nichols
    Bud Powell
    Art Tatum
    Cecil Taylor
    Stan Tracey
    Lennie Tristano
    Richard Twardzik


    John Burton


    April 23, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    How about the five best who are not on the list:

    Lennie Tristan
    Dick Twardsik
    Phineas Newborn
    Kenny Drew
    Kenny Barron


    Jim Millett


    April 23, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Have never really understood the Art Tatum worship. He had a flashy technique with all those runs and arpeggios, but I’ve never heard him swing. A list like this is never going to please anyone. A brilliant musician like Marian McPartland being left off is inexcusable. And no Billy Taylor? Anyway, the list is an interesting exercise because it makes one think.


    Michael von Winterfeldt


    April 23, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    first, it is totally wrong to make up a “Top Ten List” of pianists, jazz or classical. Pianists are musicians and musicians are artists and not marathon runners, tennis players or race car drivers.
    Second, nobody remembers Mel Powell and Johnny Guarnieri? The list should be extended to at least 88 names without ranking them. Pianists as any other professional musician are certainly competing with their art yet not for being ranked but for getting loved, respected, and paid well for their performances!


    Donald Julian


    April 23, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    Don Shirley And the great Marian!


    Elliot


    April 24, 2017 at 12:58 am

    Phineas Newborn -John Lewis-Billy Strayhorn -should be in the top 10 – 15.
    Oscar Peterson number 2 after Art Tatum.
    I am glad that The Count and the Duke are in the top. It seems that they get forgotten as pianists
    Piano has so many fantastic players that for me I have a huge amount of favorites.
    Oh yea don’t forget Bobby Timmons!!!!!


    Sanford Josephson


    April 24, 2017 at 2:03 am

    Any list without Billy Taylor has no credibility. Would also have included Bobby Timmons, Marian McPartland, Mary Lou Williams, Dick Hyman, Bill Charlap. To me, Keith Jarrett is very overrated.


    Axel Melhardt


    April 24, 2017 at 7:54 am

    It is wonderful that so many fans discuss the pianist-list – JAZZ IS ALIVE!!!!!


    Dirk Meijer


    April 24, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Myra Melford is missing, and yes Diana Krall belongs there. She has listen very good to Gene Harris, but nevertheless, “Live in Paris” proves she is a very good piano player. Mulgrew Miller needs to be in there definitively. Fred Hersch is missing.


    Elliot


    April 25, 2017 at 3:54 am

    ALSO……..
    Kenny Barron-Mal Waldron-Dick Hyman -Alan Broadbent-Jess Stacy–Marian McPartland
    Roger Kellaway-Ray Bryant – etc etc etc
    I bet jazz lovers could come with a 100’s of great pianists but of course the one’s at the top
    won’t change it just the way it is.
    We are all very lucky and should be grateful for so much great music!!!


    Dr Paul Winson


    April 26, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    Al Haig – A master jazz pianist
    Acknowledged by the inventors of modern jazz, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell -and Stan Getz – as their first choice
    Why?
    A beautiful filigree touch, consistent and even fingering, and excellent pedalling
    Swings effortlessly at any tempo, never thumps the instrument, as do inferior pianists . Unparalled accompanying for horns and singers
    Created and delightful improvisations that remain engaged with the melody but are always resolved at conclusion
    For more insight on the man and insight into his music, see ‘The Death of A Bebop Wife’ Grange Rutan for further insighet into Haig


    Virginia


    September 8, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Stan Getz didn’t play the piano, did he?


    JohnE


    April 27, 2017 at 4:09 am

    Disappointing to see that no one has mentioned Satoko Fujii so far. Extraordinarily versatile, and a composer/arranger as well as a piano player.


    Chris


    April 29, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Jaki Byard is a most obvious ommission.


    Bill Cox


    May 18, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    Agree with most of the picks, but Gene Harris and Beegie Adair should have been included.


    ed


    June 20, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    so cheesy to make a list, moreso when it has to nod to the commercial stars of the recent era. sad!


    John R


    June 22, 2017 at 12:31 am

    I agree with the many serious ommissions mentioned by others. First and foremost, Phineas Newborn Jr. When Memphis musicians and friends of Newborn first heard players like Bud Powell, they were not impressed because anything Bud did, Newborn could do more easily. He was described by Leonard Feather in the 1950’s as the greatest American born pianist of his day (after Art died).

    I also am shocked that there are no women on this list. Any of these women in my opinion were superior to several names on this list: Marian McPartland, Mary Lou Williams, Joanne Brackeen, Renee Rosnes, Eliane Elias, Geri Allen, Jessica Williams, Hiromi, and a few others.

