Jazz piano  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Jazz piano is a collective term for the techniques pianists use when playing jazz. 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, vibraphone, and other keyboard instruments, the piano is one of the instruments in a jazz combo that can play both single notes and chords rather than only single notes as does the saxophone or trumpet.


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 pattern, as those found in boogie-woogie, or as a melodic counterline that emulates the walking of an upright bass. In stride piano 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 called "locked-hand" voicing, 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 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'. 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, who became famous during the Harlem Renaissance at the Cotton Club—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 and Bud Powell helped create and establish the sound of bebop. Bill Evans built upon the style of Bud Powell while adding a distinct classical influence to his playing. Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Herbie Hancock, and Keith Jarrett were also exceptional pianists who played with Miles Davis. Tommy Flanagan was featured by John Coltrane on his hit album Giant Steps. McCoy Tyner is also an influential player who played with Coltrane.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jazz piano" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools