The piano. It is unique: the piano is melodic like no other instrument is and plays us heavy loud and even sometimes fast, producing sounds that momentarily darken one’s soul. Piano history is as fascinating as the sound the instrument makes.
The instrument’s best players have been those who have dared. Mozart, Monk, Jelly Roll Morton: the list goes on of musicians who have mastered the mass of matter that is the piano, all the while moving others with their style, opinions, and all around spirit. Three jazz musicians, Jason Moran, Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Diehl, are amongst today’s great, daring, pianists, but first a short introduction to the instrument.
The piano was invented during Europe’s Middle Ages: a time of adherence (to the Church) for many musicians but also a time of quiet dissent, as all times are in the end. Given that its coming-together was financed by the Medici who were well known Renaissance patrons, the piano was probably born to some sort of moneyed dissent.
The Padua (now in Italy) that served as a host to the invention more than likely had the lutes, the hammered dulcimer, the clavichord, and the flutes that the Middle Ages were known for, instruments that excel at expressing lightness, and also the Harpsichord whose strings are plucked instead or struck despite its resemblance to the piano. With the piano came new direction; loudness and heaviness to add to instrumental largeness. The instrument that, to me, dethroned the plucking of strings, was first named the Fortepiano, a name that includes the word forte or loud, though it was also meant to play soft music.
The instrument made its way through Europe and especially to Vienna and to the genial playing of Mozart. It eventually made its way to other societies, and communities that’ve included the Storyville living in New Orleans that bred Jazz. It continues to matter.
Jason Moran, Sullivan Fortner, and Aaron Diehl, three Jazz pianists, all belong to the new lineup of formidable, daring, piano players. All three play us very well formulated modernist or postmodernist opinions and wow us with the subjective. They often play us notes that are not accompanied with words that mirage the piano playing and because of this require us to feel instrumentation as we listen to make sense of their language. If one does listen in, formidable experience ensues.
ason Moran’s album Modernistic is a personal favorite but his piano playing is always sits a listener, whether it be long and lyrical or stride-ish.
The album of his that is the easiest listen is the soulful, melodic, and comic All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller; the rule is that Moran’s songs require serious contemplating. His playing is sharp and does not intend to either please or be celestial.
Moran seems to be always be playing an opinionated deconstruction of the times that we live – his playing is very complex and yet resonates with much odd familiarity. His song “The Field” on the album Same Mother is one of his best.
Sullivan Fortner is a very young musician. He has released a single solo album so far, Aria. He is a stride pianist who plays us the soft and smooth with incredible elegance. His song “You Know I Care” feels like an epic of well theorized beauty in movements. He plays us quiet very well with “For All We Know.”
Aaron Diehl seems to want to plays neo-traditional Jazz. The songs on his album Space, Time, Continuum, despite its having a title that we would associate with Free Jazz, tell us this. Sometimes he is an experimental piano player, the song “Le Tombeau De Couperin,” as many traditional Jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington were in their day, but he is never philosophically avant garde.
His piano playing is very controlled and allows to plunge into the sounds of individual notes all the while feeling along to the mood and other instrumentation in the song. His song “Single Petal of Rose” is a piano tragedy that will leave any listener asking about his or her own life.