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#1133952 - 03/03/08 09:55 PM Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
FlipSpiceland Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/29/07
Posts: 24
Loc: Melbourne, FL
So I've been playing piano about 3 or 4 months now. My teacher has decided to take me down the non-classical path of blues and jazz, which is awesome, because honestly, I'm not a huge fan of classical music (although I do like Chopin). I also really like jazz fusion, so it's right up my alley. But...

When I started thinking about it, it seemed like all the best jazz pianists were classically trained from the beginning. I've had this looming feeling from the beginning that if I don't learn classical music, I will reach a plateau upon which it will be very hard to progress.

So what do you guys think? Who's the best jazz pianist who was not classically trained? Is there any hope for the people that take the 'exclusively jazz' route?

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#1133953 - 03/03/08 10:31 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
jazzwee Offline
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Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 7099
Loc: So. California
I'm learning jazz. I was never taught classical music. Although now I can play it. I don't think I lost a beat. There's so much to learn in jazz that if you're not into classical, why not use that time on something more important to your needs?

My teacher, who's a jazz master, may have been brought up on classical as a kid but I don't think he's spent that much time with it either. So if it's no major loss to him, I can't imagine it affecting me much.
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#1133954 - 03/03/08 10:33 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
LiszThalberg Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/13/06
Posts: 3288
Art Tatum...

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#1133955 - 03/04/08 01:23 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
Mr_Kitty Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/07
Posts: 667
Loc: Toronto
Forgive my ignorance, as I know nothing of jazz.

Haven't most of the great jazz pianists been brought up on jazz?

I know Herbie was a child prodigy in the classical genre and he probably has a good deal of company but aren't there many jazz pianists who have never played classical in their lives?

As for your plateau I really cannot offer an informed opinion on that. The only informed opinion that I CAN offer is that if you really want to learn to play, then the style of music you choose to study really shouldn't hold you back. Unless it's New Age.

You can develop a flawless technique without ever playing classical music. You just need a teacher who knows his stuff. And you can't mess around. Of course there's hope.... lol

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#1133956 - 03/04/08 03:52 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
ktom Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/07/07
Posts: 212
Loc: Somerset UK
Erroll Garner - never even learned to read music:-) I think there is a thread somewhere covering a very similar topic...
kt
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#1133957 - 03/04/08 04:39 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
Innominato Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/08
Posts: 802
Loc: London
As far as I know, jazz started developing seriously in New Orleans, mainly in the brothels and the "speakeasies" of the prohibitionism era.

I think that a fair amount of those early players not only did not know the staves, some of them must not have known the alphabet at all.

People like Louis Armstrong learned music by following funerals as little children, spending time around the greatest jazz players who were around in New Orleans at the time, growing in the middle of the music of a city in love with it.

I do not think that "classical education" has ever been a concern there. And great, great musicians came out of those brothels and speakeasies, so I would not be overly concerned about that...
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#1133958 - 03/04/08 08:38 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
monkmonk Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/08/07
Posts: 84
Loc: Osaka, Japan
Classical and jazz share the same 12 notes it's just the phrasing and intention behind the music that creates the difference. You have to follow your own path.

Maybe starting off ignoring classical is the way for you, but I think you will find that beautiful sounds are in the most unlikely places including classical, rock, West African Classical Music, Indian Classical music, Turkish Classical music etc... and you should follow what hits home, not what someone tells you to do.

Art Tatum was classically trained, he learned by reading braille or so the legend goes.

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#1133959 - 03/04/08 10:18 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
wavelength Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 340
Loc: Vermont, USA
Thelonious Monk. Wynton Kelly. Red Garland. Bud Powell.

In the 60's you started finding cats from conservatory, but before that it was the exception rather than the rule. I can't guarantee that none of those cats every had traditional piano lessons, but they weren't "classically trained" in the graduate-from-conservatory-become-a-concert-pianist sense.

The music is definitely more complex than it was in its early days in New Orleans, and bears serious study and practice. And jazz educators are pretty good at teaching the stuff these days (while classical teachers are not).

