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Topic: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?  (Read 16189 times)

Offline wildman

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I've recently been developing an ear for traditional jazz music, and am particularly excited with the exciting performances of artists like Oscar Peterson and Fats Waller.

I always enjoy hearing the immensity of recordings such as Fats Waller's "handful of keys" or Art Tatum's Tiger Rag. So, I was wondering, were these actually the most extreme pieces ever played (in terms of technical demand and creativity)?

When I think of "hardest jazz piano piece" these two always come to mind;





I was absolutely stunned by the amazing musicianship they showed playing these! It would require a literally massive room for imagination and transition to create something this fast!

Ideas?

Offline presto agitato

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #1 on: June 21, 2011, 06:32:10 AM
I was wondering, were these actually the most extreme pieces ever played (in terms of technical demand and creativity)?

Keith Jarrett is the pianist you are looking for.
He has recorded several major piano works by Bach and Mozart and he won the polar music prize.
Many experts suggest that he is the greatest piano improvisator of our days.



The masterpiece tell the performer what to do, and not the performer telling the piece what it should be like, or the cocomposer what he ought to have composed.

--Alfred Brendel--

Offline ahinton

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #2 on: June 21, 2011, 07:54:48 AM
I've recently been developing an ear for traditional jazz music, and am particularly excited with the exciting performances of artists like Oscar Peterson and Fats Waller.

I always enjoy hearing the immensity of recordings such as Fats Waller's "handful of keys" or Art Tatum's Tiger Rag. So, I was wondering, were these actually the most extreme pieces ever played (in terms of technical demand and creativity)?

When I think of "hardest jazz piano piece" these two always come to mind;





I was absolutely stunned by the amazing musicianship they showed playing these! It would require a literally massive room for imagination and transition to create something this fast!

Ideas?
Peterson - though heavily influenced by Tatum (as he himself often acknowledged) - was, to me, the master of them all and certainly the one whom I would most have relished the opportunity of hearing in performances of the music of Liszt and Alkan in particular - and just imagine Chopin Op. 10 in his hands! (I believe that he did actually play at least some of them but not in public). I recall some very admiring comments about him from John Ogdon on the occasion when John was about to recommence sessions recording Sorabji's Opus Clavicembalisticum on a Bösendorfer 290 which had just been played by Oscar...

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline franz_

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #3 on: June 21, 2011, 01:59:10 PM
I agree with Alistair. To me Oscar Peterson is the most impressive in all ways, musiacly and technicaly speaking. Just beyond words.
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Offline mousekowski

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #4 on: June 22, 2011, 12:11:39 AM
What about Jelly Roll Morton? There's a good collection of transcriptions by James Dapogny (prepared in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution) and they're certainly hard to play! They sound amazing when played up to speed and with conviction!
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Offline wildman

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #5 on: June 25, 2011, 08:05:56 AM
Peterson - though heavily influenced by Tatum (as he himself often acknowledged) - was, to me, the master of them all and certainly the one whom I would most have relished the opportunity of hearing in performances of the music of Liszt and Alkan in particular - and just imagine Chopin Op. 10 in his hands! (I believe that he did actually play at least some of them but not in public). I recall some very admiring comments about him from John Ogdon on the occasion when John was about to recommence sessions recording Sorabji's Opus Clavicembalisticum on a Bösendorfer 290 which had just been played by Oscar...

Best,

Alistair

Out of curiosity, can his performances be ranked among the hardest pieces in Western classical music (e.g. Rach 3/Islamey)?

Offline ahinton

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #6 on: June 25, 2011, 08:12:32 AM
Out of curiosity, can his performances be ranked among the hardest pieces in Western classical music (e.g. Rach 3)?
Why - and, fo that matter, how - would you seek to do this? - i.e. how would you try to compare the performance of a written-out piece with an improvisation?

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline wildman

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #7 on: June 25, 2011, 08:31:21 AM
Nothing, just curious.

Though whatever the answer may be, I bet they must have the same musical complexities - Oscar was definitely the "Rachmaninoff of Jazz".

Offline ahinton

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #8 on: June 25, 2011, 09:42:05 AM
Nothing, just curious.

