"Who Do You Listen To?"

So many people are always asking me, “what jazz artists do you have on your iTunes and who do you recommend that I can dance to for improvisation?” This question screams for a MUSICALITY MONDAY blog post on the subject. Today I am going to dive into 6 jazz pianists that all tap dancers should have a selection of on their iTunes and you should be listening for on a regular basis. These by no means are the only musicians but they are my recommendations to get you started in listening to jazz piano, ENJOY!


Art Tatum (1909-1956)

I would venture to use the analogy that Art Tatum is the Michael Jordan of jazz piano, widely considered to be an innovator in many areas that reverberate in music even to this day. His phenomenal technique coupled with his harmonic intuition provided for a virtuosic style that to this day has rarely been matched. Using stride techniques and classical training Tatum lead a generation of musicians that focused on improvisation and dovetailed into the Bebop era and after. Oscar Peterson (also on this list) said of Art Tatum, “"If you speak of pianists, the most complete pianist that we have known and possibly will know, from what I've heard to date, is Art Tatum.”

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Art Tatum: Tea For Two, Sweet Lorraine, and Tiger Rag


Nat King Cole (1919-1965)

Often regarded as one of the greatest vocalists of all time, Nat King Cole is also one of jazz’s great piano players. Known for simple yet elegant phrasing and an impeccable sense of time Cole’s standards are among my favorites to just purely sit and listen too. Oscar Peterson said of Cole’s playing, “he just didn’t know what to play he knew what to leave out.” There is something to think about! Just recently purchase 100 songs of Nat King Coles in the iTunes store for only $40, an amazing deal and even more amazing music! 

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Nat Cole: Blues in My Shower, Straighten Up and Fly Right, and Easy Listening Blues

Oscar Peterson gives a piano lesson!

*Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)

Recently speaking to a friend of mine in Texas whose Dad is a musician and composer said, “There is something about tap dancers and Oscar Peterson, they just love him!” How true a statement there is. Oscar’s phrasing, his technique, and his spirit all scream for a tap dancer to please tap dance to his music. I personally advise all of my students who want to learn about how to choreograph a phrase melodically to listen to Oscar. “"Technique is something you use to make your ideas listenable", he once told jazz writer Len Lyons. "You learn to play the instrument so you have a musical vocabulary, and you practice to get your technique to the point you need to express yourself, depending on how heavy your ideas are.” 

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Oscar Peterson: Maria, Hymn To Freedom, and Tenderly

Anthony and Ayodele dance to Oscar!

Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Dave Brubeck isn’t personally one of my favorite players in jazz but his contributions in mixed meter playing are not to be discounted. Mike Minery told me when I was 16 years old that if I wanted to learn about other time signatures outside of 4/4 to purchase Brubeck’s album Time Out. This is a must for all tap dance students because it will be the most friendly way of learning about other time signatures outside common time. I have personally choreographed almost all of the tunes on the Time Out album and I count all of those experiences as valuable when I am on stage or at work in the studio. 

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Dave Brubeck: Take Five, Unsquare Dance, and Far More Blues

Dave Brubeck plays the standard Take Five!

Bill Evans (1929-1980)

Tap dancer Jason Janas recently got me into Bill Evans, I wasn’t always super connected to his playing. In fact as I write this I am reminded that I bought him an Evans’ vinyl LP as a present for getting me into him! Bill Evans harmonic invention is a contribution to jazz playing that is still inspired by today’s players. Do yourself a favor, before you dance to his music make sure that you really take the time to LISTEN to him, and in fact you should do that with all of these players on this list if you are unfamiliar with their work. Get used to their voice, how they shape a tune, and use their considerable skill to communicate!

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Bill Evans: Just by the album Portraits in Jazz and by done with it!

Herbie Hancock (1940-Present)

Herbie Hancock is one of the first jazz piano players to introduce synthesizers and electric instruments into his playing. For me his tune Chameleon is always a favorite to improvise and work out new ideas. It is a long tune, but the vamp and the groove is consistent to give you the work on your ideas. In 2013, Hancock was awarded at the Kennedy Center for achievements in the performing arts.

Anthony’s Recommended Tunes By Herbie Hancock: Cantaloupe Island, the entire Maiden Voyage album, and Chameleon. 

As I make this list of amazing jazz piano players I am reminded of so many other amazing players. Here is Part 1 of many to come! Hope this list will expand your jazz piano horizons, HAPPY MONDAY!

*One of our OPTAP PREMIUM classes features Oscar Peterson and Milt Jackson in a delicious blues, sign up today for the free trial to dance with me to this spectacular music! operationtap.com/optap-premium