The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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Like the blind student who develops an uncannily keen sense of hearing, the piano throughout jazz history has compensated for its failures and absences in certain areas by showing amazing strength in others. Because of its immobility, it was absent from the early ragtime crews that played in street parades and rode on advertising wagons; but because a house is not a home with­out a piano, it was the first instrument available, the first studied and mastered for jazz, in thousands of houses (many of which were also not homes). New Orleans* Story ville bagnios, the honky tonks of Sedalia and Washington and Brooklyn, relied on their "professor" to keep up a rolling, tumultuous background of rags, stomps and blues while the customers were entertained —upstairs or down.
Again, while the piano is incapable of the glissandi, "smears" and tonal distortions that lent jazz its original vocal and local color, it compensates by providing the soloist with the outlet for triply rich expression in the fields of melody, rhythm and harmony, while all the horns, capable of but one note at a time, are limited to the first two of these.
Curiously, the piano's history has been retrogressive in this respect, for during the past decade there has been a growing tendency to treat the keyboard as if it were a horn; many solo­ists have played a single-note horizontal line with the right hand and have limited the left hand almost entirely to occasional rhythmic punctuations. A counterrevolutionary movement, though, has been observed in the work of Enroll Garner and others, who seem conscious of the fact that God and the keyboard have con-