    Also some pianists from outside the U.S. have to be given serious consideration: Gonzalo Rubalcaba (unbelievable chops and ideas), Eldar Djangirov (I heard and hung out with him when he was still in his teens–made me want to quit playing), Tete Montoliu, Bobby Enriquez (amazing Filipino pianist not mentioned once in this thread), Adam Makowicz (from Poland–I also saw him live and hung out with him. Not mentioned by anyone in this thread), Marian Petrescu (unbelievable), Michel Camilo.

    Yes let’s expand this to 88 pianists and not rank them.


    Steve


    November 10, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    Great additions!!


    Dan


    July 7, 2017 at 2:57 am

    Uh…Lennie Tristano….where is he?


    Christopher Nowak


    October 18, 2019 at 2:55 pm

    NUMBER 50!!


    Olav


    July 8, 2017 at 11:14 am

    “So just who are the greatest jazz pianists?”
    The question is ridiculous, because it is impossible to answer.
    How to compare Oscar Peterson and Thelonious Monk?!


    John


    July 14, 2017 at 11:19 am

    It is actually not a bad list. Of course, there has to be an element of subjectivity and many of the pianists who didn’t make the list could have been there. Oscar Peterson is much too high for my taste. While Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner certainly deserve to be there, they should not be in front of Bud Powell.


    Maurice Gawronsky


    July 14, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Throughout my musical career my favourite pianists were Wynton Kelley Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans


    Pete M


    July 14, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    There is an alternative top 100 list over at Ranker.com. I think it was please some of you (and it includes 3 females in the top 36.) That list is voted on by average joes and jills. http://www.ranker.com/list/greatest-jazz-pianists-of-all-time/ranker-music Be careful with actually trying to join Ranker, though. Two of their “log in” sites told me the site was not secure.


    mark borowsky


    July 14, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    I am impressed that Art Tatum is number one ( no argument here ), and that Fats Waller and James P. Johnson made the lst, although they should both be much higher. Tough to include Joplin, who, although he was a great composer, and, arguably the first , left no recordings, save for his ( no doubt edited ) piano roll of Maple Leaf Rag.


    David Norum


    July 14, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    As one of the great Monk fans of all-time, owning every single one of his recordings (okay not the very latest film music release yet, but until then) having an all-Monk ensemble in college that I arranged 35 of his comps for, and my primary influence as a jazz pianist, to rank him #2 jazz pianist is crazy. If you take into account his composing and his position as a pioneer of bebop he should certainly be near the top but as pianist solely, not #2, really not Top 10. As far a people who were left off the list Jessica WIlliams (another Monk aficionado) deserves a serious consideration.


    David Norum


    July 14, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    Anyone else own the album Mingus Plays Piano? There is some terrific stuff there, let’s say he maybe could have snuck into the Top 36 if he focused on piano instead of bass, not chops wise but getting music out of those 88 keys wise. Very under-appreciated album.


    riccardo castanea


    July 14, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    so you include Duke Ellington and keep out BILLY STRAYHORN an RED GARLAND??? agree bout the first ten


    Bruce Snyder


    July 14, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Really like the different posts mentioning those left off the list, especially the more “obscure” and “forgotten” players like Bobby Enriquez (who I vividly remember seeing at Newport) and Dorothy Donnegan. I might add to that list, Hazel Scott, Horace Tapscott and Bobby Scott (puns? intended).


    Kaleo


    July 14, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Can agree with the top three but not with Herbie Hancock being better than Keith Jarrett.


    David FT


    July 14, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    I’m far from being a fan of this kind of lists. Anyway I’m positive that Tete Montoliu should be somewhere in this list.


    Jack Nordine


    July 14, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    You have Bob James and Cecil Taylor on this list, but you do not have Elmo Hope? You should be ashamed!


    RUTH HELLKAMP


    July 15, 2017 at 2:50 am

    DID YOU INCLUDE DAVE MCKENNA? He had the most awesome LEFT HAND of any of them..and NEWSWEEK BACK IN THE LATE 70s called him the greatest jazz pianist IN AMERICA!


    Phyllis


    July 15, 2017 at 3:16 am

    Missing: Ellis Marsalis, Bill Charlap, Fred Hersch , Diana Krall, Barry Harris


    Virginia


    September 8, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    Ellis Marsalis is a trumpet man, I believe. Maybe he also plays piano?


    Lutz Bacher


    July 15, 2017 at 6:46 am

    I’m astonished that no one has mentioned Don Friedman.


    Dirk


    July 15, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Missing Dollar Brand / Abdullah Ibrahim


    Doc


    July 15, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    It would not matter who is on the list. Someone will always come along and refute it.


    Max


    July 17, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    Dave Grusiin and Bob James? As already pointed out by other folks here, there a few important omissions: Mal Waldron, Brad Mehldau, Don Friedman, Barry Harris, Lenny Tristano, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McParland……. . Next thing someone is going to put Kenny G in the same category as Steve Lacey and Dave Liebman for best Jazz soprano sax !?


