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Jazz piano is a collective term for the techniques pianists use when playing jazz. The piano has been an integral part of the jazz idiom since its inception, in both solo and ensemble settings. Its role is multifaceted due largely to the instrument’s combined melodic and harmonic capabilities.
For this reason it is an important tool of jazz musicians and composers for teaching and learning jazz theory and set arrangement, regardless of their main instrument. By extension the phrase ‘jazz piano’ can refer to similar techniques on any keyboard instrument. Along with the guitar, vibraphone, and other keyboard instruments, the piano is one of the instruments in a jazz combo that can play both single notes and chords rather than only single notes as does the saxophone or trumpet.
1920s, predominantly in New York. Johnson was a prominent adherent. The left hand was used to establish rhythm while the right hand improvised melodies.
Bill Evans performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Mastering the various chord voicings—simple to advanced—is the first building block of learning jazz piano. Jazz piano technique uses all the chords found in Western art music, such as major, minor, augmented, diminished, seventh, diminished seventh, sixth, minor seventh, major seventh, suspended fourth, and so on.
A second key skill is learning to play with a swing rhythm and “feel”. In jazz, the roots are usually omitted from keyboard voicings, as this task is left to the double bass player. Jazz pianists also make extensive use of chord “extensions”, such as adding the ninth, eleventh or thirteenth scale degree to the chord.
In some cases, these extensions may be “altered” i. The next step is learning to improvise melodic lines using scales and chord tones. This ability is perfected after long experience, including much practice, which internalizes the physical skills of playing and the technical elements of harmony, and it requires a great natural ‘ear’ for extemporaneous music-making.