Playlist: Get Ready for Handful of Keys with the Evolution of Jazz Piano!

Study up on jazz piano history!

News | Sep, 8th 2017

As jazz developed through the 20th century into the vibrant, polyphonic art form we know it to be today, the piano evolved along with it. From the music of Fats Waller to Bill Evans to McCoy Tyner and beyond, the piano played a crucial role in pushing jazz forward, providing rhythmic flavor and shaping the music's harmonic progress.

And if you want to track all of that progress in an hour—well, that's where Handful of Keyscomes in.

To celebrate 100 years of jazz piano, Blue Engine Records is releasing Handful of Keysthis September 15th. This live recording of the 2016-2017 season-opening program entitled "Handful of Keys: A Century of Jazz Piano" finds the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis performing with special guests Joey Alexander, Dick Hyman, Isaiah J. Thompson, Helen Sung, and Myra Melford (not to mention the JLCO's own Dan Nimmer). This diverse group of young and old performers from all over the world represents both the traditional and avant-garde; together, they highlight 100 years of jazz piano evolution in one night. 

For a sampling of 20th century jazz piano, listen to our hand-picked History of Jazz Piano playlist on Spotify, which also features many of the original versions of the songs included on the new JLCO album:

Melford was particularly excited about her role in the concert, as both a performer and a jazz fan; she joined the Orchestra for an electric performance of her own composition, "The Strawberry." In the liner notes for Handful of Keys,Melford offers a knowledgeable, behind-the-scenes look into the night's programming and performances.

"...backstage during the performance, listening with and to the other pianists, I felt a palpable sense of not only enjoyment and appreciation for the gifts each had to offer, but inspiration—the possibility of trying something new or different heard in the others playing.  What struck me was the unique way in which each guest soloist revealed yet another facet of the rich legacy of jazz piano. Each voice opened up new futures for jazz as it conjured one of the many different times, places, and musical communities that forged this music...

...It was a tremendous thrill for me to have my piece "The Strawberry" arranged for the Orchestra so beautifully by Ted Nash. Staying true to the folk-like spirit of the tune, he enriched the melody and harmony with counterpoint, thickening and thinning the texture to heightened effect. It was equally exhilarating to play and interact with these musicians, immersed in the full power of their sound, their broad and colorful palette—individually and collectively. In my set, it was also an honor to pay tribute to some of the many pianists, including Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill, and Don Pullen, whose expansion of the expressive capability of the piano had such a big impact on my own development...

...This project was truly an uplifting experience, owing to the warmth, generosity of spirit, the genuine love and enthusiasm, and the always riveting solos of these artists, as well as the attentive and appreciative audience and all of the dedicated and talented people who work for Jazz at Lincoln Center. You'll find something of that experience captured and shared on this recording. These performances dazzle us with the diverse contributions of old and young, men and women, transcending race and nation, promising a great future for this music in the 21st century and beyond."

Preorder Handful of Keys from our webstore (which also features a deluxe bundle including 30th Anniversary JALC gear) or on Amazon or iTunes today!

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Enrich your listening experience of "The Music of John Lewis," the new album from the JLCO with Wynton Marsalis ft. Jon Batiste, with an excerpt from its liner notes and a playlist exploring Lewis's oeuvre!


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