Many jazz fans believe that great jazz pianists are few and far between since most casual jazz listeners do not really pay attention to these virtues. However, many casual listeners are now aware of some of the best jazz pianists. For example, there are many astounding jazz pianists who consistently notch up lots of valuable locations on restaurant music charts. Additionally, these jazz pianists are beginning to create their own foot-tapping music videos and are therefore well-known.
Wes Montgomery was probably the greatest jazz pianist of our generation. Wes Montgomery emerged from the alto saxophone family, and this naturally meant that he was also the youngest in the group. His father immediately relegated him to the basement, but Montgomery was ten years younger than Mick Box. In fact, he was the youngest musician in the famous British invasion band, and this fact did not sit well with his father. Montgomery did not take kindly to his father’s feelings about his playing being beneath his dignity. An incredible innovator in many aspects of his music, Montgomery was ultimately responsible for making rock and roll music reminiscent of the classical and jazz versions of the twentieth century. He expanded the basic guitar and harmonic structure of jazz to a point that it became highly popular with the masses. Many of his recordings were top thirty hits.
Charlie Christian was another great artist of the nineteen-thirties and forties who incidentally like Wes Montgomery, played both the piano and the organ. With the early success of ragtimes, many jazz fans saw Christian’s talents as a future jazz piano player as opposed to a pop artist. Christian’s playing style was accordingly slightly different than Montgomery’s, and also caused him to have great success with strictly jazz music recordings. Many of these performances were led into piano duets that were popular with the masses.
Eddie Lang of the ‘Yazoo” fame is the incredible jazz fusion pianist who ushered in the kind of rapid-fire music that is so familiar to us in the current time. Many of his recordings were Lang’s improvisations on older forms of music. Lang’s total command of the keyboard was unsurpassed, and the recordings of his “hop-scotch” jazz pianism featured the left and rarely used right hands, and sometimes both, in a myriad musical combination. Lang’s innovations in jazz fusion music have recently been captured by many contemporary jazz musicians, and they have introduced jazz lovers to a different type of rhythm. In the late eighties, for instance, jazz fusion percussion came to the forefront of the music again, and Count Basie’s distinct jazz piano approach returned to the public ear.
The important thing to recognize is that the piano played a pivotal role in the early history of jazz. Count Basie, Tal Farlow, Charlie Christian, and many others did incredible work without ever being trained as pianists. Their music may not have become as popular as that of Mozart and Beethoven’s music, but their work certainly attracted a new audience to jazz music.
All these musicians learned to play piano either as a musical instrument or as a way to interiorize their incredible rhythms and improvisation technique. They used the piano as a means to create the fantastic music that sounded so different from the much more read and played violin and reed organ. The piano may not have played a major role in the jazz revolution, but it certainly helped to spark and extend the musical sound. After the Second World War, the composition of jazz music became a very low-key affair. This was because most jazz musicians did not even consider it a legitimate genre. They felt that if the music was good enough to be performed on a symphony stage, it was certainly good enough to be written by composers.
Then, very quickly in the early 1980s, the New Wave of Swing music became very popular, and more mainstream pop music became so enamored of jazz as a genre. The music got to the point where even mainstream artists were getting prominently placed with jazz orchestras. Pop artists of the 1980s that enjoyed mainstream success include Madonna, Blondie, and The Police. Jazz orchestras also performed at the concerts of these pop artists.
In the 1990s, there was a brainchild called Fantasy Island that was a huge influence for the contemporary Palm Beach County Stompers (one the best preserves of current days). This brainchild started out very small but grew into a huge regional music phenomenon with fantastic performers including music luminaries Steve “Boz” Bornstein, Jaco Pastorius, and Bill Frisell. In the late 90s, this Fantasy Island style of music became simultaneously discovered by mainstream and avant-garde audiences alike with the works of French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy and American composer John Cage. The music became so complex and exposed so many creative ideas that it became hard to remember.