“…it’s so hard to describe music other than the basic way to describe it – music is basically melody, harmony and rhythm – but I mean people can do much more with music than that. It can be very descriptive in all kinds of ways…”
~Charlie Parker from an interview conducted by Paul Desmond (1954)
The more I ponder Bird’s fundamental decomposition of music, the more I discover how aptly anything musical can be described by its harmony, melody, and rhythm. There’s still that lingering, intangible “much more,” the part that gives music meaning. But let’s save the “much more” for another post…
As improvisers, we strive to use our instruments as a medium for channelling the musical thoughts that are trapped inside our mind’s ear. When I sit down to practice, I want to focus my routine around activities what work the mental and physical muscles that will get me closer to this goal on two fronts: working on my ability to execute the sounds I hear is one piece of the puzzle, but I’m also constantly looking to develop my ear and my mind’s ability to imagine new sounds. These sounds can be harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, or a some combination of the three.
Here’s one approach I’ve used to structure my practice routine around this goal.
Core, Ear, & Mind
As I delve into any new concept, my abilities will evolve with continued practice.
Looking for an answer to something like this? “I love Bill Evans, Monk, and Keith Jarrett. But I don’t even know where to start with most of these modern guys.” Well, here’s a list of contemporary pianists that will get you off on the right foot. I recommend starting at the top and working your way down.
The following lists represent a group of amazing jazz musicians.
This is entirely my opinion. If you know jazz, you probably disagree with me.
In fact, I would hope you disagree and have an opinion of your own. Jazz is an inherently subjective matter. Creating a finite list and then applying a rank-order to anything this personal is an absurdly biased exercise. Thus, this is by no means the gold standard, nor is it a survey or peer reviewed study, and the exact rank order should be taken with a humongous grain of earthy salt scraped from the bed of the Dead Sea.
It is meant to be representative of how each musician is currently playing, which means every individual is not only living BUT ALSO still making incredible music. Hopefully this helps you discover new artists who you will be glad you checked out.
Top 50 Pianists