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#1133960 - 03/04/08 01:10 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
FlipSpiceland Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/29/07
Posts: 24
Loc: Melbourne, FL
Thanks for the responses. I've always found the 'golden age' of jazz an interesting time. Many players just learned to play by ear, which seems to be an interesting path, at least to me. Without learning any of the theory behind jazz, it's like you'd have to create your own system of thought, which, can be a very good thing.

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#1133961 - 04/05/08 06:35 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
MDes Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/03/05
Posts: 30
Loc: Vancouver, BC
I don't think it's necessarily because they were taught classical music, but instead because of the way that classical music is taught. Often, in classical teaching a lot more attention is paid to how to physically utilize the arms and body, phrasing, relaxation, etc. Jazz instruction tends to focus more not on how to play but what to play, probably since you don't have the exact notes in front of you like you do in classical music. Of course, if you simply pay attention to everything while learning jazz, I don't see how it would be any different.

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#1133962 - 04/05/08 06:55 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
CC2 and Chopin lover Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/06
Posts: 1981
Listen to Chick Corea play and you might change your mind about the value having a classical background has when playing jazz. The man can, and does, do ANYTHING, on the piano.....and does it better than just about anyone else.
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#1133963 - 04/05/08 09:06 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
jazzyprof Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/04
Posts: 2642
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI
It is true that the jazz pianists of the bebop era were not "conservatory trained" but many did have some traditional classical lessons in their youth. Take Bud Powell for instance...
Bud-on-Bach

I don't think there's anything wrong with the exclusively jazz route if the emphasis is on musicianship. I find that good jazz musicians are able to do things that the average classical pianist can't do very well. They can play any chord and its extensions and inversions as well as any chord progression without having to refer to the music. They can transpose on the fly. And, most importantly, they can improvise.

In my case I turned to classical piano because I sucked at jazz. I found it difficult to sound good. Then I read Oscar Peterson's autobiography in which he talked about studying Bach's Inventions and Chopin etudes, as well as Czerny and Hanon and how it all helped his technique. That turned me on to playing Bach and Chopin because I thought it would help me with jazz. And now that's all I play!
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#1133964 - 04/06/08 12:11 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
Elssa Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/15/05
Posts: 1580
Loc: NY
I would suggest to learn to read music (staffs) and chord symbols (from fake books, etc.), but also definitely learn to play by ear at some point. When you are able to play by ear, you can play any type of music, classical, pop, jazz, etc, including melody and chords. \:\)

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#1133965 - 04/06/08 02:51 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21806
Loc: Oakland
Just because pianists never studied at a conservatory does not mean that they they never studied classical music.

I had a friend who told me that the first person he heard play Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata was Fats Waller.
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#1133966 - 04/08/08 03:13 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
rintincop Offline
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Registered: 05/11/04
Posts: 1564
Wynton Kelly, the best jazz pianist period.
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#1133967 - 04/08/08 10:26 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
AD Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/18/06
Posts: 193
There is no 'best', but if I had to make a list Art Tatum would be in the top one ;\)

I recall reading that Tatum had some violin lessons (taught him something of harmonics) when he was around 9/10, but soon gave up and took some piano lessons in his early teens. At that stage in his life he had partial vision after surgery on cataracts. A mugging when he was about 20 caused further damage to his sight. However he could still see enough to play cards and pool, and you can see him peering sideways at the piano on youtube videos.
I always get the feeling that Tatum was mainly self taught, having listened to live performers, piano rolls, and various radio artists.
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#1133968 - 04/08/08 11:30 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
FlipSpiceland Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/29/07
Posts: 24
Loc: Melbourne, FL
I don't know if I'm at the point where I can really appreciate Art Tatum. When I listen to him, I'm just blown away by what he's playing, but it goes by so fast that I don't really even have time to realize what just happened. As a result, it's hard for me to listen to his music. If he achieved what he did through self-teaching, then that is nothing short of amazing.

