Essential Blues Piano Listening

In this article we’re going to check out 5 of our favorite recordings that make up some essential blues piano listening. These are recordings that feature pianists (of course) and offer some incredible playing – but most importantly, they all feature the blues. There are hundreds of classic blues recordings to choose from, but the tunes and pianists below represent some of our favorites that lean a little bit more towards the jazz end of the blues spectrum. Feel free to opine and add your own favorite blues piano recordings in the comments section below.

Essential Blues Piano #5: Chick Corea, “Blues Connotation”

Chick Corea’s “Blues Connotation” is an upbeat 12-bar blues in the key of Bb from his album “Circling In.” A great example of post-bop, this was recorded in the 1970s, fairly early in Chick Corea’s recording career. Chick’s solo demonstrates a modern jazz approach to the blues form, with complex harmonic structures, rhythms, and interplay with the drummer and bassist.

Essential Blues Piano #4: Thelonious Monk, “Blue Monk”

Perhaps one of the most iconic of jazz pianists, Monk had a style all his own which featured blatant use of dissonance, syncopations, and unexpected resolutions in his solos.┬á He recorded “Blue Monk” a number of times, both in solo, trio, and quartet formats. It’s a basic 12-bar blues in the key of Bb.

Essential Blues Piano #3: Ahmad Jamal, “Ahmad’s Blues”

Ahmad Jamal is an often overlooked pianist who possessed an incredible amount of technique and dexterity. His tune “Ahmad’s Blues” is admittedly not a 12-bar blues form but is certainly very bluesy. Listen to Jamal’s incredible use of simple devices to carry his solo – exaggerated and bold dynamic fluctuations, extreme registers of the piano, and motivic ideas that he extends for long periods.

Essential Blues Piano #2: Herbie Hancock, “Watermelon Man”

“Watermelon Man” is a classic, funky, 16-bar blues tune in the key of F from Herbie’s album “Takin’ Off,” one of the classic Blue Note albums. Herbie also re-recorded “Watermelon Man” with his funk group “The Headhunters,” which features Herbie playing electric keyboards.

Essential Blues Piano #1: Oscar Peterson, “C Jam Blues”

If we’re being honest, Oscar Peterson could have held spots #1-5 on this list, and so we felt pretty comfortable giving him the #1 spot. “C Jam Blues” is a Duke Ellington composition and the entire melody consists of 2 notes. Peterson’s trio was one of the swinging-est piano trios of all-time. Check out the piano breaks that he plays at the end of the first few choruses – just awesome stuff! We’ve transcribed one for you to really sink your fingers into. Another great highlight begins at the 2:05 mark. Check out how Peterson finds one musical idea and keeps it going for 2 full choruses.


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Willie President
Willie Myette is a pianist, serial entrepreneur and author of over a dozen books on piano and music education. He received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and graduated in under 4 years. Willie is the creator and president of online piano instruction sites Jazzedge® Academy, Jazz Piano Lessons and HomeSchool Piano.

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