Ragtime - The Piano


The Piano

Since the history of jazz begins with ragtime and ragtime was a pianistic music, jazz begins with the piano. Yet the first bands on the streets of New Orleans had no pianos - perhaps because pianos could not be carried around, but perhaps also because the piano could not produce the jazz sound that seemed essential to the early hot players.

The history of jazz piano is acted out between these two poles. The piano offers more possibilities than most other instruments used in jazz. It is not limited to playing one note at a time, as are the horns. It cannot only state the harmonies, as can the bass, but also connect them with other musical possibilities. But a horn line is more intense than a piano line.

In summary, we find that, on the one hand, the more the pianistic possibilities of the piano are exploited, the more the piano seems overshadowed by the hornlike, intense phrasing of jazz blowers. On the other hand, the more the pianist adopts the phrasing of the horns, the more he or she relinquishes the true potnetial of the instrument.

Art Tatum and Bud Powell (who was too great to be capable of such 'pianistic suicide', though it did exist within the piano school he represents) signify the extremes of this last dichotomy. These extremes have been sharpened since the 1880s, when Scott Joplin began to play ragtime in the Midwest. Joplin was a 'pianistic' pianist. In many respects he played his instrument clearly within the conventions of the romantic piano tradition.

Since New Orleans bands had no use for pianistc piano players, and since a hornlike piano style had not yet been 'discovered', there was hardly one pianist in the jazz


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