After having a couple of weeks to think about the topic of this thread, I think I've decided that it doesn't really matter whether a pianist has been classically trained or not. What really makes a great pianist is having the creativity and vision to express their self. Things like technique fall into place as long as you know where you want to go. In order to develop that vision, it helps to expose yourself to different genres of music, either by playing or actively listening. This allows you to expand your musical vocabulary to better express yourself.

With that said, I will probably still dabble in classical music because I think there is a lot to be gained by being able to play it.

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#1133969 - 04/11/08 02:17 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
nottasmartman Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/28/05
Posts: 64
Loc: Pacific Northwest
Give Hampton Hawes a try. Not trained in the classics, but he seemed to get "it" and be able to put "it" on the keys. Real soulful stuff. Randy Weston and Phineas Newborn may also interest you.
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#1133970 - 04/18/08 01:05 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
march56 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/18/08
Posts: 7
Loc: San Diego CA.
I started as a kid with classical. But didn't take it much beyond the 3rd grade book level. As a teen I was taught chord symbols, improv, etc. I felt that I could play anything! However I didn't really develop my reading ability. I can read but not on the spot. I beleive the reading part and to a lesser degree the studies and exercises etc. are lost by the jazz player who doesn't learn "classical". But I also feel that a pianist is truly limiting themselves and missing out if they only follow the road to jazz. Many classical students can play nothing without their music or music they've memorized, but...many jazz students can play nothing from the entire collection of written music for the piano which is a tragic loss. It would be like the difference between being able to read books vs. being limited to audio books...
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#1133971 - 04/18/08 02:03 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
Jeff Bauer Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/03
Posts: 1718
Loc: Los Angeles
My take on this is learning classical doesn't hurt, in fact it helps for building technique, learning new shapes, and playing ways (fingering) that you otherwise might never have figured out. It costs time, but as long as it doesn't suck the enjoyment out of playing for you, why not?

I am not classically trained, but I do classical exercises and read through songs here and there to try to sharpen my reading/playing skills.
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#1133972 - 05/05/08 05:05 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
pianobroker Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/14/07
Posts: 4309
Loc: North Hollywood CA.
The benefits that classical piano offers to the proficiency level of a jazz musician is discipline as to building technique,finger dexterity,sight reading skills and expansion of harmonic and rhythmic concepts of the classical composers. To be a versatile professional musician you need to be able to read AND play by ear. It is a serious limitation as a professional musician only to be able to do one or the other. Nobody will hire you for a session. Your sources and possible influences are going to be limited if one can't read.(instructional material,transcriptions etc.)
One thing I will say,the transition from classical to jazz for many musicians is detrimental to many players if they choose to make that transition late in the game. "One has to learn to play on the street." One is conditioned in a totally different perspective and approach and many can't make that transition as a "feel player" no matter what they do or how intense they practice.Oscar Peterson and Sir Roland Hanna are examples of gifted players whom could do both and still "grove" so to speak. The respect for feel/grove players is much more so than one with technical ability with no "feel" So....whats the anwser,you either got it or you don't. You can teach someone the fundamentals of jazz but you can't teach creative improvisation. A prominent jazz authority and teacher told me teaching jazz is a one on one proposition in that it is an unorthodox idiom which some learn by imitation,analysing the masters while others just do their own thing not having the desire or capability to play like Evans,Peterson Shearing,Powell etc.
One other point,many have commented that Art Tatum was not really jazz in that his solos were the same note for note not being true improvisation. Thats OK if I could play Tatum like Tatum who cares what people think \:\)
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#1133973 - 05/05/08 09:29 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
RafaelSF Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/23/08
Posts: 39
Loc: San Francisco
Nat "King" Cole.

Get a hold of some of his recordings with his trio, before he became a pop star and was taken away from the piano by Capitol Records so he could focus on singing.