Though whatever the answer may be, I bet they must have the same musical complexities - Oscar was definitely the "Rachmaninoff of Jazz".
Many of the musical complexities are quite different, actually - indeed arguably more so than the playing complexities, perhaps; OP the "Rachmaninov of jazz"? - hmmm, an interesting notion and one that might well have interested SVR himself had he lived to hear him (as he did hear Tatum)...

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline djealnla

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #9 on: June 25, 2011, 06:55:42 PM
Glenn Gould once described Bill Evans as the "Scriabin of jazz". Now that's an interesting analogy. ;)

Offline sordel

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #10 on: June 25, 2011, 07:43:38 PM
Still no answer to the original question, I note.

One of the side questions that interests me about this is whether we are looking for the "hardest jazz piece" for a jazz pianist or the "hardest jazz piece" for a pianist in the academic tradition. Since notation is generally regarded as quite bad at transcribing subtleties of rhythm, I wonder whether it wouldn't be the phrasing, rather than getting the fingers to the keys, that proved the real obstacle for most non-Jazz pianists.

Peterson used a lot of fast ornamentation, which is one reason why he impresses classical devotees, but he also had an unusually analytical awareness of syncopation, being able to imitate the precise timing mannerisms of his predecessors.
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Offline chopinlover01

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #11 on: June 08, 2017, 04:47:39 PM
I'm going to revive this thread, because this forum needs a lot more jazz than it has.

I'm throwing in my 2 cents for Coltrane's Giant Steps, which has effectively become a rite of passage for all improvisers.

Other good ones: Cherokee, Bud Powell's rendition (though Clifford Brown blows one hell of a trumpet solo).

It's also important to know the difference between difficulty and speed. Just as it's more difficult to interpret some late Beethoven stuff well, even if it's at a relatively slower speed than Chopin 10/1, playing a truly meaningful solo is hard to do over any tune (especially standards; it sounds odd, but you don't have interesting changes to aid your solo in sounding good, so you have to come up with melodic lines over fairly normal changes). In addition, being able to do this over all kinds of different styles, like an Afro-Cuban tune, for example is a truly difficult feat. This is why, for me, jazz is infinitely harder than classical.

For references to truly melodic solos, check out Lee Morgan blowing over a Coltrane blues on Locomotion:



(Morgan's solo starts about 3 and a half minutes in.)

Offline georgey

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #12 on: June 14, 2017, 01:02:30 AM
I'm going to revive this thread, because this forum needs a lot more jazz than it has.

I'm throwing in my 2 cents for Coltrane's Giant Steps, which has effectively become a rite of passage for all improvisers.

Other good ones: Cherokee, Bud Powell's rendition (though Clifford Brown blows one hell of a trumpet solo).

It's also important to know the difference between difficulty and speed. Just as it's more difficult to interpret some late Beethoven stuff well, even if it's at a relatively slower speed than Chopin 10/1, playing a truly meaningful solo is hard to do over any tune (especially standards; it sounds odd, but you don't have interesting changes to aid your solo in sounding good, so you have to come up with melodic lines over fairly normal changes). In addition, being able to do this over all kinds of different styles, like an Afro-Cuban tune, for example is a truly difficult feat. This is why, for me, jazz is infinitely harder than classical.

For references to truly melodic solos, check out Lee Morgan blowing over a Coltrane blues on Locomotion:



(Morgan's solo starts about 3 and a half minutes in.)

Thanks for reviving this thread!  I absolutely love Tatum's Tiger Tag!  It brings a smile to me every time I hear it.  I couldn't remember the name of the piece until I saw it here.  The 1932 version here is the one I like the best.  The 1935 sounds great also.


Offline chopinlover01

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #13 on: June 14, 2017, 03:55:22 AM
Tatum is brilliant, as always. Oscar is also a giant, of course; he incorporated all the modern harmony into a swing/blues musical standpoint, often using the bebop/post-bop technique of playing "outside" the changes when playing double time blues lines (see the Boogie Blues Etude). Just an incredible player.

That said, I feel like classical people sometimes get trapped in the Tatum/Peterson bubble, as brilliant as they were. Have you listened to any bebop players like Bud Powell, Barry Harris? Hank Jones, maybe? Also, Tommy Flanagan (my personal hero and an incredibly underrated player). Post-bop is a huge field too; if you haven't listened to Bill Evans, that's your homework ;D

Offline j_tour

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #14 on: June 14, 2017, 05:16:31 PM
if you haven't listened to Bill Evans, that's your homework ;D

And if you haven't transcribed his "Easy Living" from his first album and uploaded it as a note-perfect transcription, you're lazy.  :)

This is not anything others above haven't noted, but there's different ideas of "difficult."  Tatum and Waller were the best at up-tempo stride LH technique.  Anything in bebop and post-bop is equally hard -- it all assumes immaculate work in scales, and ideally in octaves, but the harmonization and originality skills required are difficult to quantify. 

