Happy National Jazz Appreciation Month
April 7, 2021
April is National Jazz Appreciation Month! In honor of this extraordinary genre of music (and our own virtual Jazz Club performance by the Aaron Diehl Trio on Friday, April 9 at 7:30 PM ET), here are highlights of five notable jazz pianists.
Art Tatum (1909-1956)
Born in Toledo, Ohio in 1909, Arthur Tatum Jr. developed cataracts at a young age and, after a brutal attack in his early twenties, was blind in his left eye and had very limited vision in his right. He grew in fame after winning an amateur competition and receiving his own daily morning program on Toledo’s radio station, WSPD. Tatum relocated to New York City for a short stint after being recruited to join vocalist Adelaide Hall’s band; he spent most of his life moving between Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, and England to pursue residencies and recording contracts. He performed with a trio for the last six years of his life, dying of uremia at the age of 47 in 1956. He was posthumously given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989.
Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)
Thelonious Sphere Monk was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. At the age of five, his family moved to the San Juan Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, New York. There he took piano lessons from Alberta Simmons, a retired performing pianist. In the early 1940’s, Monk became the house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse, a Manhattan nightclub, which is where he developed his signature style and helped from the bebop style popularized by himself and musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. Jazz critic Philip Larkin called Monk an ‘elephant at the keyboard’ for his harsh and percussive piano touch and, at the time, his music was considered too difficult to understand for mainstream audiences. Today, he is lauded for its complexity.
Bill Evans (1929-1980)
William “Bill” John Evans was born in North Plainfield, New Jersey. He began piano lessons somewhere between the ages of 5 and 7 after watching and learning the music his older brother received during his lesson. His teacher considered Evans’ brother, Harry, to be the better pianist, however, so Evans soon picked up the violin, flute, and piccolo as well, which some say later influenced his keyboard style. Evans played in the quartet of Miles Davis before forming his own trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. Many other reiterations of the trio performed together from then on with Evans as the center. After dying at the age of 51 in 1980, Evans was posthumously honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.
Herbie Hancock (b. 1940)
Born in Chicago, Illinois to a government meat inspector and a secretary, Herbert Jeffrey Hancock was considered a child piano prodigy from the age of seven; he played the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26 in D Major, K. 537 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the age of only 11. He joined the Miles Davis Quartet in 1963 and remained with the group until 1968. Since then, Hancock has formed numerous music groups and released many albums, winning 14 Grammy Awards and one Academy Award.
Chick Corea (1941-2021)
Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea was introduced to jazz piano at the age of four. His father was a jazz trumpet player who surrounded Corea with the sounds of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell. Corea moved to New York, studying music at Columbia University, then Juilliard, before ultimately quitting school to pursue performing full-time. He was a part of the Miles Davis Quartet shortly before leaving to form a free jazz group with bassist Dave Holland known as Circle. Corea formed numerous groups, releasing many albums and winning 25 Grammy Awards. He died of cancer at the age of 79 earlier this year. We were fortunate to have Corea perform at the 1991, 2002, and 2008 Gilmore Keyboard Festivals.
Sir Roland Hanna (1932-2002)
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Sir Roland Hanna began studying classical piano at the age of 11. After becoming interested in jazz and serving a brief stint in the military, he studied at Eastman School of Music and The Juilliard School. He graduated from Juilliard in 1960 before leading his own trio from 1963 to 1966. In 1970, he was granted knighthood by the President of Liberia for his work raising money for education. Hanna served as a professor of jazz at the the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in Flushing, New York and died of a viral heart infection in 2002 in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Some other notable jazz pianists to check out (just to name a few!):
- Oscar Peterson
- Dave Brubeck
- MyCoy Tyner
- Bud Powell
- Keith Jarrett
- Ahmad Jamal
- Fats Waller
If you’d like to listen to the music of these exceptional musicians, we’ve created a Spotify playlist in honor of jazz appreciation month. Take a look!