Obviously Art Tatum is up there for most people and with good reason. If some of his solo recordings might be too overwhelming for you (as they are for me), there is a series of CDs out there of Tatum playing with "friends" who include Ben Webster, Buddy DeFranco and many others. Those are more in a trio or quartet context and it's a different kind of playing from his solo work, but still beautiful and masterful.

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#1133974 - 05/26/08 02:10 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
I think nowdays majority of jazz pianists are classically trained, and the benefits of having that training is priceless, it will give you a very solid technical foundation.

I think the problem nowdays is that jazz education is way too influenced by classical education, and there is less and less emphasis on rhythm and style, and the use of your ears. That influence eems most apparent in conservatory level education.

George Duke made a great observation about young jazz pianists in his website.. it's something thats definitely worth checking out

btw, i have to disagree with pianobroker's idea that creative improvisation and feel is something innate and cant be taught.. I think the problem with late starter is that you haven't had the exposure to groove and the creative process that is in jazz.. in that respect its similar to technique, its something that can be worked on and improved over time. I am sure Oscar Peterson was exposed to gospel and other "Feel" based music since when he was young, so i dont think his transition is as dramatic as you describe it

I've talked a lot of great musicians who told me they learned how to play by imitating..Ray Brown once said that he used to steal so much ideas from Oscar Pettiford that people used to call him "Ray Pettiford". And i think a lot of the great innovators we know have spend a lot of time learning and imitating the masters in their own ways. And a lot of them say that their individuality was just a bi-product of imitating. I think what separates them from being bland clone is the fact that the developed the skills that was important for them..and they weren't influenced by trends or what they are supposed to sound like. It doens't meant they didnt spend a considerable amount of time emulating other people's styles.

I guess i will leave you with a quote from mozart

"It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied."

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#1133975 - 06/05/08 04:53 AM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
pianobroker Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/14/07
Posts: 4309
Loc: North Hollywood CA.
 Quote:
btw, i have to disagree with pianobroker's idea that creative improvisation and feel is something innate and cant be taught.. I think the problem with late starter is that you haven't had the exposure to groove and the creative process that is in jazz.. in that respect its similar to technique, its something that can be worked on and improved over time. I am sure Oscar Peterson was exposed to gospel and other "Feel" based music since when he was young, so i dont think his transition is as dramatic as you describe it
etcetra......As a jazz educator how would
one propose to teach creative improvisation or "feel" other than suggesting to one to go out and play "live" with as many other players as possible.Playing with a rythum section is invaluble and an experience that you'll benefit more than any instructional series alone.The problem with many documented jazz instructional series is that they tell you systematically what modes,scales etc. are accepted as a basis of improvisation. "They fail to tell you once you learn the rules than you break them". If you don't you sound like everybody else. \:D
Realistically if one for years on end have stayed within the stringent, disciplinary guidelines of classical piano performance,how could one adapt easily to the mindset of a jazz musician. Better yet how could one play the "blues" soulfully upon just completeing "Blues for Dummies I"
\:D I played classical for many years before making the transition to playing jazz. I can tell from many years of Hanon,Czherny,Bach 2 part inventions it does affect the way one percieves jazz improvisation other than benefiting from elevated technique. For one thing most classical teachers still don't teach chordal theory so most aspiring classical pianists wouldn't know a 13th chord with a flat 9th unless you spelled it out on the staff. As everybody is aware classical repetoire is the same notes for everyone with no opprotunity for improvisation.
Most classical players initially get exposed to so called jazz from imitation from direct transcriptions of the jazz greats. Sightreading skills and technique definitely help in the classical player making the transition to playing jazz. I'n not in total disagreement with you as for the jazz idiom being taught but that alone is not enough."You gotta pay your dues playing on the street at those $50 gigs".
John Tesh managed to make that transition from classical to ....... I rest my case. :rolleyes:
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#1133976 - 01/14/09 02:48 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
pianobroker,

I am sorry for the late response, I hope you will get the chance to read this. I don't disagree with you about the fact that the kind of systematic learning you describe won't help you become a good jazz musicians.. mainly because most jazz musicians didn't really learn that way.

