The top three jazz music instruments are probably saxophone, trumpet and piano, each one having several greats, rather than just the one. It depends on you level of passion and of course your upbringing which voice speaks to you most. Are you mostly trad or rather progressive? Do you like lots of notes in your jazz, or a sparse collection charged with emotional darkness? These are the kind of criteria that drives your tastes. It’s great fun to follow a general history of the instruments and innovators to get a flavor of how the music developed over the years, and the history of jazz piano if particularly rich.
Nobody know how the piano sound evolved from the European classical music sounds through blues and jazz, but evolve it did and can now be classified into many musical sub-genres, one of which is pure jazz baby. I’ve said it more than once, so I’ll say it again for good luck – most modern music came from the American blues tradition. Without the that early soulful sound, the face of pop, rock and almost every other stye would (could) have been completely different. One day a son of an African slave was running his left hand up and down the keys in a rhythmic fashion and boogie woogie was born, later to become ‘stride’ piano.
Boogie woogie itself has a rich history and is a niche filled with great and outstanding players, from Ray Charles (oh yes, great boogie and stride pianist) to Doctor John. Doctor John himself is steeped in the New Orleans tradition which was instrumental in the crossover from boogie to full blown jazz – must have been the French influence!
Doctor John is an interesting figure – a numerous Grammy Award winner, he was instrumental in single handedly creating New Orlean blues-funk and R & B for the piano, influencing many artists along the way. He also worked as a guitarist, but after a bar room incident with a gun, he injured a finger and turned to the piano.
Oscar Peterson was the epitome of the smoke filled room laid back cool kind of jazz, and with his trio, paved the way for this kind of piano music. Of course, there were many, many trios featuring piano, drums and bass that tried to emulate the sound and feel, with varying amounts of success. It’s hard to be as original as the original, don’t you think?
Thelonius Monk had an unorthodox approach to his music, even for jazz pianist who are known for their innovation, but for sheer virtuosity, Art Tatum is widely regarded as the King of the genre.