    Chuck Sutherland


    July 23, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    You missed Dave Zoller. One of the true greats. Finishing work on a Theloneous Monk anniversary album. He is amazing!


    Richard


    September 6, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    1. Bill Evans


    Steven Tarlow


    September 6, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Perhaps this list should have gone with 88, still matching the number of keys. Too many great ones left off, as mentioned in the comments. If you needed to make some room in the 36 for the glaring omissions, conisder removing Shearing, Mays, Grusin and James.


    Beppe


    September 6, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    …and Nat King Cole ?


    Lyon francois


    September 6, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    Sans vouloir oublier le passé, (je me souviens des concert live de Michel a Miramas et sur le port de Cassis)…
    S l’on se concentrait un peu sur les pianistes actuels; certes il y a la technique pure , mais surtout l’émotion que seuls certains savent transmettre en concert live.
    A.Jahmal, Lyle May, OK, mais aussi Steve Kuhn et encore Omar Sosa (exceptionnel de prestance et d’emotion sur scene)!


    George


    September 6, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    Brad Mehldau


    Dimitrios


    September 6, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    At least a dozen people complainig that the mediocre Diana Krall didn’t make it in the list yet no one mentions Horace Tapscott. OK.


    booshka


    September 6, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    If in all this beautiful list there was no place for lennie tristano who wrote this list should do some homework.


    booshka


    September 6, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    Um jaki byard?


    booshka


    September 6, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    mal waldron ? I do not know who wrote this list and where he will take the information but a bit disappointing …


    Marcike


    September 6, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Missing Mulgrew Miller, Barry Harris, Kenny Barron, Fred Hersh and Don Grolnick from the older generation, Gerald Clayton, Christian Sands, Bill Charlap and Robert Glasper from the younger ones. The ranking is ridiculous (Monk for 2nd etc…) IMO.


    Gilles Chaumel


    September 6, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    No Paul Bley??? Unacceptable. No Fred Hersch? Unacceptable. No Jason Moran? Oh, come on!


    aristotelis tsipianitis


    September 6, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    Bill-“the thrill-Evans.


    Bill Meek


    September 7, 2017 at 2:39 am

    This is why I’m against lists or tallys of who are the greatest this or that . This all depends on subjective judgments in time and space and who’s doing the judging. These are all all great pianists but there are probably many we never heard of and some who were excluded . No females? BTW, no Denny Zeitlin?


    Reuben


    September 7, 2017 at 4:43 am

    Monk is my favorite


    Frikkie


    September 7, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Rick Wake man? ?


    Eli Johnson


    September 7, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    NOT A BAD LIST BUT YOU LEFT A LOT OF SOME OF THE BESTPLAYERS OUT.


    judy bunt


    September 8, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Claude Bolling
    Hazel Scott
    Allen Toussaint (Bright Mississippi)


    nigel foster


    September 8, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    The Modern Jazz Quartet got me and countless others into modern jazz, as opposed to trad and Dixieland. Where the hell is John Lewis? How could you do this! For shame. For shame.


    Virginia


    September 8, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    Bobby Enriquez is my favorite! He’s a wild one! Fast, fast, fast! Others not mentioned: Monty Alexander, Roger Kellaway, Billy Taylor, Dave McKenna, Gene Harris, Steve Kuhn


    William McElhiney


    September 8, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    How about Martial Solal?Do they all have tuo be American?


    Suzume Shi


    September 9, 2017 at 2:18 am

    Bill Evans should be #1. And where the hell is Brad Meldau?


    Jason Finch


    November 7, 2017 at 11:04 pm

    Elmo Hope. Cedar Walton. Stanley Cowell.


    Jason Finch


    November 8, 2017 at 4:08 am

    Sun Ra??


    Christopher Terry


    November 8, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    Aw, man. Have you got no heart? No Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson? Magicians of the boogie woogie. Bringers of joy.


    Marc De Mey


    November 8, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    I can spot most of the pianists I like, but if the number of albums in my collection is a good parameter I’m missing Monty Alexander. He gave (and still gives me) the largest goose bumps.


    md92468


    November 8, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    It’s hard to take seriously a top 36 jazz pianists list that doesn’t include Mary Lou Williams….


    Svend-Erik Otto


    November 8, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    I´ll miss Eddie Haywood, and as pianoplayer Nat King Cole, and last – Slim Gaillard, not for his skills but for make me happy, with his swing drive. Love him


    Ebbe Søndergaard


    November 8, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    No one encompasses Herbie Hancock.


    Steven Brooke


    November 8, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Underrated: Wynton Kelly and Red Garland…and where is Cedar Walton?
    Way overrated: Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis


    Mphela Motimele


    November 9, 2017 at 7:46 am

    Absolutely agree with you assessment – and Gene Harris deserve a spot


    Richard


    November 9, 2017 at 3:27 am

    An exercise in futility.


