Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Jazz piano

Jazz piano

Ask a question about 'Jazz piano'
Start a new discussion about 'Jazz piano'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
Jazz piano is a collective term for the techniques pianists use when playing jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

. The piano has been an integral part of the jazz idiom since its inception, in both solo and ensemble settings. Its role is multifaceted due largely to the instrument's combined melodic and harmonic capabilities. For this reason it is an important tool of jazz musicians and composers for teaching and learning jazz theory and set arrangement. (By extension the phrase 'jazz piano' can refer to similar techniques on any keyboard instrument.)

Along with the guitar
Jazz guitar
The term jazz guitar may refer to either a type of guitar or to the variety of guitar playing styles used in the various genres which are commonly termed "jazz"...

, vibraphone
The vibraphone, sometimes called the vibraharp or simply the vibes, is a musical instrument in the struck idiophone subfamily of the percussion family....

, and other keyboard instruments, the piano is one of the instruments in a jazz combo that can play both single notes and chord
Chord (music)
A chord in music is any harmonic set of two–three or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. These need not actually be played together: arpeggios and broken chords may for many practical and theoretical purposes be understood as chords...

s rather than only single notes as does the saxophone
The saxophone is a conical-bore transposing musical instrument that is a member of the woodwind family. Saxophones are usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1846...

 or trumpet
The trumpet is the musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpets are among the oldest musical instruments, dating back to at least 1500 BCE. They are played by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound which starts a standing wave vibration in the air...


Learning jazz piano

Mastering the various chord voicings—simple to advanced—is the first building block of learning jazz piano. Jazz piano technique uses all the chords found in Western art music, such as major, minor, augmented, diminished, seventh, diminished seventh, sixth, minor seventh, major seventh, sus 4, and so on. A second key skill is learning to play with a swing rhythm. The next step is improvisation: 'making it up' on the spot. This ability is perfected after long (and quality) experience, including much practice, which internalizes the physical skills of playing, and it requires a great natural 'ear' for extemporaneous music-making.

Jazz piano (the technique) and the instrument itself offer soloists an exhaustive number of choices. One may play the bass register in an ostinato
In music, an ostinato is a motif or phrase, which is persistently repeated in the same musical voice. An ostinato is always a succession of equal sounds, wherein each note always has the same weight or stress. The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody in...

 pattern, as those found in boogie-woogie
Boogie-woogie has the following meanings:*Boogie-woogie, a piano-based music style*Boogie-woogie , a swing dance or a dance that imitates the rock-n-roll dance of the 1950s*"Boogie Woogie" , a song by EuroGroove and Dannii Minogue...

, or as a melodic counterline that emulates the walking of an upright bass. In stride piano
Stride piano
Harlem Stride Piano, Stride Piano, or just Stride, is a jazz piano style that was developed in the large cities of the East Coast, mainly in the New York, during 1920s and 1930s. The left hand may play a four-beat pulse with a single bass note, octave, seventh or tenth interval on the first and...

 the left hand rapidly plays alternate positions between notes in the bass register and chords in the tenor register, as is often done in the syncopated variants. The right hand may play melodic lines, but might also play harmonic content, chordally or in octaves. And it may be played in lockstep with the left hand, using a double melody block chord
Block chord
A block chord is a chord or voicing built directly below the melody either on the strong beats or to create a four-part harmonized melody line in "locked-hands" rhythmic unison with the melody, as opposed to broken chords...

 called "locked-hand" voicing
Voicing may refer to:* Voice , a property of speech sounds * Consonant voicing and devoicing, a phonological change* Voicing , a representation of a chord* Voice acting...

, or Shearing voicing—a technique popularized, though not invented, by the pianist and set leader George Shearing.

Ensemble role

Jazz piano has played a leading role in developing the sound of jazz. Early on, black jazz musicians created ragtime
Ragtime is an original musical genre which enjoyed its peak popularity between 1897 and 1918. Its main characteristic trait is its syncopated, or "ragged," rhythm. It began as dance music in the red-light districts of American cities such as St. Louis and New Orleans years before being published...

 on the piano. As the genre progressed the piano usually was featured in the rhythm section of a band, which was typically configured as one or more of piano, guitar, bass, or drums, or other, such as the vibraphone.

Over time, playing piano-accompaniment in ensemble sets, and then bands, changed from primarily time-keeping (consisting of repetitive left-hand figures) to a more flexible role. Ultimately, the skilled pianist was free both to lead and to answer the instrumental soloist, using both short and sustained, chordal and melodic, fragments—a technique known as 'comping
Comping is a term used in jazz music to describe the chords, rhythms, and countermelodies that keyboard players or guitar players use to support a jazz musician's improvised solo or melody lines....

'. Good comping musicians were capable of many and different chord voicings, so to match the various moods the different soloists were aiming for. In the early days not all leading pianists were concerned to provide comping. Others—notably Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and big band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions...