A lot of jazz musicians emphasize that you learn almost everything by imitation, by ear, transcribing, and playing with the record.. its from doing tons of transcription that they were able to acquire the feel they want. By playing along with someone else's solos you have the chance to really get inside their sounds.

I've talked to friend and teachers, and I am always surprised to hear about how much transcriptions they've done.. some of them can even play along with an entire record of Oscar Peterson.. which is amazing.

I guess another thing people don't realize is how much jazz musicians steal ideas.. a lot of the greats spent a lot of time trying to sound just like Oscar Peterson or Bud Powell. I remember a story about ray brown.. he said that he used to steal so much from Oscar Pettiford that people used to call him "ray Pettiford"

I think learning a 'feel' whether its in funk or jazz, or anything else.. is a lot like language.. you imitate long enough at one point, it will start to become a natural part of you.. the problem is that if you are an adult learning a foregin language it may be harder.. but nevertheless you can still become fluent in a new language over time

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#1133977 - 01/14/09 02:59 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
In fact, a lot of older jazz musicians I met hate jazz books in general.. it's not how they learned, and a lot of them seems to be very frustrated about the fact that people are playing out of real books.

Btw now days most jazz pianists are classical trained..most university require you x amount of classical training as jazz majors.. but it really varies from people to people.. I read that Kenny Kirkland studied to become a concert pianist.. while kenny werner admits that he never really went that far in his classical training, because he was never into it.

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#1133978 - 01/14/09 05:05 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
jjtpiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/19/08
Posts: 213
Loc: Jamestown, NC
We should mention, though, that one of the best jazz players of all time was classically trained. He composed and conducted in addition to treating us to some of the finest piano jazz music ever played.

Andre Previn.

I think he's better than Erroll Garner.

You certainly can listen to him for a longer period of time.
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#1133979 - 01/14/09 10:55 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
 Quote:
Originally posted by jjtpiano:
We should mention, though, that one of the best jazz players of all time was classically trained. He composed and conducted in addition to treating us to some of the finest piano jazz music ever played.

Andre Previn.

I think he's better than Erroll Garner.

You certainly can listen to him for a longer period of time. [/b]
Isn't that really a matter of opinion & taste?? Andre Previn is not in the list of my favorite jazz pianists.

Art tatum is considered to be the best of all time and I read that he was not classically trained.

From what I read about Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Red Garland.. etc their classical background was quite unusual.. some of the either didn't go very far with it, or in the case of Oscar, he picked up a lot of classical pieces by ear.

Makoto Ozone is a another fine jazz pianist who had no "formal" training so to speak.

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#1133980 - 01/14/09 11:23 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
MonksDream Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/08/08
Posts: 101
Loc: Vancouver, BC
One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the jazz pianists would have learned classical pieces because that is what was current in the households of their youth. Oscar Peterson's dad used to give all of the Peterson kids classical pieces to learn by the time he returned home from his route on the railroad. His sister taught classical piano.

Another place where many jazz pianists got their training was in the church. Depending on denomination they would have been exposed to classical liturgical music as well as gospel.

One thing you can say for classical training is that several hundred years of keyboard experience should not be dismissed lightly, particularly if you enjoy the music. If you don't enjoy it play something else.

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#1133981 - 01/14/09 11:29 PM Re: Best jazz pianist *not* classically trained
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
I think a lot of it is matter of degree.. I do work on classical pieces, and I personally would want to play Chopin etudes, but I don't want to say that you have to be able to do that in order to be a jazz pianist, because not every jazz pianist did.

I wrote this somewhere else, but in my experience a lot of university jazz majors have to put up with a lot of classical training, some schools require that you do junior recital in classical.. and as a result, a lot of people are frustrated because they just don't have enough time to work on their jazz stuff.

Sometimes people have this notion that a jazz pianist have to play classical in order to be 'legit' and I don't quite like that attitude. I love classical music, but some people's attitude about it is kind of a turn off.

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