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Jazz piano history for new student


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I've begun lessons with a new student, and he is really interested in the history and stories behind jazz and figures in jazz.


He's a complete beginner, but has a great ear and memory, and I thought it would be fun to do a chronological exploration of jazz piano as we're learning other things.


Problem is, my knowledge is only cursory, particularly for the early years. I figure starting the family tree with Art Tatum is probably fine, but I actually want to begin a little earlier, maybe with rag and Scott Joplin, and/or early Tin Pan Alley tunes?


Any suggestions for where to begin would be welcome, as would any great stories/characters/innovators in jazz history. I'd like to focus on pianists.

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After sitting through two years of jazz history I should be able to help you... however, 3 months after the final exam I've erased a lot of that stuff from my mind :crazy:


You're definitely on the right track. While Scott Joplin was clearly a Ragtime pianist, with Jelly Roll Morton the music evolved to New Orleans Style. Early exponents of jazz piano in the wider sense are also some of the blues and boogie players like Pinetop Perkins and Willie The Lion Smith. There were stride piano players called Luckyeth Roberts, Eubie Blake, Teddy Wilson and James P. Johnson. Earl Hines was pianist with Louis Armstrong. Check google for Hines' "trumpet style". After that and Art Tatum it's probably time to look at Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Count Basie. I think those are the big names of jazz before 1945. After that, there are probably more great pianists than you can cover in a lifetime of teaching ;)

It's not a clone, it's a Suzuki.
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Oh, BTW, if you or the student have problems going to sleep, you could watch Ken Burn's Jazz documentary. :laugh:


edit: I just saw that while I was typing, half of the pianists in my post were already named... this crowd is fast!

It's not a clone, it's a Suzuki.
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Also check out this amazing interview with Dick Hyman which is split up into several Youtube videos. It's an incredible journey through the history of the jazz piano and worth watching every once in awhile.


Start Here:



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There's a two part (I think) jazz piano history podcast on iTunes U called Jazz Insights.
Jazz Insights is an ongoing podcast. It covers all jazz, not just pianists, but well worth it.


Jazz Insights on iTunes

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck


"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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This is a very good book that is arranged chronologically so it may be a good source for you. It has an accompanying CD with selected recordings that are explained in the text. Very informative. But the CD is a bit pricey so if you have a good library of jazz recordings, you may not need it.





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we7.com album searches often throw up the entire back catalog of early jazz artists. Examples:


Jelly Roll


Willie the Lion


James P Johnson




Lil Armstrong


Earl Hines


You get the occasional advert, but otherwise totally free and the quality is usually very good. Once in a blue moon you only get snippets instead of full tracks, but I've found that to be rare with anything that isn't contemporary.


For biogs and more elusive recordings www.redhotjazz.com is a great site.

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