As part of my ongoing education on New Orleans music, I’ve been reading about the use of the piano in New Orleans music. (Please note: I’m not a real musician but I operate a CD player at home)
While the piano wasn’t invented in New Orleans, several styles of piano playing are derived from the city’s musicians. So much so that “one can easily claim the piano as the prime choice of innovators in New Orleans music,” according to an article by Tom McDermott who innovates on the piano on a daily basis in New Orleans.
This versatile instrument combines melody and rhythm and makes it possible for every parlor or living room to become a concert hall.
As Jon Cleary, another fine keyboard purveyor of New Orleans music, said, the piano is “a hip little tool because it allows you to reproduce all the elements of what a band would do.”
What Jelly Roll Morton and others that followed did was translate the sounds of the New Orleans street bands to a piano, delivering their own interpretation to the customers of night clubs and sporting clubs and ultimately to a global audience.
The piano is so important to New Orleans music that a premiere annual event is Piano Night held around the time of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The host of this event, WWOZ, has created a compendium of videos that explore that New Orleans piano tradition.
Here’s Jon Cleary providing a quick run down of the various piano playing styles.
My goal is to focus on New Orleans piano players from time to time. Next week’s article will feature the amazing, but often overlooked, James Booker. (I have since added: Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, Jon Cleary, and Isidore Tuts Washington). For my next show though, I’ll offer a wide range of New Orleans piano players.