Who are the best keyboard players and best piano players of all time? – We pick five to be the King of Keys…
There are endless debates over the greatest guitarist of all time, but somewhat remarkably, debates about the best piano players or greatest keyboard players are rather thinner on the ground.
Maybe it’s because those who sit at a keyboard instrument are a more civilised bunch- who knows… 😉 The fact of the matter is that keyboard players were shaping music long before anyone played a widdly solo on a guitar.
In celebration, here are five of our all time heroes of the keys…
Could there be a list of greatest pianists that didn’t include Oscar Peterson? The Canadian jazz legend is widely considered to be the greatest ever. You only need to take a cursory listen to one of his many, many recordings to hear why.
His unique style of blues-fuelled, boogie-jazz was underpinned by technical virtuosity that was staggering. And yet, despite this, his music was incredibly soulful. A big man with lightening hands, he could make a piano swing like it was dangling from the end of his finger.
Over the course of his career, he played with many legends- Joe Pass is one of them There are videos that exist with Peterson and Pass playing together, during which you’ll see Joe Pass grinning and shaking his head in disbelief at Peterson’s chops. I think that says it all…
The Doors keys man was not only responsible for writing much of the band’s music, and providing arguably its defining musical element (the organ), but he popularised the organ as an instrument for modern pop and rock.
Think of a contemporary band that incorporate an organ into their sound, and you’ll almost certainly hear echoes of Manzarek’s playing.
Famously, on many Doors tracks, Manzarek played the bass part, whilst negotiating the rest of an organ part that was intense and complex (they didn’t have a bass player).
Sadly, Ray passed away recently. A sad loss to the music world, and a without doubt one of the greatest keyboard players ever.
The compositions created by Russian-born pianist, composer and conductor, Sergei Rachmaninoff have a reputation for terrifying technicality. His third concerto is even said to have pushed many players into madness.
The problem was that there were (and arguably still are) very few piano players who were his match. His hands were reputed to have been huge, which no doubt helped with his extraordinarily clean technique, even at blistering pace. This was backed with incredible musicality, too.
With compositions that still strike fear into the heart of many, Rachmaninoff is undoubtedly one of the best piano players ever.
Organ and keys virtuoso has a list of credits that is staggering- Little Richard, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and he is the only musician to get a joint credit from The Beatles for his work on ‘Get Back’.
The Texas born player was schooled in the Gospel styles performed at his family’s church, and had established himself as a child prodigy by the time he was ten. By sixteen he was playing with Little Richard.
Across the course of his career, he contributed to the work of the Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and countless others.
One of the world’s greatest keyboard players, whose talents touch an incredibly range of music.
Though, perhaps, he better known for his incredible song writing, Stevie Wonder’s skill at the keyboard was the foundation of everything he did musically.
Having spent his formative years with the record label dictating his output, when he renegotiated his contract he gained his musical freedom, and developed a style that was both rooted in the technical discipline of jazz, and had the broad appeal of soul and pop.
His rhythmic and musical intuition were extraordinary, adding the kind of unique feel that could not be played by anyone else.
Feeling inspired to pick up the keys, and join the list of best piano players ever? Take a look at our online store, and get started…
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.