The ten best jazz pianists of all time

Categories: Jazz, Lists

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William P. Gottlieb

With the exception of players like Thelonious Monk or Art Tatum, piano players don't quite have the name recognition of their horn playing counterparts. All the same, these ivory ticklers play an equally integral role in jazz. As such, just like our lists of the ten best sax players and ten best trumpeters, we put due effort into compiling this rundown of jazz's most virtuosic and compelling piano players. Keep reading for the ten best pianists of all time.

See also: Ten essential jazz albums if you know squat about jazz

10. Ahmad Jamal
While some pianists favored a heavy handed approach to the piano, 83-year-old Ahmad Jamal favors a lighter touch, and his use of space between the notes was said to have a great influence on Miles Davis. While At the Pershing: But Not For Me, recorded at Chicago's Pershing Hotel in 1958, is hailed as one of his greatest recordings, Jamal also released a number of stellar trio recordings, including some early '70s Impulse! releases, like The Awakening and Freeflight, as well as 2010's A Quiet Time.

9. Oscar Peterson
Over his six-plus decade long career, Canadian Oscar Peterson, who passed away in 2007 at the age of 82, won eight Grammys and played more than 200 recordings. The nimble-fingered pianist showed promise as a young child, and he started gigging professionally as a teenager. Influenced heavily by Art Tatum, Peterson released a number of outstanding albums on Verve throughout the '50s and '60s, including The President Plays with the Oscar Peterson Trio, which also featured Lester Young, and Night Train, one of his most famous discs.

8. Chick Corea
Since getting his start playing gigs in high school, Chick Corea has gone on to release dozens of outstanding discs under his own name, platters like Now He Sings, Now He Sobs and My Spanish Heart. After playing on Miles Davis's late '60s/early '70s jazz-rock fusion albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, the prodigious 72-year-old pianist helped propel fusion even more with various incarnations of Return to Forever. Corea reunited the band's classic line-up of Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola and Lenny White to tour in 2008.

7. Keith Jarrett
Not only a virtuosic and prolific jazz pianist, 68-year-old Keith Jarrett, who will receive National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters awards in January, has recorded quite a few brilliant classical albums throughout his forty-plus year career. Over the last three decades, Jarrett's Standards Trio, which includes bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, has released a number of great discs on ECM, all of which showcase superb musicianship and interplay between the three. Jarrett's solo work is equally as highly touted, especially The Köln Concert, recorded in 1975, which is a tour de force in live improvisation.

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34 comments
Thekorean
Thekorean

Cecil Taylor, Don Pullen, George Cables, Dodo marmorosa, Matthew Shipp, Jason Moran, James P. Johnson, Bobby Timmons, where do they fit in?

rogerphilippin
rogerphilippin

At the risk of sounding pedantic there are allot of fine jazz pianists ,and since music (Jazz) is so subjective in terms of artists and compositions how can anyone say ,10best the selection is just to vast IE Errol Garner ,Beegie Adair---ect.

Again the operative word is subjective !

Events in Colorado
Events in Colorado

A List of great jazz pianists as no cred without Jay McShann (Hootie) on it.

Cumin
Cumin

Nat King Cole.

Craig Maybell
Craig Maybell

You've been served crow, little Benny. Now, you can go back to playing with your cheap "craft" piss.

Ben Cochran
Ben Cochran

BTW..my post wasn't irrelevant..the first Westword article asked about jazz "musicians" and the second post asked jazz "pianists"..And when you troll anonymous post and attack strangers, that technically renders you an asshole..have a bowl of shit Mr Maybell

Craig Maybell
Craig Maybell

When you make irrelevant posts on a particular thread, that technically renders YOU a troll as well, Mr. Cochran. Have some gruel.

Ben Cochran
Ben Cochran

Your an asshole because your trolling FB and attacking me, a complete stranger, without any provocation..all I did was post an irrelevant post about jazz musicians..so please, pray tell, where is the logic in that?

