Many piano players are celebrated posthumously and are recognized centuries after their most prolific eras but we want to celebrate 11 of the most technically and creatively advanced players alive today. What some may not know is many piano players are cross-trained in both classical and jazz and the influences of their studies help to solidify their unique styles. Here are 11 modern player worth knowing for their chops, improvisational skills and unique style.
1. Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldua is an American jazz player who takes heavy influences from experimental and rock styles. He plays alongside some of the most renowned musicians today in trio and quartet settings and continuously creates bodies of work that are unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Highway Rider (2009) for example plays like an experimental folk album with the piano playing like rhythm section. Mehldau has continuously been recognized for his technical skill with awards like the Downbeat award but has never fully relied on his technical skill alone. He has also pushed boundaries with creativity.
2. Robert Glasper
Even if you don’t know who Robert Glasper is, there’s a high chance you’ve heard him play on your favorite R&B/Rap artists album. Glasper is a R&B/Jazz musician has straddled the line between underground and mainstream since his debut on the scene in the late 90’s. He has served as a key collaborator for countless artists including Kendrick Lamar, Jill Scott, Q Tip, Mac Miller, Mos Def, and many more. Glasper’s style is hymnal with heavy influences from the church, experimental but extremely aesthetically pleasing.
3. Lang Lang
Lang Lang is a Chinese classical piano player who is widely known as one of (if not the best) piano player of modern time. He has complete mastery of the piano and a rockstar persona to match which makes him the perfect candidate for his rigorous and non stop touring schedule. Lang Lang started playing the piano at 2 years old and was stamped as a child prodigy early in life. With an amazing understanding of technical skill and emotions intelligence to understand the composers intentions his performances are always absolutely beautiful. Lang Lang currently has a net worth of $48 million.
4. Diana Krall
Diana Krall is a jazz pianist and singer known for her deep, sultry voice and jazz piano chops. She’s had great commercial success and has been highly prolific in touring and recording. Krall has released a new album almost every year sine the mid 90’s. Krall has kept jazz standards alive and circulating with her 16 albums.
5. Philip Glass
early love for contemporary music. American composter and pianist minimal, repetitive style. His music is structured like a top 40 songs with beautiful layers and archipelagos making it perfect for cinematography. He has produced many symphonies and has been creating music scores since the 80’s. He created scores for movies such as The Truman Show, Kundun, and The Hours (one of his most commercially successful works to date).
6. Helen Grimaud
Helen Grimaud is a highly gifted classical piano player from France. She is considered a risk-taker by critics and fans alike and rethinks phrasing and structure on the pieces she brings to life. Her musicial style is very free-form yet still maintains the high level of technicality needed to properly perform the piece. Grimaud is also a lover of wolves and has dedicated much of her life to the Wold Conservation Center.
7. Sunwook Kim
Sunwook Kim is a young, Korean piano player that specializes in classical music. He has won many prestigious competitions and is known for choosing music with a high level of difficulty. Kim is also known for manipulating volume through his concerts, playing loudly vs softly in different parts of the music.
8. Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock is a house-hold name and another major player in making jazz contemporary and mainstream. Almost everyone has heard his classic hits including watermelon man, doin’ it and cantaloupe island. Herbie Hancock grew up learning classical piano and was considered a child prodigy at an early age. He only began exploring jazz in his late teens and was quickly brought on to play alongside the great Donald Byrd. Hancock has shared a similar trajectory as Robert Glasper due to his many mainstream collaborations such as Kendrick Lamar, John Mayer and Snoop Dogg.
Yuja Wang is a Chinese classical pianist for in Beijing. She is highly skilled but also known for her stage presence and persona. Similar to Lang Lang, she also has the larger than life rockstar personality that makes her concerts mesmerizing, she plays with power and edge and is constantly touring and perfecting her craft.
10. Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett is an American jazz fusion piano player and composer. Jarrett was a long-time member of the Miles Davis sextet and has also recorded and written many of his own works. He has had a successful parallel career as a classical player and a jazz player. Jarrett has a stroke in 2018 leaving him unable to play piano.
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