, who became famous during the Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke...

 at the Cotton Club
Cotton Club
The Cotton Club was a famous night club in Harlem, New York City that operated during Prohibition that included jazz music. While the club featured many of the greatest African American entertainers of the era, such as Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Adelaide Hall, Count Basie, Bessie Smith,...

—achieved much favored standing among members of his bands as well as other musicians because he comped enthusiastically in support of the soloist and did much to develop the technique.

Jazz piano moved away from playing lead melody to providing foundation for song sets; soon, skilled jazz pianists were performing as soloists. In the 1940s and -50s, a number of great piano players emerged. Pianists like Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Sphere Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer considered "one of the giants of American music". Monk had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including "Epistrophy", "'Round Midnight", "Blue Monk", "Straight, No Chaser"...

 and Bud Powell
Bud Powell
Earl Rudolph "Bud" Powell was an American Jazz pianist. Powell has been described as one of "the two most significant pianists of the style of modern jazz that came to be known as bop", the other being his friend and contemporary Thelonious Monk...

 helped create and establish the sound of bebop
Bebop differed drastically from the straightforward compositions of the swing era, and was instead characterized by fast tempos, asymmetrical phrasing, intricate melodies, and rhythm sections that expanded on their role as tempo-keepers...

. Bill Evans
Bill Evans
William John Evans, known as Bill Evans was an American jazz pianist. His use of impressionist harmony, inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, and trademark rhythmically independent, "singing" melodic lines influenced a generation of pianists including: Chick Corea, Herbie...

 built upon the style of Bud Powell while adding a distinct classical influence to his playing. Wynton Kelly
Wynton Kelly
Wynton Kelly was a Jamaican-born jazz pianist, who spent his career in the United States. He is perhaps best known for working with trumpeter Miles Davis from 1959-1962.-Biography:...

, Red Garland
Red Garland
William "Red" Garland was an American hard bop jazz pianist whose block chord style, in part originated by Milt Buckner, influenced many forthcoming pianists in the jazz idiom.-Beginnings:...

, Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbert Jeffrey "Herbie" Hancock is an American pianist, bandleader and composer. As part of Miles Davis's "second great quintet," Hancock helped to redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section and was one of the primary architects of the "post-bop" sound...

, and Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett is an American pianist and composer who performs both jazz and classical music.Jarrett started his career with Art Blakey, moving on to play with Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis. Since the early 1970s he has enjoyed a great deal of success in jazz, jazz fusion, and classical music; as...

 were also exceptional pianists who played with Miles Davis. Tommy Flanagan
Tommy Flanagan
Thomas Lee Flanagan was an American jazz pianist born in Detroit, Michigan, particularly remembered for his work with Ella Fitzgerald...

 was featured by John Coltrane on his hit album Giant Steps.

See also

  • Swing (jazz performance style)
    Swing (jazz performance style)
    In jazz and related musical styles, the term swing is used to describe the sense of propulsive rhythmic "feel" or "groove" created by the musical interaction between the performers, especially when the music creates a "visceral response" such as feet-tapping or head-nodding...

    , a term of praise for playing that has a strong rhythmic "groove" or drive


  • The Jazz Piano Book by Mark Levine
    Mark Levine (musician)
    Mark Levine is a jazz pianist, author and educator. He has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría, Cal Tjader, Willie Bobo, Bobby Hutcherson, and many others....

    : A "how to" book on the subject.
  • Metaphors For The Musician by Randy Halberstadt
    Randy Halberstadt
    Randy Halberstadt is an American jazz pianist, composer, recording artist, author, and teacher. In addition to leading his own trio and producing his own recordings , he has performed with Herb Ellis, Buddy DeFranco, Nick Brignola, Terry Gibbs, Slide Hampton, Pete Christlieb, Bobby Shew, Joe...

    : Insights into almost every aspect of jazz piano.
  • Stylistic II/V7/I Voicings For Keyboardists by Luke Gillespie: Covers all styles of comping, from basic and fundamental approaches to modern.
  • Forward Motion by Hal Galper
    Hal Galper
    -Biography:He studied classical piano as a boy, but switched to jazz which he studied at the Berklee College of Music from 1955 to 1958. He hung out at Herb Pomeroy's club, The Stable, hearing local Boston musicians like Jackie Byard, Alan Dawson and Sam Rivers. Galper started sitting in and became...

    : An approach to Jazz Phrasing.
  • Jazz Piano: The Left Hand by Riccardo Scivales (Bedford Hills, New York, Ekay Music, 2005): A method covering all the left hand techniques used in jazz piano (and also a study of the history of the Left Hand in Jazz Piano), with hundreds of musical examples.
  • "The Jazz Musician's Guide to Creative Practicing" by David Berkman
    David Berkman
    David Berkman, born December 28, 1958 is a jazz pianist, composer, arranger and educator. Berkman came of age in Cleveland, Ohio playing in house bands for visiting jazz greats Sonny Stitt, Hank Crawford and Carter Jefferson and local heroes Joe Lovano, Jamey Haddad and Greg Bandy...

    : Covers the problems of jazz improvisational practice with a focus on the piano, but for all instruments. (Also, it's entertaining and humorous).

External links