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Blues Oriented Jazz Pianists


Peter Friedman
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Three or four mornings a week I go out for a roughly 3 mile walk. Today I was listening through my AirPods Pros to a Kenny Drew recording I had downloaded to my iPhone. While walking I began to formulate a list of jazz piano players who I consider to be heavily blues oriented. By this I mean pianists who not just play many blues tunes, but who also incorporate blues chords and/or a blues feeling into many of their solos.

This is my initial  list. You may have others you would like to mention.

Kenny Drew

Horace Silver

Sonny Clark

Hampton Hawes

Carl Perkins

Ray Bryant

Junior Mance

Les McCann

Sammy Price

 

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I am surprised Gene Harris didn't make your list.  I spent about 8 hours in the car last weekend going to, around and back from Naples in the company of his Concord CDs. A fine time was had re-hearing albums I hadn't listened to in a while, from his second stretch of jazz fame.

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57 minutes ago, Peter Friedman said:

Three or four mornings a week I go out for a roughly 3 mile walk. Today I was listening through my AirPods Pros to a Kenny Drew recording I had downloaded to my iPhone. While walking I began to formulate a list of jazz piano players who I consider to be heavily blues oriented. By this I mean pianists who not just play many blues tunes, but who also incorporate blues chords and/or a blues feeling into many of their solos.

This is my initial  list. You may have others you would like to mention.

Kenny Drew

Horace Silver

Sonny Clark

Hampton Hawes

Carl Perkins

Ray Bryant

Junior Mance

Les McCann

Sammy Price

 

Nice list, Peter. But no Basie?

And why not extend your list backwards in time to include those original blues piano masters, Jimmy Yancey, Pinetop Smith, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson?

I think Monk deserves a place in there, too and, looking at today's people, I'd be most likely to nominate Mike LeDonne.

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What I want to know, is whether there’s ever been a ‘piano’ corollary to the notion that Ornette Coleman(!) was ultimately and deeply steeped in the blues.

Half seriously. I can imagine such an idea in my mind’s eye (really, my mind’s ear) — but I can’t think of who would fit the bill.

My sense is that Don Pullen might fit the bill, but I have to confess I don’t know enough of Pullen’s output to know if that comparison is even appropriate. (My sense of Pullen is based more what I think I know about him — way more than what I’ve actually heard).

Anybody else??  (Or correct me if I’m off base about considering Pullen in that way).

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3 hours ago, Dan Gould said:

I am surprised Gene Harris didn't make your list.  I spent about 8 hours in the car last weekend going to, around and back from Naples in the company of his Concord CDs. A fine time was had re-hearing albums I hadn't listened to in a while, from his second stretch of jazz fame.

 

2 hours ago, Rooster_Ties said:

What I want to know, is whether there’s ever been a ‘piano’ corollary to the notion that Ornette Coleman(!) was ultimately and deeply steeped in the blues.

Half seriously. I can imagine such an idea in my mind’s eye (really, my mind’s ear) — but I can’t think of who would fit the bill.

My sense is that Don Pullen might fit the bill, but I have to confess I don’t know enough of Pullen’s output to know if that comparison is even appropriate. (My sense of Pullen is based more what I think I know about him — way more than what I’ve actually heard).

Anybody else??  (Or correct me if I’m off base about considering Pullen in that way).

I very much agree that Gene Harris and Bobby Timmons belong on  my list. Not sure why, but I have the impression that Don Pullen is more in the "avante grade" camp, but that is not actually based on hearing him much at all.

The list I posted was based simply "off the top of my head" while out walking. I knew I was leaving out a number of others that would get mentioned. One that came to me after I posted the list was  Horace Parlan.

 

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2 hours ago, BillF said:

Nice list, Peter. But no Basie?

And why not extend your list backwards in time to include those original blues piano masters, Jimmy Yancey, Pinetop Smith, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson?

I think Monk deserves a place in there, too and, looking at today's people, I'd be most likely to nominate Mike LeDonne.

Bill, I purposely left out the very early original blues piano masters such as those you mentioned.  I did include Sammy Price a he came along  a bit later than those to which you referred.

To my ears, Mike LeDonne is more in the Cedar Walton line and not a blues oriented pianist like the others on my list. His B-3 playing is quite different than is piano playing.

Basie and Monk are tough ones for me. I have great affection for both, they are both terrific blues players, but see them as somewhat separate from the Horace Silver, Sonny Clark, Kenny drew, etc. group.

Keep in mind as with most things of this sort, personal judgement is a key.

So as much as Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones and Cedar Walton are very very strong favorites of mine, I don't perceive any of them as blues oriented  as  the others I listed .  

  

3 minutes ago, EKE BBB said:

Wynton Kelly

Yes I agree he deserves a spot on my list.

