Top 10 Jazz Piano-Drum Pairs

Note: stay tuned over the coming months each of these “plain” lists is replaced with a full blog post with commentary on the items on the list (and, in some cases, the items that didn’t make the cut).

  1. McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones
  2. Cedar Walton and Billy Higgins
  3. Horace Silver and Art Blakey
  4. Count Basie and Papa Jo Jones
  5. Kenny Barron and Ben Riley
  6. Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams
  7. Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones
  8. Kenny Kirkland and Jeff “Tain” Watts
  9. Thelonious Monk and Shadow Wilson
  10. Don Pullen and Dannie Richmond

3 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Bob West

     /  August 5, 2013

    Noah, I’ve been browsing through your website pretty near all morning (yes, I’ve read your blog entry about shaming oneself to get work done) and have been having a grand time. It started with Googling top jazz pianists and eventually led to you. It is wonderful to have an accomplished musician sharing all these preferences and insights.

    As much as I love the George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet and both Pullen and Adams separately, if you’re going to cite Pullen for his play with a drummer, you’d do well to hear his Random Thoughts album with Lewis Nash on drums. The opening tune, Andre’s Ups and Downs is in 11/8 time and the interplay between Pullen and Nash (James Genus plays bass and no disrespect is intended in focusing on piano and drums) in the opening is one of the most electrifying piano-drums combinations I have ever heard. Don opens with a phrase along and around which Lewis’s strong drumming is like a cage. It repeats with slight variations seven times during which great tension builds until Don goes skittering off with his trademark hornlike runs; it is as if an agitated horse has escaped the corral. This theme is repeated four times more through the tune, once in deconstructed fashion. In its final statement, the two bring the volume down and it is as if Lewis has caught Pullen and returned him to the corral. I think a pianist has never required so much of a drummer and Lewis Nash was thoroughly up to the task. To my ear, it is the best of many examples of stunning interplay between the two on what is at the top of the list of my desert-island cds.

    Only incidentally, because you are a pianist, if you have never heard Pullen’s African-Brazilian Connection Live Again cd, the penultimate recording of his career, I would recommend it for, among its other virtues, his and Carlos Ward’s playing on Aseeko. Both of them perform wonderful solos and then Pullen, bringing it all back in, plays inside and out, like a kid running along the top of a picket fence at perilously high speed, leaving the listener to wonder whether he will fall and, if so, to which side. The studio version simply doesn’t compare because, of course, it lacks the risk-taking of this live version.

    I thoroughly enjoy your site and appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge.

    Kind regards,
    Bob West

  2. anonymous

     /  March 20, 2015

    11. Cedar Walton and Louis Hayes.
    12. Horace Silver and Louis Hayes.
    13. Tommy Flanagan and Lewis Nash (13 years!).

  3. Greg W

     /  August 10, 2016

    Hi, Noah! The old Indiana drummer/ Jazz piano student here. Wish you could hear a recording or better yet a video of a live club set I heard of the Charles Mingus Quintet when they performed in Champaign-Urbana Illinois ca. 1975 during my “College Daze” :) ! Band included Jack Walrath (Yeah!), George Coleman (Who also sang some Blues), and Pullen and Dannie “Richman”. Talk about life-changing experiences! LP’s “Changes 1 & 2″ had been out long enough to be familiar and MAN! was it beyond expectations to experience this explosive band from a distance of about ten feet! Something that I was blessed to enjoy and will never forget! Your fan and student, Greg Walroth PS Thanks again for your fantastic books and musical wisdom and insights!

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