    Bryango


    November 9, 2017 at 4:18 am

    Mal Waldron


    Dan Tubbs, Jr.


    November 9, 2017 at 4:54 am

    Jessica Williams is one of the most under appreciated jazz pianists today. She has performed with other amazing musicians for years, and I only recently discovered her. She is a creative heart and soul jazz pianist.


    Bruce N


    March 30, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    I 100% agree


    Joe James


    November 9, 2017 at 4:57 am

    Cedar Walton and Mulgrew Miller should be at the top but are missing???


    Mphela Motimele


    November 9, 2017 at 7:44 am

    whoever compiled this list has clearly never hear Gene Harris play


    Fabian


    November 9, 2017 at 8:06 am

    Eldar Djangirov , Mike Garson ?


    John Jordan


    November 9, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    Lets not argue about who is missing it is impossible to have all names available, but in real terms in matters not a hoot because Bud Powell and Monk are there.


    Preben Kolding


    November 13, 2017 at 6:13 am

    Considering that both Oscar Peterson and Georg Shearing claim to have been greatly influenced by him I find it strange that Nat King Cole haven´t made your list!


    Observadordepirata


    November 16, 2017 at 3:11 am

    No Brad Mehldau ? Unbelievable!


    Christopher Nowak


    December 15, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Mehldau is #35!!


    Shomari Adofo


    November 19, 2017 at 6:41 am

    Barry Harris, should be in the top twenty. John Hicks could really burn the keys, and Brother Newborn, was on par with the great Oscar Peterson.


    Joseph Jones


    March 30, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    John Hicks was a monster on the piano


    Randolph


    December 2, 2017 at 4:18 am

    This is a sorry list of the greatest jazz pianist. how can Chick Correa and Kieth Jarrett be ahead of Earl Hines and Horace Silver. Phineas Newborn is not here.This is total crap.This is posted by some Johnny come Lately.


    Talking Stein


    March 12, 2018 at 4:57 am

    Jazz Pianists? Have you ever heard “Mack the knife” by Nina Riche?


    Charlie Bruce


    March 30, 2019 at 9:17 pm

    Thanks to you, Talking Stein, I went there ….. and No Thank You!


    Christopher Nowak


    October 1, 2019 at 3:51 am

    Anyone who can make “Mack The Knife” sound interesting must be good!!


    Jason Draper


    March 26, 2018 at 9:59 am

    In preparation for this year’s Piano Day (29 March), we’ve expanded and revamped this list, and added some of your suggestions. Take another look and let us know what you think!


    Jan Johannesson


    March 29, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    No armenian piano player either. Tigran Hamasyan is by far one of the best piano players in the world.


    Douglas Groothuis


    March 30, 2018 at 7:20 am

    This is a good summary of jazz pianists. But ranking them is ridiculous. They all have their own style. If you are ranking, what are your criteria? If you have no criteria, what is the point.


    Joseph Jones


    March 30, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    Hilton Ruiz


    Joseph Jones


    March 30, 2018 at 5:58 pm

    Horace Parlan


    michael rose


    June 29, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    It’s a list, limited to 50 (up from 36, which is an improvement), and it’s not intended as a scientific ranking. It’s their list, and if it were larger it might have included some that were omitted . .but it’s only as large as it is. I might come up with a different list. So would you. I think the list captured most of the major players, missed a few that I would have included — McPartland and Newborn to name a couple — and some of the rankings are idiosyncratic. . .but hey, it’s generated some thought and some memories and inspired some listening (at least on my part) and some discussion, all of which, I figure, is the point. So, withal my disagreements, cool list.


    Pete


    July 22, 2018 at 10:56 am

    The omission of Marian McPartland is criminal. Also, Phineas Newborn, Joe Sample, and Kenny Werner should have been included.
    I do like your top 4 and was pleasantly surprised by it.


    Jazz Fan


    September 27, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    How do you leave Joe Sample off this list ???/


    Jaynie Guarnieri


    October 17, 2018 at 11:44 pm

    I am not sure any of you know much about Jazz if you haven’t included my father Johnny Guarnieri. He was Fats Waller’s protege and played with all of the Jazz Greats. He played with many of the jazz bands in the 30s and 40s Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey to name a few, and he had his own radio show. Here is just a sampling of his work and there is much more on youtube.

    Let me know what you think once you have listened and then tell me he shouldn’t be in this list, close to the top!


    Greg Masters


    November 5, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    Herbie Nichols.


    Sirius Loozer


    November 18, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    There’s a japanese pianist probably nobody knows, but i believe he should be on this list, not for any revolutionary turn he gave to jazz piano playing, which i don’t think he did, but just for the sheer beaulty of his music. His name is Ryo Fukui


    Sirius Loozer


    November 18, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Damn it! Now that i think of it, there’s another japanese piano player, but you just have to HAVE her on this list! Hiromi Uehara! If you don’t know her, get out there, drop whatever you’re doing and listen to her, and redo this list! She’s a freakin’ genius! Ammmmmazing technique, overflowing with energy and creativity, she’s written beautiful songs and rearrangements. A must!