Craig Maybell
Craig Maybell

Let's see, YOU'RE the one posting silly photos of piss "craft" booze on your wall in typical DOUCHEY fashion and, yet, I'M supposed to be the asshole. Please, pray tell, where is the logic in that?

Craig Maybell
Craig Maybell

Too late. You've already shown the rest of the DWEEBY Lamebook crowd how much of a moron you are. Then again, misery loves company so you fit right in with Lamebook DWEEBS.

dwadrum
dwadrum

Too many greats for a "Top Ten": Lil Harden Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, "What about Horace Silver", don't forget Kenny Kirkland,  a total monster!, Martial Solal, Michel Petrucciani,, Dave Brubeck, John Lewis, Jimmy Smith, Cecil Taylor, Joe Zawinul, Nat King Cole, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Dr. Billy Taylor, to name a few.

Ben Cochran
Ben Cochran

Was going to add John Coltrane but now I'm noticing it says greatest "pianists" so I'll just shut up now

mari.barigazzi
mari.barigazzi

Of course they are all great and special. I like them all, but the one who is able of transmitting to me a real sense of music and feelings - universally speaking - is Brad Mehldau.

arjaydee
arjaydee

What about Horace Silver?


sheilad11514
sheilad11514

GENE HARRIS is my NUMBER ONE jazz pianist and his version of SUMMERTIME is absolutely fantastic!  I have collected just about everything he recorded (about 85 CDs).  What a loss when he passed away far too soon at the age of 66.

rjdelorso
rjdelorso

Holy crap You Missed GENE HARRIS are you Kidding Putting Chick Corea or  Jarrett  How about Tommy Flanagen  MARION MCPARTLAND Monty Alexander Mulgrew Miller HIromi  DAVE BRUBECK DUKE ELLINGTON LES MC CANN MAN oh MAN I CAN THINK of so many More but for me LIsTen TO GENE HARRIS play SUMMERTIME

Denver Critic
Denver Critic

Eldar Djangirov will be on that list eventually.

Thekorean
Thekorean

Fergot to add Randy Weston, Anthony Davis, Andrew Hill, Hasaan Ibn Ali, Herbie Nichols, Dollar Brand, Joe Bonner.

ignacio_moran
ignacio_moran

@dwadrum  You named some fine piano players there yet the list pretty much based on innovation, the depth of the artist, the influences that came from different idioms of music, their pianistic virtuosity, the body of work, their individual sound, their ability to swing hard, the musicians they played with and the impact they had in jazz music then and now. My only personal take on this list is to include Kenny Kirkland in place of Oscar Peterson in terms of KK's compositional qualities and his ability to have played with rock, pop and great jazz musicians. Oscar would come in eleventh place.

ignacio_moran
ignacio_moran

Brad is a great player yet he was heavily influenced by Keith, Herbie, some Chick, Paul Bley and Bill Evans along with his own voice in culmination. It's hard to put him in that elite all time level because the pianistic avenue was already laid before Brad. I love Brad's playing. Larry G. and Jeff Ballard are my personal friends and my homeboys from SF and Santa Cruz. I love that trio. In that regard there's another buddy of mine, Dave Kikoski who is amazing. There's that second tier that includes Vijay Ilyer, Jason Moran, Joey Calderazzo, Danilo Perez, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Geoff Keezer to name a few. It's great that Brad strikes you in a personal way.

hkopcf
hkopcf

@sheilad11514 i love Gene Harris & Summertime (Ray Brown) also That's All -one of my 3  favs - others are Ahmad & Monty Alexander

sheilad11514
sheilad11514

I actually had the great honor of meeting Gene Harris when he was in Miami for a charity event. He was invited to be interviewed at the local jazz station (WDNA.FM) and as a volunteer, I was able to sit right next to him in the studio!!! I literally had to pinch myself to make sure that this was really happening. What a fine gentleman he was.

And there's nobody that can play Exodus like Monty Alexander, or Poinciana like Ahmed Jamal.

I like your taste in music!

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