Your Free Guide To 15 Jazz Piano Legends

learn jazz piano onlineIf you truly want to learn jazz piano you have to listen to the right people.

As your online jazz piano teacher, I want to make sure you are listening to and learning from some of the best jazz pianists who’ve ever lived.

What we listen to definitely influences what comes out of our ears and hands when we play jazz.

There is an old saying that ‘we are what we eat’ when it comes to diet and nutrition.

I truly believe that the same concept can be applied to music. In music, we are what we listen to.

So, in today’s online jazz piano lesson we’re going to talk about 15 jazz pianists that you need to know.

I specifically chose these players because I have a learned a great deal from listening to these jazz piano players.

Now, its your turn to get inspired and learn from them too. Let’s get started learning!

15 Great Jazz Pianists To Learn From

1. Oscar Peterson

Next to Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson might be the most technically brilliant jazz piano player to have ever lived.

Not only was Oscar incredibly virtuosic on a technical level, but also had an amazing ability to still swing effortlessly.

The coolest part about OP was that he still could play so incredibly soulful while completely dominating the keyboard.

In my classical pieces that helped me learn jazz article, I talked about how I had to  actually take a few lessons with a classical piano teacher to successfully execute a fast Oscar Peterson transcription.

I loved every second of it! There will never be another OP! 🙂

2. Bud Powell

As most of you know I’m a huge fan of the bebop piano players! Bud Powell is the guy who started it all.

He was right there with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie as the invented the bebop vocabulary we now think of as the fundamental part jazz.

Bud Powell is one of the most important jazz piano players in all of jazz history.

Many of the players I list below wouldn’t sound the way they do without Bud’s influence!

thelonius monk lesson3. Thelonius Monk

Monk was a pure genius. The harmonic palette he created on the keyboard and the way he would play voicings and used dissonance completely revolutionized jazz piano.

If you want to check out some of Monk’s quirky style check out Monk playing solo piano on Solo Monk.

Thelonius was also a brilliant composer as well penning tunes like Straight No Chaser, Blue Monk, Ruby My Dear, Well You Needn’t, and many others.

(I made a point of bring some Monk’s influence inside several of the arrangements in the new Premium Membership Jazz Piano Course. (Got to pay tributes to the greats!)

barry harris4. Barry Harris

Perhaps my biggest influence as a jazz improviser is Barry Harris. I’ve spent an incredible amount of time listening to Barry.

I even featured Barry in this and he also gets a whole chapter inside the Jazz Masters Method DVD.

You can also check out this free Barry Harris sample lesson on rhythm changes or this Barry Harris jazz piano lick.


wynton kelly lesson5. Wynton Kelly

One of my earliest memories of listening to jazz and saying, “I want to do that!” came from listening to Wynton Kelly.

Wynton had a huge recording career as both a sidesman and also a bandleader himself. He appeared on lots of classic jazz recordings.

Perhaps his most famous solo of all time is his completely swinging and beautiful solo on Miles Davis Freddie The Freeloader.

 (Wynton’s solo comes in at 43 seconds)

(Since Wynton was such a huge influence on me, many of the arrangements inside Premium Membership features pivot chords and voicings I learned from Wynton’s signature style.)

Bill Evans jazz pianist6. Bill Evans

Bill Evans completely revolutionized the jazz piano world with his signature style.

He was able to combine his early 20th century classical influences (Debussy, Ravel, Bartok) with an incredibly swinging bebop style.

He was also one of the first jazz piano players to start using rootless chord voicings in their left hand. This gave the bass player a lot more freedom to create more interesting lines and improvisations.

Bill’s playing was hugely influential on so many jazz pianists including modern greats like Brad Mehldau, Fred Hersch, and Joanne Brackeen.

Every time I listen to Bill I learn something new!

If you want to learn more about Bill check out this free jazz piano video lesson here.

Herbie Hancock lesson7. Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock is one of the most famous jazz musicians who ever lived and an incredibly versatile musician.

His style has ranged from classical, bebop, post bop, fusion, funk, avant grade, rock, and every in between.

Herbie is another person whose career was propelled from playing with Miles Davis.

There are many things to love about Herbie’s playing. Here’s a fun version of Herbie’s funk/fusion period on his classic composition Headhunters 

Dave Mckenna lesson8. Dave McKenna

When you listen to Dave McKenna sometimes you feel like you’re listening to 2 piano players at the same time.

His independence and ability to comp and play melody with just one hand is unreal.

Check out a live performance of Dave and his incredible independence and groove.

chick corea lesson9. Chick Corea

Chick literally has it all.

He has an amazing ability to mix post bop sounds with latin rhythms, clusters, incredible chord voicings,  a virtuosic control of harmony and substitutions.

Every time I see Chick live he brings something new to the table.

Interestingly, Chick is yet another legendary jazz musician who early in his career worked with Miles Davis.

Check out this awesome version of Chick on Blue Bossa with the virtuosic vocalist Bobby McFerrin.


By the way, if you want to learn some cool versions of Blue Bossa, I teach a beginner arrangement, intermediate arrangements, and advanced arrangement of it inside the first month of  Premium Membership.

