A Brief History Of Piano Greats And Jazz

1866 words - 8 pages

A Brief History of Piano Greats and Jazz
The piano has been a pivotal instrument throughout the development of jazz music. Starting with ragtime, which developed out of classical music, all the way to modern jazz the piano has been a foundational instrument upon which many styles have been built. This is a result of the versatility of the instrument, as it has the ability to play accompaniment, rhythm, and solo improvisation simultaneously. Throughout the course of jazz history many musicians have utilized the piano to develop new and unique styles. These great musicians used influences from all sources to develop these new genres of jazz and are renowned for their ability still today.
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This piece brought Joplin and the genre of Ragtime to fame and was very influential on many other ragtime composers (Berlin 1998). Ragtime is not strictly considered jazz music though, due to the lack of improvisation and swing-feel, but it heavily influenced the development of a new style of piano playing called stride (Berlin 1998).
The style of stride piano was developed mainly in New York City, specifically the neighborhood of Harlem, through the 1920s and 1930s (Early 1991). This new genre of jazz music built upon the syncopated rhythm of Ragtime by adding a Blues feel as well as swing elements (Early 1991). The important feature of this new stride style was the rigid bass pattern in the left hand of the pianist. Typically, a single note would be played on the 1st and 3rd beats of the measure, while an accompanying chord would be played on the 2nd and 4th beats (Early 1991). This type of playing gives the listener and impression of walking or marching, thus denoting it the title “Stride” (Early 1991). This new bass technique was vital for freeing the right hand for improvisation. James P. Johnson is one of many pianists to pioneer this style of playing and is often referred to as the “Father of Stride” (Early 1991). Johnson’s famous piece, “Charleston” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpY7S83P_No), was the inspiration for the famous swing dance of the 1920’s, aptly named the Charleston (Early 1991). This piece, as seen in the score above (http://tinyurl.com/mswl2te), shows the quick, jumping movement in the left hand of the pianist that characterized the Stride feel.
The invention of the swing-feel in jazz music has been accredited to Louis Armstrong, and has been a defining feature of jazz since its conception (Ellenberg 2005). The swing-feel is obtained by accenting the off beats in a measure to swing the emphasis away from the downbeat. Swing music became popular through the 1920s and 1930s, especially during the Great Depression (Ellenberg 2005). This lively music allowed Americans to escape from their troubled realities and dance to the exciting tunes. The primary method of playing swing music was through a big band, consisting of many sections of instruments. The piano was attributed to the rhythm section, and typically played chords or small figures to support and embellish upon the melody of the lead instruments (Ellenberg 2005). Big band pianists often were very minimalistic with their playing, unless given the opportunity to improvise a solo during a chorus. Teddy Wilson was an important and influential pianist of the swing period. Wilson was the pianist for the Benny Goodman big band throughout the late 1930s and developed a very distinctive legato style (Tedd Wilson). Wilson used conjunct 10ths in his left hand and “trumpet-like” melodies in the right to set up his unique style, which is exemplified in the song “As Time Goes By” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ywp7SQbyFM). Teddy Wilson was highly influential to other...

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