    Nick Tregenza


    January 5, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    Hiromi Uehara! easily qualifies for the top 10!


    Gato Fuji


    November 26, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    One more vote for Hiromi Uehara! Top 5!


    Jerry Kennedy


    March 3, 2019 at 5:36 am

    DUKE JORDAN, AL HAIG, SIR WALTER BISHOP, RED GARLAND, JUST TO NAME A FEW MISSING ARTISTS.


    Dave Zoesch


    March 29, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    Sun Ra


    Charlie Bruce


    March 30, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Count Basie said Earl Hines was, ” ..the greatest piano-player int the world”. And i happen to agree.


    François


    March 31, 2019 at 8:33 am

    Me too. If you need confirmation of this, go see the wonderful 1 hr docu on Hines @ https://vimeo.com/58414566


    eran


    June 2, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    one which is missing but stand out as performer as well as educator is dick hyman.

    the knowledge and know how are stretched throughout the entire history of jazz piano.
    a must in the list.


    Dennis Patrick


    July 24, 2019 at 5:44 am

    Where is Joe Sample? He definitely should be included among the greats!


    Christopher Nowak


    September 15, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Lennie Tristano is $50.
    Is there any chance that DAVE BURRELL is related to the jazz guitarist KENNY BURRELL?


    Christopher Nowak


    September 15, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    This is a reply to a to someone above who stated that Lennie Tristano was not on the list and mentioned the name Dave Burrell.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    Sorry Folks. Again, Tristano is #50.


    Christopher Nowak


    October 1, 2019 at 3:46 am

    SORRY. Lennie Tristano is #50.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 15, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Yes. Tommy Flanagan was good but not good enough to keep up with John Coltrane on GIANT STEPS.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 17, 2019 at 1:24 pm

    The late PAT LUDWIG from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
    He was a friend of OSCAR PETERSON but had lines that related more towards TEDDY WILSON.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 2:33 pm

    Calm down now.
    I am surprised that your comment was shown.


    Christopher Nowak


    September 18, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    I cannot believe that everyone is forgetting about one pianist that a lot of people think is just a notch lower than Oscar Peterson:
    OLIVER JONES!!! (Fulford Street Romp and Tippin Home From Sunday School).
    Does anyone else agree??


    Christopher Nowak


    September 28, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    The late RANDY WESTON?!
    He was one of the oldest but also one of the best!


    Christopher Nowak


    September 28, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    I am glad that you did NOT include Ramsey Lewis.
    He would be more appropriate as a person in the TOP 50 for BLUES pianists.


    Christopher Nowak


    October 1, 2019 at 3:43 am

    SORRY. RAMSEY LEWIS ON THE LIST BUT SHOULD NOT BE!


    Christopher Nowak


    October 17, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    BRAD MOGGACH from Ontario, Canada?
    You can check out his piano work on Youtube (THE CHRIS NOWAK PROJECT Volumes 1 and 2).
    AUTUMN IN MUSKOKA (Vol.1) is very good.


    Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS


    October 20, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Here is Brad playing in a duo with TIM MOHER.
    My AUTUMN IN MUSKOKA should really be called AUTUMN IN HEAVEN!!


    Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS


    October 20, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLLHZmRvMj4&list=OLAK5uy_kYNmW4pdq99QhTC5Q7VajuN48GPfk4DfA&index=1

    Sorry. You left off the link.
    Here it is.


    Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS


    October 24, 2020 at 1:57 pm

    Check out Brad’s second half solo in UNION DUES BLUES.
    His block chords would make Dave Brubeck proud!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa99q-vq4bI&list=OLAK5uy_k7M-0PcT5vtPSusxNDlUYOkkVOJEwZ5vM&index=10


    Christopher Nowak


    November 6, 2019 at 1:24 pm

    BENNY GREEN?!


    Christopher Nowak


    November 7, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    Gene Dinovi and Tom Szczesniak?!!


    Christopher Nowak


    December 1, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    MARK EISENMAN?!
    He played with many greats including ART FARMER.
    He is also a graduate of the same program that I graduated from (YORK UNIVERSITY, BACHELOR OF FINE ARTS-MUSIC MAJOR).


    Christopher Nowak


    December 13, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    How could you possibly leave out HIROMI UEHARA!!!!!


    Christopher Nowak


    December 15, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    DEFINITELY THE BEST PIANIST IN THE WORLD WHO WAS BORN IN THE 21st CENTURY: JOEY ALEXANDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4V_uaxBVOw


    Christopher Nowak


    December 30, 2019 at 11:36 pm

    TV fans are probably aware of the TV series HOUSE.
    HOUSE is played by the great actor and multi-instrumentalist HUGH LAURIE.
    Aside from guitar, vocals, saxophone and harmonica, he plays a mean jazz piano!
    On one episode, he plays a nice version of GEORGIA and on another plays a more classical oriented piece.
    However, on another episode he played a weak rock guitar solo. I shall assume that he did not intentionally want to show off like he did with the piano.


