Jazz piano has a long and interesting history, which actually goes back to the mid-19th century American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Gottschalk’s syncopated works, influenced by the Cuban habanera rhythm, were popular in North America and Europe. These syncopated compositions of the mid-19th century led to the development of the popular cakewalk dance of the late 19th century and later to the ragtime compositions of Scott Joplin and other ragtime composers.
Early Jazz Piano - Episode 1
Late 19th and early 20th century of popular ragtime did not swing in the modern sense, nor did it contain any improvisation. Cakewalk and ragtime music were usually performed on solo piano, but any type of ensemble could play ragtime---it was the syncopated rhythmic approach that helped to identify the music as traditional ragtime. It was probably the New Orleans (or Mississippi Delta) musicians who would give strict ragtime its swinging lilt. We don’t know who first swung it, but Jelly Roll Morton’s 1938 Library of Congress Recordings may give us some insight. Morton is an important figure in the development of jazz piano. He started his career in the early 20th century as a journeyman performer and became a pre-eminent composer, arranger, band leader, and performer by the mid 1920’s.