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The Fifty Greatest Jazz Piano Players of All Time by Gene Rizzo

Jelly Roll Morton

What’s a more noxious thought: A ranking of the 50 greatest jazz piano players of all time, or a ranking that puts Monty Alexander at No. 5 and Jelly Roll Morton at 43? Add a single-page addendum titled “The Next Twenty,” which finds room for such “also-rans” as Bill Charlap and Barry Harris, and a separate “Top Ten Women” pianists list and you have one thoroughly dumb book conception.

But if you look past the pop culture sensibility of The Fifty Greatest Jazz Piano Players of All Time you might uncover some concise and reasonably thoughtful musical analysis by pianist and academician Gene Rizzo. If Rizzo overlooks some obvious choices (say Fred Hersch, Mal Waldron and Martial Solal, not to mention Cecil Taylor and all nonmainstream pianists), and his taste is off-the-wall at times (Benny Green and Andre Previn share space in the top 10 here; Keith Jarrett pulls in dead last). But his general feel for the worthies is on the money, and his equal appreciation for the subtleties of Jimmy Rowles as well as the funky grit of Bobby Timmons certainly wins him points. In the future, Rizzo deserves to be let loose on his keyboard heroes free of reprehensible narrative structures.

Originally Published