    Kody Manning


    January 6, 2020 at 5:45 pm

    Bill Evans too high. Herbie and Bud too low. Kenny Barron has to be included in the convo.


    Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS


    January 6, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    MICHAEL KAESHAMMER?!!!
    Here is a sample of the boogie woogie specialist:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tR4CYo3OC7A


    Hanpu Chao


    January 7, 2020 at 9:16 am

    6: Errol Garner
    5: Count Basie
    4: Fats Waller
    3: Nat King Cole
    2: Teddy Wilson
    1: Earl Hines


    charlie bruce


    November 16, 2020 at 9:52 pm

    I agree – especially Hines at no. 1. Basie also said that Hines was, “The greatest piano player in the world”. Go see Hines @ https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=earl+hines+documentary – just utterly, utterly WONDERFUL.


    charlie bruce


    November 16, 2020 at 9:57 pm

    Especially Earl Hines at no.1


    Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS


    January 29, 2020 at 1:26 pm

    TERRY TROTTER??!!!
    Look out Bill Evans!!:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH0gLKvw0lI


    Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS


    February 4, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    VINCE HURLEY from THE JIVE ACES!?


    Wraylene Downes


    February 25, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    you forgot Wray Downes


    Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS


    April 11, 2020 at 11:40 am

    JOHN BALLYANTYNE!!
    Here he is with MICHAEL BRECKER.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEJE2TVQ16M


    Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS


    April 11, 2020 at 11:44 am

    Sorry folks. It is actually:

    Jon Ballantyne


    Bill


    May 20, 2020 at 4:45 am

    Hampton Hawes!


    Blake Lucas


    July 2, 2020 at 8:54 am

    I’ll say I enjoyed this list overall. It had many of my favorites. I don’t warm to Art Tatum though–mostly flash more than substance and pretty much feel that way about Oscar Peterson too.

    I miss Victor Feldman most–I understand that maybe he did not have the career he might have, mostly staying in the studios. But you could hear how great he was on the records he is on. On the other hand, it was good to see Sonny Clark do well. He’s been my big discovery in recent years with “Leapin’ and Lopin’” and “Cool Struttin’” especially.

    I feel John Lewis is most underrated here. A glowingly beautiful player–most of these players can’t touch the beauty of his ideas and the flow they get when he is at his best.

    The three best in order:
    1-Thelonious Monk
    (read some of the comments that perpetuate the old “he can’t play that well” myth that Leonard Feather perpetuated–actually I don’t believe any of the others could play as he does nor should they try).
    2-Bill Evans
    3-John Lewis

    but 4) Duke Ellington, who played the most beautiful jazz piano solo I know, just half a chorus on “In a Sentimental Mood” with Coltrane, and sets up a glorious close by Trane. Duke is like Monk, inimitable–and of course, that partly comes from being a great composer first of all.


    Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS


    October 16, 2020 at 3:09 am

    ATTILA FIAS???!!!!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXHYy3f93uo


    Steve


    November 10, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    How is it possible to have this large a list without either Chucho Valdes or Bobby Enriquez? Both could be top 10, certainly top 25.


    Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS


    January 12, 2021 at 7:18 pm

    BOB JAMES and JUSTIN-LEE SCHULTZ

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUft48cLcVU


    jake davise


    January 30, 2021 at 2:57 am

    Maybe others should be on the list, and maybe the order should be rearranged, but one thing you got for sure … Art Tatum absolute #1!


    Bruce Fields


    February 12, 2021 at 4:39 am

    Good list, but please get Bob James the hell off of it and put a great pianist on it. The top 50 is way too top for Mr. James.


    Vincent McCord


    February 19, 2021 at 9:17 pm

    Thanks for publishing this. Certainly thought-provoking and will never satisfy everyone. I’m puzzled by James P Johnson at only 25th on the list. The King of Harlem Stride pianists should be in the Top 10. Also, where is Mal Waldron? I don’t understand Herbie Hancock at #4–ahead of Oscar Peterson, Fats Waller–you’re kidding me! And John Lewis in the ’40’s, he deserves much more respect than that. Finally, while I absolutely love Monk, I can’t see him at #2. Maybe for composing, but not his playing.


    D


    August 16, 2021 at 12:37 am

    No Gene Harris! Unbelievable!!!! 🙁 This is definitely skewed. Gene Harris should be in the top 3 easily!


    G


    August 26, 2021 at 1:27 am

    Well, you got Art Tatum right. That’s about it. They’re all truly great,just in the wrong order. You should listen to some Ronnie Ball. People don’t know him and he deserves being heard. Recommend Lee Konitz live at Storyville for some prime Ronnie!

