Jazz Piano

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 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, sustained fourth, 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 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 ‘Cotton Club—earned great esteem among band members as well as other musicians. Ellington 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.


See also


  • The Jazz Piano Book by Mark Levine: A “how to” book on the subject.
  • Metaphors For The Musician by Randy Halberstadt: 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: 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: Covers the problems of jazz improvisational practice with a focus on the piano, but for all instruments. (Also, it’s entertaining and humorous).


Source: Wikipedia