Home » Jazz Articles » Building a Jazz Library » Piano Trio


Piano Trio


Sign in to view read count
When one talks about "jazz piano music," it is almost taken for granted they are talking about jazz piano trio music. The trio is and has been most jazz pianists' favorite format, and with good reason: the jazz piano trio has been said at times to represent the essence of jazz in the most condensed yet effective way possible.

A piano trio takes full advantage of swing, interaction, and dynamics. There have certainly been outstanding jazz piano trios throughout jazz history, each with its own signature sound: There is the majestic swing of the Oscar Peterson trio, the classy bop of Hank Jones and his trio, the great independence within the Bill Evans trio, and so on. Each great jazz piano trio has brought something slightly different into the fold.

As a general rule of thumb, it would seem that since 1960 piano trios have become more interactive and democratic. Formerly, in the heyday of both swing and bop, the piano assumed a very dominant role where, it would have been fair to say, it was less a trio in the ideal sense of three equal parts, than it was piano PLUS bass and drums. The Bill Evans trio was critical towards pushing the envelope for a more democratic piano trio; now we can look to fine piano trios like those of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau as their continued legacy. There will always be room for more straight-ahead swinging piano trios, where bass and drums play roles more defined as timekeeping and support for the pianist, but the arc points towards greater and greater interaction.

Ahmad Jamal Trio: Cross-Country Tour

This two CD set captures one of the all-time great jazz piano trios, Jamal with Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier, in a variety of live club settings, and includes the legendary Pershing date.

Wynton Kelly: Someday My Prince Will Come

Kelly was renown for his incredibly graceful swing and sensitive touch, here in ample display on this fine trio side. Available in a newly remastered edition.

Bill Evans Trio: Sunday at The Village Vanguard

The magical trio comprised of Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian plays before an audience seemingly indifferent to the music; pay them no mind, there is plenty for the attentive listener to appreciate in this refined, nuanced statement equally delivered by three parts.

Newborn / Chambers / Haynes: We Three

A fantastic "power" trio that nonetheless plays with understated refinement throughout. All of Newborn's trio sides are worthwhile, but this is a collective triumph.

Oscar Peterson Trio: The Trio

Bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen here provide Oscar with a majestic cushion to roll over in this mighty call to arms of The Trio.

Hank Jones: The Trio

Similarly, one would be wise to heed the call of any Hank Jones record titled The Trio; this is eminently satisfying boppish piano jazz by one of the most undersung piano masters.

Hampton Hawes: This is Hampton Hawes: Volume 2, The Trio

Though primarily influenced by Bud Powell, Hawes transcended the status of pure bop pianist with records that were paragons of jazz piano excellence.

McCoy Tyner: Inception

McCoy sounds uncommonly melodic with Art Davis and Elvin Jones, with every tune bearing a certain romanticism in addition to the general swing-iness.

Chick Corea: Now He Sings, Now He Sobs

A brilliant conceptual piano trio record that has been studied by countless pianists, this was one of Chick's true moments of genius. "Windows" and "Matrix" have become jazz classics.

Keith Jarrett Trio: Standards Live

Start here: A live date presciently played by easily the most influential piano trio of recent years. Conceptually indebted to the Bill Evans trio, but undoubtedly its own creature as well.

Ahmad Jamal: Chicago Revisited: Live at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase

Not to over-represent Mr. Jamal, but this set stands on its own terms as a great trio record. Jamal, who seems to makes the most of every trio situation, is shown by turns to be sophisticated, exuberant, and witty.

Lyle Mays: Fictionary

This is no fiction; a good-natured essay, perhaps, on the complex interplay and dialogue that may be achieved within the modern jazz piano trio. An odyssey of sound by three parts.

Cedar Walton Trio: Ironclad

No jazz piano trio collection is complete without an entry from the fine Cedar Walton, here live at Yoshi's with his stalwart trio of David Williams on bass and the late, great Billy Higgins on drums.

Kenny Barron: Live at Bradley's

Simply stellar mainstream piano trio music, played at the legendary venue where piano trios often ruled the roost and the stakes were high for a piano trio to deliver. Barron, Drummond and Riley show they just don't mess around—check "Alter Ego."

Marilyn Crispell: Amaryllis

A beautiful, crystalline record that shows in equal doses the empathetic potential of a piano trio and its potential to create art. Those wishing to pursue the logic of Bill Evans' trios to the extreme should start with the interactive trios of Crispell and Bley.



For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.


Jazz article: Charles Lloyd: Defiant Warrior Still On Song
Jazz article: The Keith Jarrett Trio: Ten Essential Recordings
Jazz article: Louis Stewart's Out On His Own: A Landmark Solo Guitar Recording
Jazz article: Jaimie Branch: 7 Steps To Heaven
Building a Jazz Library
Jaimie Branch: 7 Steps To Heaven


Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.