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    Billie Holiday is considered one of the best jazz vocalists of all time, Holiday had a thriving career as a jazz singer for many years before she lost her battle with substance abuse. Also known as Lady Day, her autobiography was made into the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues. In 2000, Holiday was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

    Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Some sources say her birthplace was Baltimore, Maryland, and her birth certificate reportedly reads “Elinore Harris.”) 

    Holiday spent much of her childhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Her mother, Sadie, was only a teenager when she had her. Her father is widely believed to be Clarence Holiday, who eventually became a successful jazz musician, playing with the likes of Fletcher Henderson. 

    Unfortunately for Holiday, her father was an infrequent visitor in her life growing up. Sadie married Philip Gough in 1920 and for a few years, Holiday had a somewhat stable home life. But that marriage ended a few years later, leaving Holiday and Sadie to struggle along on their own again. Sometimes Holiday was left in the care of other people.

    Holiday started skipping school, and she and her mother went to court over Holiday’s truancy. She was then sent to the House of Good Shepherd, a facility for troubled African American girls, in January 1925. 

    what was the real first name of the jazz perf

    Only 9 years old at the time, Holiday was one of the youngest girls there. She was returned to her mother’s care in August of that year. According to Donald Clarke’s biography, Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon, she returned there in 1926 after she had been sexually assaulted.

    In her difficult early life, Holiday found solace in music, singing along to the records of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. She followed her mother, who had moved to New York City in the late 1920s, and worked in a house of prostitution in Harlem for a time. 

    Around 1930, Holiday began singing in local clubs and renamed herself “Billie” after the film star Billie Dove.

    READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Billie Holiday

    At the age of 18, Holiday was discovered by producer John Hammond while she was performing in a Harlem jazz club. Hammond was instrumental in getting Holiday recording work with an up-and-coming clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman. 

    With Goodman, she sang vocals for several tracks, including her first commercial release “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and the 1934 top 10 hit “Riffin’ the Scotch.”

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  • Known for her distinctive phrasing and expressive, sometimes melancholy voice, Holiday went on to record with jazz pianist Teddy Wilson and others in 1935. 

    She made several singles, including “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown to You.” That same year, Holiday appeared with Duke Ellington in the film Symphony in Black.

    Around this time, Holiday met and befriended saxophonist Lester Young, who was part of Count Basie’s orchestra on and off for years. He even lived with Holiday and her mother Sadie for a while. 

    Young gave Holiday the nickname “Lady Day” in 1937 — the same year she joined Basie’s band. In return, she called him “Prez,” which was her way of saying that she thought it was the greatest.

    Holiday toured with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1937. The following year, she worked with Artie Shaw and his orchestra. Holiday broke new ground with Shaw, becoming one of the first female African American vocalists to work with a white orchestra. 

    Promoters, however, objected to Holiday — for her race and for her unique vocal style — and she ended up leaving the orchestra out of frustration.

    Striking out on her own, Holiday performed at New York’s Café Society. She developed some of her trademark stage persona there — wearing gardenias in her hair and singing with her head tilted back.

    During this engagement, Holiday also debuted two of her most famous songs, “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.” Columbia, her record company at the time, was not interested in “Strange Fruit,” which was a powerful story about the lynching of African Americans in the South. 

    Holiday recorded the song with the Commodore label instead. “Strange Fruit” is considered to be one of her signature ballads, and the controversy that surrounded it — some radio stations banned the record — helped make it a hit.

    Over the years, Holiday sang many songs of stormy relationships, including “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” and “My Man.” These songs reflected her personal romances, which were often destructive and abusive. 

    Holiday married James Monroe in 1941. Already known to drink, Holiday picked up her new husband’s habit of smoking opium. The marriage didn’t last — they later divorced — but Holiday’s problems with substance abuse continued.

    READ MORE: The Tragic Story Behind Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”

    In 1939, after singing her song “Strange Fruit,” Holiday received a warning from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a government agency which lasted from 1930 to 1968, to never sing the song again. Holiday refused and kept singing the song.

    FBN commissioner Harry Anslinger believed Holiday to be the symbol of everything that America had to be afraid of.

    “She had a heroin addiction because she’d been chronically raped as a child and she was trying to deal with the grief and the pain of that,” Johann Hari, who wrote the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, told WNYC. “And also, she was resisting white supremacy. And when she insisted on continuing on her right as an American citizen to sing ‘Strange Fruit,’ Anslinger resolves to destroy her.”

    Anslinger was a widely known racist and made it his mission to take Holiday down for her drug and alcohol addiction and relentlessly pursued her all the way up until her death in 1959. 

    That same year, Holiday had a hit with “God Bless the Child.” She later signed with Decca Records in 1944 and scored an R&B hit the next year with “Lover Man.” 

