Top 10 Jazz Music Pianists in History

Jazz pianists don’t always get the “commercial” recognition they should. But they do not cease to enjoy great prestige. Many of them have found worldwide fame and Jazz is becoming more and more respected and in demand.

Many of the pianists that we present in this ranking, through their work have been real milestones for music. They broke the rules of modern harmony and changed the paradigms of the music of their time.

Today many of these Jazz themes are considered standards, authentic references for all modern music students on the planet. Here is our top 10 jazz music pianist in history:

10. Brad Mehldau (Born in 1970)

One of the young promises of today. We strongly advise you not to lose sight of this musician because he has given and will give a lot to talk about throughout history. Virtuous and balanced, he is sometimes compared to Bill Evans but he doesn’t like this comparison.

He has developed independence of hands and a rhythm of an extra-terrestrial level. We put him on this list for his role on the tour with Joshua Redman. He is one of the best sax players today. 

Brad Mehldau

9. Herbie Hancock (Born 1940)

Like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock has collaborated with Miles Davis on the most Funk albums and is one of the most transgressive Jazz musicians; he has experimented with all styles and genres.

This has sparked mixed opinions about his person. Hancock stands out as a virtuoso and creative in any style of Jazz but it is his experimentation with electronics that makes him a unique figure.

Throughout his career, he has experimented with synthesizers of all kinds and is a reference figure in Nu-Jazz. World-famous wrote and performed the soundtrack for the film Round Midnight about Dexter Gordon.

Herbie Hancock

8. Chick Corea (Born in 1941)

American by birth, he is one of the major exponents of the birth of Jazz Fusion in the 70s. He played with Miles Davis and with him he began to lay the foundations of this genre.

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His career has followed a parallel path to that of Herbie Hancock with whom he has sometimes collaborated. Composer of different standards that today can be found in the reference scores of Jazz.

Worthy of note is the stellar quintet he formed in 1996 with Kenny Garret, to which Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk were also added and alternated.

Chick Corea

7. Art Tatum (1909-1956)

Art Tatum was a musician born in Cleveland and ahead of his time. In the 1930s he laid the foundations of Bebop music, a genre explored by others only years later.

Almost blind since he was a child, at the age of 6, Art Tatum was able to play songs for duets by ear without knowing that they had to be played by two performers. We are talking about some of the most technically gifted musicians of the 20th century.

He made his recordings without other musicians because it was too difficult to follow his fast rhythm and harmonic changes. His piano solos are truly legendary improvisations.

Art Tatum

6. Duke Ellington (1899-1974)

Another genius born in Jazz City or New York. He is one of the jazz musicians with the most prolific activity (He has written over 1000 songs). Some of the greatest figures in Jazz have come through his orchestra. Like saxophonist Johnny Hodges.

His performances at the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem are particularly famous, where he quickly achieved national fame as a jazz musician throughout the United States. His contributions to the orchestra and his charisma have elevated Jazz to popularity equal to that of other musical genres.

In the United States, he was considered a real Rock Star. Here is one of his most popular songs from the John Coltrane album In a Sentimental Mood.

Duke Ellington

5. Bud Powell (1924-1966)

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New Yorker by birth was one of the greatest exponents of Bebop. He was born into a family of musicians but had a difficult childhood. His grandfather was a flamenco guitarist trained in Cuba.

In 1944 he joined the Cootie Williams orchestra, but a terrible disease, schizophrenia, already hovers over him. In 1946 he returned to play and came into contact with the Bebop, where he distinguished himself as a fundamental figure playing with characters such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus in a legendary concert held in Toronto, Canada.

He tried to fight schizophrenia with electroshock sessions as well, but the disease eventually took over as the years went by.

Bud Powell

4. Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Great musician and one of the greatest representatives of Cool Jazz (West Coast Jazz Current) together with Bill Evans. Elegant and with touches of the genius of improvisation, he is one of the pianists who broke the boundaries of Jazz and reached a very large audience.

With his faithful saxophonist Paul Desmond he composed the very famous jazz standard Take Five.

Dave Brubeck

3. Maria McPartland (1918-2013)

There have been very good pianists throughout history, but historical recognition is almost always aimed at men in the world of Jazz. But Maria McPartland achieved worldwide notoriety and fame. In 2004 he received a Grammy in recognition of her career and contribution to Jazz.

She travelled all over the world, although she lived basically in the United States. When she was young, she was accepted in London at the Guildhall School of Music and it is curious what they said about her in 1935 at the time of acceptance:

“Incredible enthusiasm, a gift from God and a great and dangerous imagination”.

At the time they also said that her technique was not good… but she improved more and more until she became a teacher.

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She had a busy life, volunteered during WWII, and had to learn to play the accordion because there was nothing else available. Here she met her future husband, a Chicago volunteer trumpet player who invited her to form a sextet with other musicians to entertain the troops.

Over the years, Marian has also distinguished herself for her continuous work for Jazz. In the 1960s he created his record label to promote underrated jazz musicians. From the 70s onwards he traveled half the world. Despite not having a great ability to read music, he played with symphony orchestras learning the scores by ear.

Maria McPartland

2. Bill Evans (1929-1980)

Bill Evans stands out as one of the key figures of Cool Jazz. A style with more expressive phrases and less complex scales than the Bebop scales. Bill Evans has at times been accused of straying from the black roots of Jazz and being too rigid with his elite compositional rules. He draws directly from the expressionism of Debussy and Ravel.

He specialized in the formation of bass, piano and drums trios, establishing a special dialogue between them, fortunately there is a recording of him and George Russell playing the famous song Billy the Kid.

Bill Evans

1. Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)

African American pianist and founder of the Bebop movement. He is one of the most respected jazz composers in history. During his musical career, he came into contact with legendary musicians such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Incidents related to drug use have not stopped him from having a prolific production.

At the end of his career, he lived in a nursing home due to his mental problems. Some of the pieces created by Thelonious Monk are landmarks in the history of Jazz. One of them is Round Midnight.

Thelonious Monk

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