Art Tatum might be one of the best piano players who ever lived. He had a great combination of stride and swing styles with monster chops. I don’t own any of his albums, but I’ve checked out quite a few from the local library. There are many collections including The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces and The Genius of Art Tatum. These are multiple disc collections, but are well worth searching out.
Oscar Peterson is another one of the all-time greats. He is Art Tatum’s heir and has been recorded extensively as well. There are too many albums to choose from, but I like Night Train. It contains a number of blues and R&B/gospel tunes and has an after hours feel to it.
Thelonius Monk is one of the pioneers of bebop. He is known for his many compositions which have become standards in the jazz repetoire. These songs include Round Midnight, Blue Monk, and Straight, No Chaser. He also had an unusual rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary. Genius of Modern Music Vol. 1 is probably a good place to start, but there are many albums to choose from.
Bud Powell was another of bebop’s pioneers, along with Thelonius Monk. He sounded more like Charlie Parker on piano, than Monk did though. The Amazing Bud Powell Vols. 1 and 2 are the ones I have and are a good retrospective. I like his version of Night in Tunisia and it’s one of the first jazz tunes that got me excited about jazz music.
Bill Evans is another great player who has really influenced many of the modern cats. This guy’s touch on the instrument has knocked me out recently. It takes a lot of chops to play as delicatley as he does, but with purpose. Kind of Blue is a landmark for modal playing and perhaps the best selling jazz album ever. But Peace Piece from Everybody Digs Bill Evans is very moving and may be his finest hour.
McCoy Tyner is best known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet. His modal playing and use of quartal harmony has been very influential. The first thing I remember hearing was the verison of My Favorite Things. Almost any of the
Coltrane albums are great. Check out some of the live stuff, such as Live At Birdland.
Herbie Hancock has played on many albums, but Maiden Voyage is probably his best known. The song Maiden Voyage is a modal workout ala the Kind of Blue sessions. Dolphin Dance is another standard with an unusual chord progression. The songs are pretty laid back and seem to simmer rather than scorch.
Chick Corea is a jazz legend, as well as a fusion heavyweight. I’m a sucker for fusion, so I love Return to Forever, but Chick’s reputation probably hangs on Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. The classic Windows is on here, as well as Steps. Roy Haynes sounds real great on this, too.
Keith Jarret’s solo playing is what made him famous. The Koln Concert is the one to get and it still sounds great today. His solo style is called “instant composition”. He’ll just find something he likes and then reinvent it with a hundred variations. This album is very joyous and uplifting.
Cecil Taylor is not for everyone, but his playing knocks me out…in small doses I prefer his solo albums and don’t care for the groups he’s been a part of. Indent is the one I have, but check out this YouTube video to get a taste of this guy.
Michel Camilo is a monster player. He’s from the Dominican Republic, so he has a strong, percussive Latin vibe happening. But he is also a sensitive ballad player. I don’t have a quintessential album to recommend, but a few tracks stand out. On the Other Hand has an amazing rendition of Coltrane’s Impressions. I always play this for people for the drop-jaw factor. Blue Bossa from his self-titled album is also very impressive.
Michel Petrucciani is someone I’ve recently become enamored with. There’s a YouTube video of Take the “A” Train that I really like. I also recently purchased Piano Solo: The Complete Concert in Germany. This is an extended version of Solo Live, which was one of his most popular albums. He’s like Bill Evans and Michel Camilo rolled into one. Duke Ellington’s Caravan is awesome, as is the whole 2nd CD in this set. Check it out!