The Top Jazz Pianists of All Time
It’s no secret that we love jazz…and more importantly, we love the piano! That’s why today, in connection with International Jazz Day, we’re breaking down our list for some of our absolute favourite jazz pianists of all time.
Before we kick off this list, to get you into the swinging jazz spirit, here’s a recent jazz piano performance that recently took place in our Cambridge showroom with jazz aficionado Robin Phillips!
Now we’re in the spirit, let that sweet jazz piano play!
First up we have the incredible Oscar Emmanuel Peterson (August 15, 1925 – December 23, 2007). A Canadian jazz pianist, virtuoso and composer who was famed for his outlandish solo technique and ability to portray jazz in its purest forms.
Interestingly, Oscar’s piano journey began at the age of five, where he originally began developing his musical prowess through the trumpet and piano, but after a battle with tuberculosis when he was seven, he could no longer play the trumpet so he directed all his attention to the piano…The rest as they say is history!
Throughout Oscar’s 60 year long career, he released over 200 recordings, won seven Grammy’s and is largely considered one of history’s greatest jazz pianists.
Next up we have a real heavy hitter in the way of the modern jazz movement. Earl Rudolph “Bud” Powell (September 27, 1924 – July 31, 1966) was a truly influential figure in the jazz world and has been long considered the “Charlie Parker” of piano jazz.
Bud’s works can be seen throughout jazz many jazz musicians, fans and critics often credit his works as having “greatly extended the range of jazz harmony”. For his services to expanding the genre and unleashing the power of piano jazz to the world, he’s on our list!
This name often goes hand in hand with Bud Powell, but Thelonius Monk (October 10, 1917 – February 17, 1982) is yet another esteemed name in the jazz improvisation worlds. Being most renowned for his unorthodox approach to piano, his sound is laced with angular melodic twists that are then combined with a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of switched key releases, silences, and hesitations.
This jaunty style labelled him with a lot of critique amongst piano players and critics – one famed jazz critic even called him: “The elephant on the keyboard”.
What Thelonious’s music does do however is inspire a new approach to the instrument and showmanship that comes with jazz as he was often known for stopping mid song, standing up, and dancing for a few moments before returning to the piano. We love that!
Arguably one of the best known pianists in all of jazz history, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) is widely considered a pivotal figure in the history of Jazz, Ellington was a liberating name in extending jazz into the modern popular culture at the time.
Across his lifetime, it’s believed that Duke wrote well over a thousand compositions and helped found one of the best orchestras in the world. Due to his iconic status, playing ability and unique approach of introducing other cultures into jazz, many of his works have since become jazz standards. His commitment for music between 1959 and 2000 has meant that even after his death, he has earned over 14 Grammy awards and a total of 24 nominations.
Mary Lou Williams
Of course, the history of jazz is also lined with countless influential female figures and one such name that shines out above the crowd is Mary Lou Williams. She was friend, mentor, and teacher to the likes of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, and Dizzy Gillespie.
Throughout her career, Mary was responsible for countless national breakthroughs within music. Tracks such as “Until the Real Thing Comes Along,” with her own arrangement, had become “the biggest song of 1936” according to one Virginia paper; as a result, she got calls from bandleaders across the world asking for fresh versions of the hits of the day, as well as her own compositions. Her influence on the jazz world firmly lands her a place on our list!
Of course Jazz is also no longer just an American artform and has continued to grow in popularity across the globe. One British name to come out from the modern jazz movement is definitely Julian Joseph.
Julian’s works are fast, fun and full of character. He still remains a staple name in the British Jazz world and is highly skilled in both contemporary and traditional situations with his music.
His career also allowed him to found the Julian Joseph Jazz Academy in January 2013 in London, an academy that encourages young musicians in the development of jazz technique and understanding. For his services to music, he was given an OBE in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
The final name to round off our list today is British pianist, songwriter, and record producer Jason Rebello. Jason’s sound is bursting with colour and injects an unmistakable sense of brilliance wherever it’s found. Thanks to both his classical training and jazz passion, his appreciation for music is incredibly broad and has given him the opportunity to perform alongside household names for years such as Sting, Phil Collins, and Peter Gabriel to name a few.
That rounds off our list today! Of course there are countless other names that have come and gone throughout the years as well as an entire new wave of jazz musicians who are taking up the call to mark their name in history! We are incredibly big fans of the way jazz helps bring music and the piano to life and have also done a number of jazz performances within our Cambridge showroom with esteemed Jazz pianist Robin Phillips. For more Jazz, why not also check out our recent interview with Jazz saxophonist YolanDa Brown here!
Did we miss your favourites? We’d love to hear about them! Join our online social media community below!