Jazz Piano Greats: 20 Famous Jazz Pianists You Need To Know

Jazz is a unique way of playing musical instruments in general, most at times, it is limited to saxophone only, but that is not accurate. The piano has also been a great source of development of jazz music. Legends like Scott Joplin played a major role in jazz piano in the 19th century.

This heart-gripping style of playing the piano has been used by many legends in different eras. Some legends were inspired by others and they continue to inspire modern jazz players in this modern era. To be a top jazz pianist takes constant practice and creativity to be on top.

These legends of jazz piano considered by many as the best jazz pianist never stayed in their comfort zones. They loved what they did and made constant practice a normal routine. They improvised when playing the piano and brought out amazing and melodious jazz piano sounds.

Mesmerizing their audiences every time they listened to them. Here are some of the best jazz pianists who took jazz piano to a whole different level.

best jazz pianists

1. Art Tatum

Arthur Tatum affectionately called Art Tatum is one of the all-time best jazz pianists. He is considered by many as the greatest of all time; although opinions may vary, there is no doubt Art Tatum is up there amongst the best.

He was born in Toledo in Ohio on 13th October 1909. Although he was visually impaired this did not stop him from reaching his goals.

He learned assiduously to learn how to play the piano despite his physical challenge from birth. His high skill play of the jazz piano set a new standard for other jazz players who played jazz piano virtuosity.

His improvisation skills when playing the jazz piano set him apart from others, his styles are still used to this day. His skillful play mesmerized his audience every time he played at his shows.

Art Tatum died on November 5th 1957. and his legacy lives on till this day. And present and future generations will be inspired by his unparalleled jazz piano skills.

2. Thelonious Monk

Thelonious monk is also part of the best pianists ever to play the jazz piano. Born on October 10. 1917. in Rocky Mount in North Carolina, but he grew up in New York City.

He is considered one of the first people who created modem jazz. He learned how to play the piano without following the formal procedures in playing the piano, and this is a testament to his ingenuity.

He later studied music at Julliard school of music in New York, and this perfected his already known skills.

He became a pianist in Minton Playhouse in New York, where his skills were well appreciated, playing alongside legends like Charley Parker.

He mostly joined small groups to unleash his jazz piano skills during his young career. He had a humorous and melodic way of playing the jazz piano. He was a great composer, and the release of his album Brilliant Corners sealed his legendary status in the jazz piano world.

He was considered as an Eccentric person in attitude, his improvisation skills were out of this world. Thelonious Monk was a legend in Jazz piano and an inspiration to many.

3. Bill Evans

You cannot make a list of best jazz pianists without including the name of Bill Evans. He was bom on August 16. 1929. in Plainfield New Jersey.

He started learning the piano at the age of six tutored by his mum. The piano was not the only instrument he learned. As a child prodigy, he started learning the violin and the flute; however, the piano was his favorite causing him to master the art of playing the piano.

He briefly served in the army after completing college, he played the flute in the Fifth army band a skill he learned when he was a child. He later returned from the army and perfected his piano skills focusing more on Jazz piano.

His harmonic approach in playing the jazz piano was so soothing, he was by far the greatest in his era. In 1958 Miles Davies a renowned band asked Bill Evans to join them the group had saxophone legend. John Coltrane.

They released a spectacular album called kind of Blue. Bill Evans was the lead jazz pianist on the album a testament to his dexterity when it comes to playing the jazz piano.

He formed his own born trio of him. paul Motian (lead drummer) and bassist Scott LaFaro. They released a hit and spectacular albums such as portrait in jazz. Exploration, and many more.

He was a great composer and pianist bringing out great improvised melodies and rhythms. His magnificent career was cut short as a result of his addiction to drugs but this in no way undercuts his achievements and stellar performances.

Bill Evans died on September 15 1980 after winning multiple awards to his name.

4. Herbie Hancock

Jeffrey Herbert Hancock is a jazz legend and unapologetically part of the list of best jazz pianists. He is still alive which means we can still enjoy him. Born on April 12 1940 in Chicago. Herbie Hancock was a childhood prodigy at age 11 he performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

He started playing jazz piano during his high school days, he was influenced by his childhood hero Bill Evans. He had a passion for both the piano and electronic science so he studied both at the college of Iowa.

He incorporated his knowledge in electronic science into his piano playing, being the first to start playing the electric piano amongst the other greats.

He was employed by legendary trumpeter Miles davies after Miles Davies recognized the huge talent Herbie Hancock possessed.

