Piano, bass, and drums make up a basic unit, an essential building block of jazz. In this classic three-piece format, there’s both no place to hide and no limit on the imagination. And when a piano trio is performing at its best—as is the case on the 10 recordings listed below—nothing is better.
For this JazzTimes 10, the albums aren’t ranked but placed in chronological order of recording. You may wonder why, say, Bud Powell or Oscar Peterson or Tommy Flanagan or McCoy Tyner or Chick Corea or Kenny Barron or Dave Burrell or [INSERT NAME HERE] isn’t included—and you’d be justified in doing so. The fact is there are simply way too many spectacular piano trios to fit into one list of 10. Maybe we’ll have to do a sequel. (We can hardly wait.) But in the meantime, feast on these.
Hank Jones: Complete Original Trio Recordings (Phoenix Jazz, 2011; recorded between 1953 and 1961)
Acquiring this collection is currently the easiest way to get all the tracks that first appeared on Jones’ 1956 Savoy album The Jazz Trio of Hank Jones, a pinnacle of the genre, featuring bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Kenny Clarke. Jones is at his urbane best on ballads like “We Could Make Such Beautiful Music Together”—clearly an influence on Bill Evans (of whom more later)—and also swings mightily on his own “Odd Number.” The other cuts here feature such non-slouches as Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, Art Davis, Max Roach, Jones’ brother Elvin, Ed Thigpen, and guitarist Johnny Smith (Jones being an early adopter of the piano/guitar/bass trio format as well).