Jazz Piano

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Jazz piano encompasses a range of music jazz styles including ragtime, swing, bebop, latin jazz, and more. While many jazz keyboardists focus on the piano, they may also play the organ, electronic keyboard, or other keyboard instruments. Your specialization depends on your abilities and what kinds of subgenres you enjoy playing the most! The piano has long been a favorite of jazz audiences and an essential part of many styles in the genre. For decades, jazz pianists have risen to fame throughout the world, pleasing global crowds with their musical abilities.

What is Jazz Piano?

Jazz piano is the use of the piano and other keyboard instruments in jazz music. Because both individual notes and chords can be played on the piano, it is considered the gold standard for any jazz musician to learn. In other words, saxophonists, percussionists, and bassists alike may find themselves behind a keyboard as they learn the ropes of jazz or hammer out the foundations of a new tune they are composing. Beginning jazz musicians of all flavors also use the piano to learn the basics.

How is Jazz Piano Different from Other Kinds of Piano Music?

Jazz emphasizes improvisation, which often takes the form of riffs on a theme a song establishes early-on. Although pianists can play jazz unaccompanied, they can also play with many different kinds of ensembles including quartets, big bands, and more. While classical pianists may perform works like sonatas, fugues, and nocturnes, jazz musicians play blues, 32-bar or 64-bar songs, and other forms. Many pianists play multiple genres and styles of music. However, as a musician becomes more and more advanced, he or she typically hyper-specialized in a particular genre.

Music theory is important for any pianist. Jazz piano uses all of the chords that traditional western classical music uses, but jazz genres tend to use different rhythms. To play effectively, jazz pianists must learn swing rhythm and gain other types of stylistic expertise.

A Short History of Jazz Piano

Jazz is a uniquely American music genre with roots in African and European musical fusion. The history of the piano reaches back to the eighteenth century in Europe, although other keyboard instruments like the harpsichord and organ existed before that. Originating in New Orleans, jazz quickly gained a grasp across the country and eventually around the world. The piano became a prime player early on in jazz and blues genres as a back-up to the rhythm section. The instrument’s popularity has continued to this day even as new genres like hip-hop, country, and rock unfurl from the roots jazz planted.

Who are Some Notable Jazz Piano Performers?

It’s useful for any jazz musician to have a solid understanding of the piano, though some jazz students will go on to specialize in piano specifically. That being said, there are some jazz musicians who have become especially famous for playing the keys, including the following:

  • Bill Lee
  • Max Holm
  • Bruce Hornsby
  • Mary Lou Williams
  • Marian MacPartland
  • Charles Mingus
  • Geri Allen
  • Alice Coltrane
  • Duke Ellington

Do I Need a College Degree to Practice and Perform Jazz Piano?

While it is possible to learn and practice jazz piano in private non-academic lessons and through individual learning, a university degree offers a uniquely broad scope of study. A good jazz instrumental performance program offers many ensemble opportunities so that you can practice your instrument in a variety of configurations. A college can expand your horizons far beyond what you may have access to as an individual musician because they bring in new guest performers to campus every year.

What Can I Do with a Degree in Jazz Piano?

There are a variety of career paths you can pursue after receiving a jazz piano degree. Many graduates go on to perform professionally locally, nationally, and around the world. The world of jazz is more exciting and expansive than ever before, with global audiences eagerly awaiting the next big thing.

What Kinds of Faculty Members Teach Jazz Piano?

Jazz piano faculty members are, first and foremost, performers. They have spent years—and in some cases, decades—learning the craft for themselves in an intimate way. Equally important to the best teachers is pedagogy: in other words, the best ways to teach someone else what you already know. If listening was all it took, anyone could become a professional musician in a short while. It’s important to learn how to listen. The easiest way to learn this is by studying with professors.

Music students come to college with a basic foundation in their focus instrument. Faculty know that it is their job to facilitate learning so that each student can reach their unique potential. The best faculty members help each student play to their strengths, using pedagogical knowledge to get to know each person as a performer and as a student.

What Should I Look for in a Jazz Piano Program?

Jazz piano programs are all about experiential learning. Classes like keyboard studies, experiential musicianship, improvisation, and technology skills put you behind the keys as you continue to hone your craft. Though there will be plenty of reading and written work as a sort of musical cross-training, you will get the opportunity to spend plenty of hours listening to and playing jazz music. Established jazz program offer students a comprehensive tableau of jazz classes that help students build well-rounded skills as they prepare to enter the world of professional musicianship.

How Do I Find the Jazz Piano Program that is Right for Me?

It’s important to consider a variety of factors as you decide which jazz piano programs to apply to. Well-qualified faculty, a prime university location, and a broad base of successful alumni working in the field are just a few characteristics to consider. The Frost School at the University of Miami uses the unique Frost Method™ which treats students as individual learners, serious musicians, and rising performers. If you’re looking for an established jazz piano program with a reputation for producing successful musicians, consider the Frost School’s state-of-the-art facilities and global jazz community.