It's not "harder" to play over a Wayne Shorter or Joe Henderson tune in terms of notes per minute, but it can require a better ear.
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Offline chopinlover01

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #15 on: June 14, 2017, 07:18:04 PM
And if you haven't transcribed his "Easy Living" from his first album and uploaded it as a note-perfect transcription, you're lazy.  :)

This is not anything others above haven't noted, but there's different ideas of "difficult."  Tatum and Waller were the best at up-tempo stride LH technique.  Anything in bebop and post-bop is equally hard -- it all assumes immaculate work in scales, and ideally in octaves, but the harmonization and originality skills required are difficult to quantify. 

It's not "harder" to play over a Wayne Shorter or Joe Henderson tune in terms of notes per minute, but it can require a better ear.

Honestly, Bill doesn't really do it for me; I like his sound and absolute control over his instrument, but his sense of melody and time don't appeal to me.

Offline j_tour

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #16 on: June 14, 2017, 08:07:33 PM
Honestly, Bill doesn't really do it for me; I like his sound and absolute control over his instrument, but his sense of melody and time don't appeal to me.

Fair enough -- I don't identify with his melodic lines (I prefer angular straight bebop things wit lots of inner voices built on shells, a la Elmo Hope), but I still study Bill, just for inspiration.

I don't know, but I always find something he did worthwhile to put in my bag.  I don't have a link, but his last recording of his tune "Nardis" still inspires me -- lines in thirds, Debussy chords, etc.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline cuberdrift

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #17 on: July 29, 2017, 01:47:34 PM
Okay...does anyone here maybe have the OTHER Cziffra jazz recordings? Someone mentioned in another thread that he recorded "Blue Skies", "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" or something. But I know only of Tea for Two, Sophisticated Lady, and a Hungarian/gypsy-sounding tune in YouTube.

I don't know that many pianists, both jazz and classical, but aside from Matsuev (oh yeah and maybe Gulda too, I suppose), as far as Level 8, 9, or 10 classical pianists that can improvise jazz go, I only know of Cziffra.

As for the "what's the hardest jazz piece", I'm thinking that this means...what is the hardest to re-produce as a classical interpretation. Tatum's Tiger Rag, his wonderful rendition of Elegie, has been notated, for instance. A certain Steven Mayer is the only classical pianist I know of who has recorded an entire set of Tatum arrangements.

Offline j_tour

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #18 on: August 06, 2017, 10:42:39 PM
What about Jelly Roll Morton? There's a good collection of transcriptions by James Dapogny (prepared in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution) and they're certainly hard to play! They sound amazing when played up to speed and with conviction!

Thank you for saying that.  Obviously Tatum was a harmonic innovator, and an astounding technician, but Jelly Roll had plenty of technique as well, in addition to being a little more in keeping with the tradition of "keep up or shut up" in collaborative music.

I have the Hal Leonard transcriptions, as well as a bunch of others from another big book that was around since I was a kid, but if you listen to the LoC records and his records, and, better yet, you learn "Tiger Rag" off stuff you can find from records and/or YouTube, you'll see he was kind of the right guy at the right place.

Yeah, these days people can learn the show pieces from the transcription and off the record, just as people did back in the day with their turntables, but that's only a beginning point and to give you some ideas. 

Combine written parts/arrangements with improv and you have the idea in nuce of early jazz. 
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline j_tour

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Re: Hardest Jazz piano piece/improvisation ever performed?
Reply #19 on: August 07, 2017, 04:41:19 AM
Oh, not to add more content to this wonderful thread, but I happened to be recalling somewhere else someone who had the Oscar Peterson facility, but happened to have been doing American music, what with him having grown up in the culture.



And, for a bonus, an excellent LH study which I found it worthwhile to transcribe, although difficult to notate:



In case your ears aren't so good, that's rhythm in Bb and blues in F. 

Good practice for a kid:  try to play in RH play Newborn does in his left.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.
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