    Her boyfriend at the time was trumpeter Joe Guy, and with him she started using heroin. After the death of her mother in October 1945, Holiday began drinking more heavily and escalated her drug use to ease her grief.

    Despite her personal problems, Holiday remained a major star in the jazz world—and even in popular music as well. She appeared with her idol Louis Armstrong in the 1947 film New Orleans, albeit playing the role of a maid. 

    Unfortunately, Holiday’s drug use caused her a great professional setback that same year. She was arrested and convicted for narcotics possession in 1947. Sentenced to one year and a day of jail time, Holiday went to a federal rehabilitation facility in Alderson, West Virginia.

    Released the following year, Holiday faced new challenges. Because of her conviction, she was unable to get the necessary license to play in cabarets and clubs. Holiday, however, could still perform at concert halls and had a sold-out show at the Carnegie Hall not long after her release. 

    With some help from John Levy, a New York club owner, Holiday was later to get to play in New York’s Club Ebony. Levy became her boyfriend and manager by the end of the 1940s, joining the ranks of the men who took advantage of Holiday. 

    Also around this time, she was again arrested for narcotics, but she was acquitted of the charges.

    While her hard living was taking a toll on her voice, Holiday continued to tour and record in the 1950s. She began recording for Norman Granz, the owner of several small jazz labels, in 1952. Two years later, Holiday had a hugely successful tour of Europe.

    Holiday also caught the public’s attention by sharing her life story with the world in 1956. Her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues (1956), was written in collaboration by William Dufty. 

    Some of the material in the book, however, must be taken with a grain of salt. Holiday was in rough shape when she worked with Dufty on the project, and she claimed to have never read the book after it was finished.

    Around this time, Holiday became involved with Louis McKay. The two were arrested for narcotics in 1956, and they married in Mexico the following year. Like many other men in her life, McKay used Holiday’s name and money to advance himself. 

    Despite all of the trouble she had been experiencing with her voice, she managed to give an impressive performance on the television broadcast The Sound of Jazz with Ben Webster, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins.

    After years of lackluster recordings and record sales, Holiday recorded Lady in Satin (1958) with the Ray Ellis Orchestra for Columbia. The album’s songs showcased her rougher sounding voice, which still could convey great emotional intensity. 

    what was the real first name of the jazz perf

    Holiday gave her final performance in New York City on May 25, 1959. Not long after this event, Holiday was admitted to the hospital for heart and liver problems. 

    She was so addicted to heroin that she was even arrested for possession while in the hospital. On July 17, 1959, Holiday died from alcohol- and drug-related complications.

    More than 3,000 people turned out to say good-bye to Lady Day at her funeral held in St. Paul the Apostle Roman Catholic Church on July 21, 1959. A who’s who of the jazz world attended the solemn occasion, including Goodman, Gene Krupa, Tony Scott, Buddy Rogers and John Hammond.

    Considered one of the best jazz vocalists of all time, Holiday has been an influence on many other performers who have followed in her footsteps. 

    Her autobiography was made into the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues with famed singer Diana Ross playing the part of Holiday, which helped renew interest in Holiday’s recordings. 

    In 2000, Holiday was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Ross handling the honors.

    In 2021, Andra Day portrayed Holiday in the biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

    We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn’t look right, contact us!

    Billie Holiday Biography

    Biography.com Editors

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    Louis Armstrong was a jazz trumpeter, bandleader and singer known for songs like “What a Wonderful World,” “Hello, Dolly,” ”Star Dust” and “La Vie En Rose.”

    An originator of big-band jazz, Duke Ellington was an American composer, pianist and bandleader who composed thousands of scores over his 50-year career.

    John Coltrane was an acclaimed American saxophonist, bandleader and composer, becoming an iconic figure of jazz in the 20th century with albums like ‘Giant Steps,’ ‘My Favorite Things’ and ‘A Love Supreme.’

    Ella Fitzgerald, known as the “First Lady of Song” and “Lady Ella,” was an immensely popular American jazz and song vocalist who interpreted much of the Great American Songbook.

    Jazz and blues vocalist Bessie Smith’s powerful, soulful voice won her countless fans and earned her the title “Empress of the Blues.”

    One of jazz music’s all-time greats, bandleader-pianist Count Basie was a primary shaper of the big-band sound that characterized mid-20th century popular music.

    Charlie Parker was a legendary Grammy Award–winning jazz saxophonist who, with Dizzy Gillespie, invented the musical style called bop or bebop.

    Thelonious Monk is one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and one of first creators of modern jazz.

    Legendary performer Nina Simone sang a mix of jazz, blues and folk music in the 1950s and ’60s. A staunch Civil Rights activist, she was known for tunes like “Mississippi Goddam,” “Young, Gifted and Black” and “Four Women.”

    what was the real first name of the jazz perf
    what was the real first name of the jazz perf

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