Also, whenever I want to learn some new voicings I’ll sit down and listen to Chick on Noon Song! 

mccoy tyner lesson10. McCoy Tyner

Simply put, McCoy Tyner changed the way modern jazz piano players play. His whole approach was steeped in tradition yet brought so many new ideas into play.

He did things like:

  • Incredible new way of using of pentatonics.
  • Stylish and advanced modal voicings.
  • Unique ways of using quartile harmony (chords in 4ths).
  • Side stepping.
  • New substitutions and new ways of playing harmony.

The thing I love best about Mccoy is that if you listen to his early recordings he sounds very bebop based. As he got older his style began to evolve and grow.

It’s cool to hear his progression to the jazz piano monster we know of today literally being documented. Each album he gets a little closer.

His work with jazz legend John Coltrane was very influential on his musical style as well.

Check out McCoy Tyner on his classic composition Passion Dance. Simply brilliant playing. 

keith jarrett lesson11. Keith Jarrett

On the list of many people’s greatest pianists Of The 20th Century is Keith Jarrett. I’m not sure if I can disagree either!

I’ve learned a ton about music from listening to Keith. Many of the cool inner voice chords motions I teach on this site were inspired by Keith Jarrett (and Bill Evans too).

I had the pleasure of seeing Keith Jarrett play solo piano a few years back at Orchestra Hall in Chicago.

His version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow literally brought tears to my eyes. Keith is tapped into something magical.

diana krall lesson12. Diana Krall

To the uninitiated, Diana Krall is just a jazz singer. To those in the know though, Diana is one of the hardest swingin’ jazz piano players alive today.

Her playing is infused with an infectious mix of hard swinging, blues, and bebop.

Since her singing is so amazing her piano playing is often times not talked about as much. She’s a super underrated piano player in my opinion though.

What I learned from her: I learned a lot about beat placement and articulation and how it effects groove by listening to Diana’s playing. I even have a whole section of the Jazz Masters Method DVD devoted to her playing.

Marian Mcpartland jazz piano lesson13. Marian McPartland

Not only was Marian a fantastic jazz pianist but she was also an incredibly famous radio host as well.

Through her world famous radio program “Piano Jazz”, Marian brought jazz to the whole world.

The format was an interview style show where hundreds and hundreds of great jazz pianist were interviewed.

They would perform, talk about their music, their life, and even play duets with Marian. It was really fun!

The fact that these world class jazz pianists were being interviewed by another great jazz musician brought a sense of insight and realness to every episode too.

The show was incredibly popular (she hosted it for 33 years) and in my opinion Marian single handedly created generations of jazz piano fans.

Marian was also a huge influence on me as a human being through her commitment to jazz education and sharing her love of jazz.

In many ways Marian’s influence on me led to the birth of I wanted to find  my own 21st century way of sharing my passion for this incredible style of music too.

Thanks Marian for your inspiration! You will be missed.

eddie palmieri lesson14. Eddie Palmieri

Jazz and latin music go together like red beans and rice! 🙂

You’ll find latin music influences in so many different facets of jazz. Just listen to Dizzy Gillespie’s Cuban music influences or the thousands of jazz musicians who’ve recorded some of Jobim’s incredible compositions.

Jazz y Latin música son buenos amigos! 🙂

One of my favorite Afro Cuban piano players is Eddie Palmieri. His groove and ideas are simply incredible.

Check him out some of his montuno and comping patterns with his salsa orchestra.

laurence hobgood lesson15. Laurence Hobgood

Laurence is perhaps best known as the pianist, arranger, and collaborator for Grammy winning jazz vocalist Kurt Elling.

In my opinion he is one of the greatest modern jazz piano players alive. His style is so filled with tradition yet so unique and personal at the same time.

Check out this incredible version of Laurence playing with Kurt Elling on the classic My Foolish Heart. Laurence’s taste is simply incredible.

If you only listen to one recording from this article please listen to this one. So inspirational! 

Final Thoughts

I hope you had fun with this list. I encourage you to go through this list and use it as a resource for listening and finding new music for you.

There a lots of players for you to explore here so make sure you bookmark this page and come back to it when you need some more insight and inspiration from these great players.

Just as a quick reminder, the Premium Membership Course Launches on Monday Oct. 7, 2013. Stay tuned!

Update: The Premium Membership Course has launched. You can get access to it here:


Packed with powerful new lessons on:

  • Rich Jazz Piano Chords Tutorials
  • Full Arrangements & Of Essential Jazz Tunes
  • 3 Arrangement Levels Of Each Song (Beginner, Intermediate Advanced.)
  • Full Notation Of Songs, MIDI Files, & Chords Charts
  • Killer Licks
  • In Depth Improv Lessons
  • Step by Step Reharmonization Lessons
  • Important Jazz Rhythm Patterns
  • Pro jam tracks
  • And much more…


Do you have questions or something to contribute? Let your voice be heard!

  • Is there somebody who’s been influential in your playing that I didn’t  list here?
  • Who would you have on your list? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts!


New here? Please subscribe to the Freejazzlessons email list.

  • You’ll receive free lessons in your inbox every time they are published.
  • You’ll also be joining a community of over 15,00 awesome musicians just like you! 
  • See you on the other side!

Steve Nixon