Jazz pianists occupy a unique place in the story of jazz, and the development of the solo piano tradition can be traced independently from that of instrumental ensemble jazz. Above all, piano jazz is about the individuals who have made their own individual contributions to the style, and in this collection, Alyn Shipton draws together conversations with many of the key practitioners. Spanning the period from the birth of bebop to the present, their collective experience is a major part of jazz piano history. Sir Charles Thompson and Gerald Wiggins recall the days of Harlem clubs when bebop was being forged there. Their personal memories of bebop giants such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie bring the era vividly to life as do the 52nd Street experiences of Dr. Billy Taylor. Horace Silver and Junior Mance were both part of the hard bop and soul jazz revolution, recalling such colleagues as Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley and Lou Donaldson, while Dave Brubeck was more identified with the cooler West Coast School. British-born Marian McPartland has become synonymous with piano jazz in the United States through her long, running radio show, but here she tells her own story.
As she was establishing herself in the United States, Mal Waldron was Billie Holiday's accompanist, and in one of the last interviews he gave before his death, he reflects on his time with Lady Day was well as his subsequent move to Europe, before looking back on his hectic early career as house pianist for Prestige records. There are memories of Art Blakey from JoAnne Brackeen, tales of Coltrane from Tommy Flanagan, and many memories from Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Meanwhile more recent trends are reflected by Diana Krall, Uri Caine and iconoclastic bandleader Carla Bley.
Alyn Shipton presents jazz programmes for BBC Radio and is a jazz critic for The Times in London. His interviews with pianists have appeared in several publications including Jazzwise, The Guardian, The Times and Piano Magazine.