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On 29/10/2021 at 1:26 AM, John L said:

You can start with Avery Parrish.

YEAH!

And the one and only HERMAN FOSTER!

John Wright

Red Garland

Norman Simmons

Lloyd Glenn

And what about Duke Ellington, for goodness sake?

John Lewis, too, is a great blues player.

Hank Crawford doesn't play much piano, but it's ALWAYS the blues sure 'nuff.

Ditto Ray Charles.

MG

 

 

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On 28/10/2021 at 10:33 PM, Peter Friedman said:

 

To my ears, Mike LeDonne is more in the Cedar Walton line and not a blues oriented pianist like the others on my list. His B-3 playing is quite different than is piano playing.

 

In that case I'll substitute Larry Fuller for Mike LeDonne as today's person on the list.

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8 hours ago, The Magnificent Goldberg said:

YEAH!

And the one and only HERMAN FOSTER!

John Wright

Red Garland

Norman Simmons

Lloyd Glenn

And what about Duke Ellington, for goodness sake?

John Lewis, too, is a great blues player.

Hank Crawford doesn't play much piano, but it's ALWAYS the blues sure 'nuff.

Ditto Ray Charles.

MG

 

 

While this all becomes a matter of each person's ears, I think there is (perhaps) some confusion about the initial point of this thread. It was NOT focused on a piano player able to play a good blues. Rather it was about a blues feeling that was there in many tunes throughout almost all of their playing  , including tune that were not actually blues tunes. Another way to think about it is a funky greasy quality that one can detect in the playing of those on my original list such as Horace Silver, Sonny Clark, Kenny Drew,Etc.

John Lewis and some of the others you listed here do NOT to my ears fit into this thread. However, I realize that you and some others may have a different opinions.

 

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Oh, yes, I'd forgotten. You're right about Lewis. But about Ellington... dunno. He sounds kinda greasy to me most of the time, but I admit that there are big chunks of his stuff I just don't get along with, and lots I don't try on account of cost. So if you don't like him being in there, OK.

MG

 

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51 minutes ago, JSngry said:

What is our baseline for determining if one is a blues-oriented jazz pianist or a jazz-oriented blues pianist? Who would be the North Star/Pole for this particular evaluation?

I don't know but Gene Harris called himself "a blues piano player with chops" FWIW.

Since he's always categorized as "jazz" maybe that makes him your North Star.

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I don't think there's a pole star for this. You've got Lloyd Glenn, who was pianist/arranger for the Don Albert Orchestra in San Antonio in 1936 and conceived the classic version of 'The Sheikh of Araby (without no pants on)' for that band's only recording session (available on Lloyd Glenn, less than Chronological 1950-51), and who made a lovely version of 'Petit fleur' after it became a top ten hit for Chris Barber. But also made all those great R&B records for Swingtime & Aladdin, under his own name and working with people like Lowell Fulson.

US black pop music is all one tripartite thing with the emphasis moving between blues, jazz and gospel music in different combinations at different times and in different places. Drawing firm lines is both impossible and silly. Suffice it to say that it all swings and gets people dancing. No matter whether a musician's main thing is blues, gospel or jazz, they've all got that dance thing in them if they're playing for an audience that came out for a good time.

BUT, it's not silly to say that someone like John Lewis is sometimes a great blues pianist and sometimes feels like doing something else. And maybe something else is what he wants more often, though the MJQ often make me want to dance, and sometimes I do. (Difficult to dance in a posh concert hall without getting chucked out by the bouncers, however. But I've never seen the MJQ live, so it hasn't arisen.)

MG

 

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I'm kinda like, spirits are only sometimes tangible. But they're always spirits, and they're always there because...they're spirits.

9 minutes ago, Dan Gould said:

I don't know but Gene Harris called himself "a blues piano player with chops" FWIW.

Since he's always categorized as "jazz" maybe that makes him your North Star.

In my earlier days of figuring out what was what, my saying was that jazz and blues are ultimately the same language, except that jazz goes through more keys, Then, I menat it literally, but now...."keys" means a lot of things, really. But oh well about that, right?

so, yes, Gene Harris' definition works just fine, thank you!

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My favorite pianist for blues might be Little Johnny Jones, but I guess he doesn't play enough notes and keys even to qualify for "jazz-oriented blues pianist."

I feel strongly that Count Basie and Thelonious Monk fit the bill for this thread.  Both of them were absolutely about the blues, all of the time.   Rooster asked a question earlier if there is a jazz pianist who is like Ornette Coleman for the blues in jazz.  I would say Thelonious Monk.   Like Ornette, Monk came straight from the blues, had a genius in highly unique musical sensibilities, and was able to share it all with us through music.

I don't know if Jay McShann has been mentioned yet.  He is another great blues player.   

 

Edited by John L
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