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Jazz Piano Standards

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Beloved Jazz Classics for Keyboards

Perhaps more than in any other popular music, piano has been intertwined with jazz since its very inception. Because of its combined melodic and harmonic capabilities, it is the primary instrument on which jazz songs are composed. It plays a role in almost every jazz combo out there.

Out of the many jazz songs composed and performed with piano, some stand head and shoulders above the others. This article reviews many of the greatest Jazz piano songs.

Dave Brubeck – Take Five

Dave Brubeck was a visionary and highly original piano player and composer. He was not afraid to take jazz to new levels using unusual time signatures and contrasting tones. Although he had a very long and illustrious career, he was considered a one-hit wonder as far as pop singles go. But what a hit it was! “Take Five,” from the legendary album TIME OUT, was the best-selling jazz single of all time. It used a highly unorthodox 5/4 time signature and a memorable drum solo.


Scott Joplin – The Entertainer

Scott Joplin was the leading ragtime composer and player during its heyday of early 20th century. This tune became the most well-known of his compositions when Marvin Hamlisch adapted Joplin’s tunes for his soundtrack to the Oscar-winning 1973 film The Sting. The orchestrated single hit number 3 on the Billboard pop chart. This version is the stripped-down piano version also used in the film.


Thelonious Monk – Round Midnight

Thelonious Monk was a true giant of American music, with a career that spanned 3 decades. He had a unique percussive way of playing the piano, with frequent dissonance and many melodic twists. Monk is the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed more than 1,000 pieces, whereas Monk wrote about 70. This is one of his very best.


Duke Ellington – It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)

It is impossible to overstate Duke Ellington’s importance to jazz, or to music in general. Over a 50-plus-year career, he composed over 1000 pieces, many of which are jazz standards. His band’s shows as the house band at the Cotton Club were the stuff of legend. His recorded output was staggering (The album COMPLETE WORKS 1924-1947 alone contains 40 discs). This, one of his many hits, made it into the Grammy Hall of Fame.


Count Basie – April in Paris

One of the all-time great bandleaders, Count Basie led his own jazz orchestra for 50 years. Many of his orchestra members became acclaimed artists in their own right. Although he did not compose “April in Paris,” the song is one of his signature tunes.


Vince Guaraldi Trio – Linus and Lucy

Anyone who has seen the Peanuts TV specials of the 1960s through the 1980s has heard the jazz piano styling of Vince Guaraldi. His sound is quite unique and he has done much more than cartoon music. Even so, this is his best-known and most-loved tune.


Investigate Further!

These are but a handful of great jazz pieces. Talk to your music instructor and music-aficionado friends for more recommendations.

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