His harmonical provocative jazz style was top-notch, he was a good composer and a very creative jazz pianist

He added expanded solos, and spontaneous changes in mood and tone when playing the jazz piano. He was part of Miles Davies’s band and he helped composed many melodious songs.

He later mastered the use of electric piano which gave him a push ahead of others. He won many awards for his name and even in his old age he still advocate for jazz piano music.

5. Oscar Peterson

He is a Canadian jazz pianist and adjudged as one of the greatest of all time. A very good virtuoso in jazz piano with an impeccable style of play.

He had dexterity, and a meticulous dazzling style when he played the jazz piano. He yearly releases albums this made him have a lot of albums to his name.

He received several awards to his name including the Grammy award and was inducted into the jazz hall of fame. He was indeed a towering figure who made jazz piano look easy.

He died in 2007 a national Canadian hero revered by many by his enormous achievement and inclusion in the jazz fraternity.

6. McCoy Tyner

McCoy Tyner a jazz pianist legend was bom in Philadelphia on 11 1938. Noted as one of the best jazz pianists McCoy Tyner’s skill was so perfect.

He started taking piano lessons at 13 at the insistence of his mom. McCoy Tyner worked very hard to improve his piano skills.

He met jazz legend John Coltrane and that friendship opened a lot of great opportunities for him in his jazz piano career.

John Coltrane mentored him very well. He helped john Caltrone a saxophonist form his quartet band. They made several great albums together.

His energetic use of bebop rhythm was a quintessential way McCoy Tyner played his jazz piano. He left John Coltrane’s band and still found success in his career. He was a great pianist who added a lot to jazz, he died recently in 2020.

7. Bud Powell

Bud Powell a great jazz pianist was born on 27th September 1924 in New York. Bud Powell a gifted pianist started playing the piano at the age of five.

He was influenced by the great saxophonist charlie parker. Bud Powell transmitted the bebop style which is normally used by saxophonists into a piano style.

He joined great bands and his speed, dexterity, and improvisation skills were immediately noticed

Budd Powell did not have a smooth life, he struggled with mental issues as a result of bad social encounters. This affected his career because he was mostly in and out of his field. Nonetheless, he was still a remarkable jazz pianist. He died on 1 st August 1966.

8. Keith Jarrett

Raised by his single mom Keith Jarretturned outto be a jazz pianist sensation. Born on May 8, 1945. in Allenton Pennsylvania Keith Jarreth started playing the piano at a young age and he turned out to be a phenomenal jazz pianist

He studied at Berklee College of music for one year and left to join a band. His great improvisational skills on the piano made him stood out as a Jazz pianist in his era.

He had fantastic albums most notable was his Facing you album which got great sales and good reviews. He suffered from fatigue syndrome when he went on tour so this slowed him a little bit He is still alive and still a living legend for his immense contribution to jazz piano.

9. Chick Corea

Armando Anthony Corea popularly known as Chick Corea is also part of the best jazz pianists. Chick Corea started playing the piano at 4 years in his house. His dad was also into music so this made it a little bit easy for him.

He went to Julliard school of music and he worked hard to improve his skills in playing the piano, he use to perform in local pubs and concerts. He got the opportunity to work with saxophonist legend Stan Getz.

Chick Corea’s talent was noticeable and this made him join the popular band Mile Davies. Chick Corea became a sensation in the band. He learned how to use the electronic piano during his time in the popular Mile Davies band. The album Bitche Brew by Mile davies was a testament to Chick Corea’s great talent, the album was very successful.

He achieved individual success even when he left the Mile Davies band, his unique style of infusion of rock and jazz captivated his audience. He won several Grammy awards to his name. He died on February 9 2021 culminating in a successful career.

10. Ahmad Jamal

Born Fredrick Russel on July 2 1930 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. He converted to Islam hence his new name Ahmad Jamal.

Ahmad Jamal started playing the piano at 3 his mum recognized his talent and decided to work hard so she can afford formal piano lessons for Ahmad Jamal.

Ahmad Jamal had unparalleled skills ever as a child. He played in local clubs when he was just eleven years. He joined the orchestra Atlantic city and went on a national tour.

Ahmad Jamal was enthralled by the amazing skills of legend Art Tatum and this motivated him to get into jazz piano.

His lean and complex style made him a great jazz pianist. Ahmad Jamal was also an excellent composer, he wrote great songs and albums. He is alive and many modern players are following in his footsteps.

11. Duke Ellington

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in Washington DC in 1899. he was a prolific jazz pianist whose impact was felt in the 20th century.

Duke learned how to play the piano when he was a child, his mom who was herself a pianist guided Duke Ellington in his piano studies

Duke Ellington moved to New York and started his band called the Washingtonians his effective style of play made him garner an audience for himself.

He went for a lot of tours during his career days, he was a great composer and bandleader. He wrote a lot of songs. These include. ’I’m beginning to see the light” and. “Sophisticated lady” are among his hit songs. His great skills in jazz are still appreciated to this day. He died in May 1974.

12. Fats Waller

If jazz piano were to be a comedy then Fats waller encapsulated all that characteristics, he had a comic way of playing the piano and this gained him a lot of audiences.

Born in Harlem New York in 1904 into a musical family. His mom was the church organist so Fats waller had great training in piano.

He was a composer and great jazz player, nicknamed the crown prince of jazz, there was never a dull moment at Fats Waller’s concerts. He died on December 15, 1945.

13. Count Basie

William James Basie known as Count Basie was a great pianist. He got early training from his mom who was also a pianist. Count Basie is up there in the best jazz pianists ever to do it.

He was influenced by Fats waller who taught him a lot of things in jazz piano. Count Basie joined the blue devil’s band and this boosted his career immensely.

He later formed his band called the Brons of Rythym. He was a great bandleader with a captivating swing style when playing the piano. He was the first African American to win the grammy award. His hit song “One o’clock’ was so well crafted that it become a sensation. He died on April 26. 1984.

14. Earl Hines

Born on December 28 1903 Earl Hines learned how to read music and play the piano with the guidance of his stepmother who was a pianist He joined the Lois B Deppe band when he was 17 Earl later met trumpeter Louis Armstrong and they formed a jazz trio band.

They released quality songs.

Earl Hines used a trumpet style of play in his jazz piano which was so nice to listen to he died on April 22. 1983.

15. Jelly Roll Morton

Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe was a great jazz pianist born on October 20 1980 in New Orleans Louisiana.

He learned how to play the piano at age 10. He earned the nickname jelly roll while playing for the red-light district bordellos. He was a very gifted pianist.

He formed his band called the Jelly Morton Red Hot Papers, the band popularized swing-style jazz piano. Jelly was a great innovator and pianist

16. Dave Brubeck

He formed his trio band after the army but the style used in this trio was not appealing to his audience, bo. he later formed the Brubak and the Quartet this group single-handedly resurrected jazz which was becoming less appealing. Their album time out was a massive hit Dave achieved a lot of accolades he died in 2012.

17. Erroll Garner

Erroll Graner was a prodigy when he was a child, he never knew how to read music but taught himself how to play the piano at age 3. He was the greatest jazz pianist in his Era.

He appeared on television frequently performing for his fellow citizens to watch and he was such a delight to watch.

He had the opportunity to record with the great Charlie Parker. He mastered the swing style in jazz piano and frequently used it.

His precision on the piano was incorporate. He is the composer of misty a renowned song, born in 1921 and died in the year 1977 he is an inspiration.

18. Tommy Flanagan

Flanagan Tommy very reserved man but adept in his piano play, born on March 16 1930 in Detroit Tommy started playing the piano at the age of 11.

He took lessons from Ruby Rutherford. He was drafted into the army and served in Korea, he formed a trio with guitarist Kenny Burrell and bassist Alvin Jackson.

Their band performed a lot of great melodies. Tommy took inspiration from great saxophonist Charlie parker and he incorporated Charlie parkers bebop style into his jazz piano play. He wrote great albums; however. Tommy died on November 16, 2001.

19. Red Garland

Red Garland is another sensation in jazz piano also part of the best jazz pianists Born on March 13. 1923.

He learned how to play the piano when he joined the army at 18 years, his late study of the piano never deterred him from being the best he can be when playing the piano.

He was part of the mile Davies quartet He combined octaves with a fifth middle in the left-hand chords a difficult technique. He used the middle-of-the-road style of play. He wrote nice albums and songs he died on April 23. 1984.

20. Horace Silver

Horace was born on September 2 1928 he had an enormous impact on contemporary jazz play.

He was a great jazz pianist. He used the hard bop style, he worked briefly with Stan Getz before moving his way. He recorded for Blue Note record label before creating his record label Silverton he composed great songs and later joined Columbia studios. He died in 2014.

These legends listed above have been so inspiring to many. They took their practice seriously and they delivered spectacularly.

I hope this list is inspiring to others, who want to also start learning jazz piano. If these legends weathered every adversity to be the best jazz pianists so could you.

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About Jayden Buckley

Hi, my name is Jayden and I am author/editor for PlayTheTunes. I remember the first time I hopped on the drums, I was hooked. Music has played an enormous part of my life, and I'm honored I get to share my experiences with you!