This list of modern pianists includes artists who gained fame in the late 20th or early 21st century. Some are much younger than others, but what they have in common is that they are forward-thinking, progressive musicians.
These pianists are trendsetters who have or will influence new generations of piano players. If you don’t know them yet, you should.
These are the best modern pianists you should know:
Cory Henry is an American multi-instrumentalist who came to fame as part of the Grammy-winning group Snarky Puppy. He was a child prodigy who grew up playing organ in church, and his Gospel roots are still heard throughout his playing.
His primary instruments are piano, organ, and synths, but he’s a very talented drummer, too. He has already had some career moments that made the whole world take notice, none more so than his keyboard solo on Snarky Puppy’s “Lingus”.
Since Snarky Puppy, he has collaborated with countless artists, toured with his band Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, and worked on solo projects. Whether he’s playing jazz, R&B, soul, or funk, his musicianship is something to behold.
Jacob Collier is a young British pianist who could inspire you to learn piano or inspire you to quit; he’s that talented. Like many on my list, Jacob is a multi-instrumentalist, but he’s so gifted, you’d struggle to tell which instrument is his first (piano, bass, drums, guitar, to name a few).
As a teenager, he was championed by the legendary Quincy Jones, and his popularity has grown every year since. He came to prominence through YouTube with his Grammy-winning arrangements of “Fascinating Rhythm” and “The Flintstones Theme”.
He is known for his never-ending quest for knowledge and passion for harmony (and negative harmony). His enthusiasm for learning makes him one of the best pianists of today.
Robert Glasper is a multi-Grammy-winning pianist who is known for pushing creative boundaries. His work with the Robert Glasper Experiment has received critical acclaim, and his solo performance at Capitol Studios has been hailed as a masterpiece.
Robert Glasper takes influence from jazz icons like Thelonious Monk, right through to hip-hop legend J Dilla. He has a fearless playing style that tests the limits of tension/release in harmony and often employs the J Dilla/D’Angelo playing drunk feel. When he wants to be more traditional, he can swing like crazy, too.
Glasper is one of the most revered pianists in the industry today, so much so that he was trusted to re-imagine some previously unheard Miles Davis recordings for the album Everything’s Beautiful.
Diana Krall may be a surprise addition to my list for some readers, but there’s only one thing you need to know: she was taught and mentored by none other than the legendary Oscar Peterson.
Despite her success, I feel her playing ability still isn’t fully acknowledged. If you want to swing, there’s no better mentor than Peterson, and you’d struggle to find anyone who can swing like Diana Krall today.
Like Peterson, her style is heavily influenced by blues music. With a fantastic voice to match, Diana Krall has found her own unique sound. She’s one of the very few people today who combine that level of playing with a voice made for the American Songbook.
Brad Mehldau is a contemporary pianist who can be considered a pioneer in the post-bop movement. He is a legitimate link to past masters through his playing, and he shares that with new generations.
He is critically acclaimed as a solo pianist and as a composer for his trio and larger groups. His album Highway Rider is a modern masterpiece.
One of the things that Brad is best known for is his contrapuntal improvisation. This technique is when you forget about chords in your left hand and focus on moving single notes.
Lots of pianists use walking basslines when soloing, but this is different; it’s completely free. His ability to completely separate each hand is second to none, making him one of the best living pianists.
Sadly, George Duke is no longer with us, and in that, we lost a true great. I added him to my list because he has been a huge influence on countless aspiring pianists.
Duke is a multi-instrumentalist and producer with a background in jazz, but he is perhaps best known for funk, fusion, and rock.
Quite early in his career, he played with the great Cannonball Adderley’s band. However, his most significant period was when he joined Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. He was a core member of Zappa’s band, and he set the bar in terms of technical ability and creative freedom.
George Duke was a trailblazer who made the most complex things look easy, always with a massive smile on his face.
Jon Batiste is a young American pianist and bandleader who is praised for his musicianship. He is a multi-instrumentalist but most famous for playing the piano and the melodica. In fact, his rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the melodica is one of the best you’ll see.
He gained fame as the bandleader and musical director on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. While this position gave him a platform, it doesn’t fully display the depth of his immense talent.
Luckily for us, 2021 has seen Jon Batiste step up his solo career, and to date, he has performed in over 40 countries.
The 82-year old Martha Argerich could easily have made my greatest pianist of all time list. I decided to save her for this one instead because she’s still putting on groundbreaking performances today. She is, without doubt, the best female classical pianist today and arguably the greatest living pianist.
As a classical pianist, there are some milestones that only the very best can aspire to; Martha has reached them all. The Argentine-born virtuoso has performed with just about every leading orchestra in America. She has sold out Carnegie Hall as a soloist and been honored by the Kennedy Center.
Even at her current age, the energy and passion she puts into each performance is breathtaking.
The Armenian-born Tigran Hamasyan is a young jazz pianist who played his first tune at just age three. By age six, Tigran was attending a specialist music school where he had dreams of being a famous guitarist.
Thankfully, he later chose piano, although you can hear the metal/rock influence from his guitar dreams in his playing/composition.
Tigran is a very rhythmic and melodic piano player, and aspiring pianists could learn a lot from his style. One technique he often uses for solo piano is to play a delicate ostinato chord pattern with his left hand, while the right hand is split between playing melodies and crossing under to play basslines. He is an undoubted talent and future master.
Lang Lang is arguably the most famous classical musician of today and the ultimate modern classical pianist.
The Chinese pianist took an interest in the instrument at just two years old after being inspired by a Tom & Jerry cartoon (“The Cat Concerto”). At age three, he began learning piano, and by age five, he had won his first competition.
Lang Lang’s career is not without its setbacks and critics. When he was nine years old, his piano tutor told him that he wasn’t talented enough and expelled him from the studio where he studied.
He also comes under criticism for being too commercial, but he continues to follow his own path through music. One thing that no one can question is his outstanding playing ability.
Jesús Molina is a Columbian pianist whose videos have gained millions of views on YouTube. He’s also a prolific recording artist and represents some huge brands, like Nord Keyboards.
The reason I have added him to my list is for his immense physical technique. As far as harmony, melody, and application of music theory goes, he has encyclopedic knowledge. However, the thing that sets him apart from others is that he can play things that even great pianists would find too physically demanding.
If Art Tatum were alive today and played a Nord Stage 4, he’d probably sound like Jesús Molina.
DOMi is a 23-year-old superstar in the making. The French keyboardist is already one of the most famous female pianists in the world today.
She got mass attention online when a video of the then 17-year-old DOMi sight-reading a very complex Cory Henry solo was uploaded to YouTube. Her talent was clear to see at that stage, and the next chapter was about how it would develop.
She makes up half of the jazz duo DOMi & JD BECK, where she continues to rewrite the rulebook with her unique style.
DOMi is an inspiration to young pianists everywhere, especially females. She inspires equally with her talent and her confidence for self-expression.
I have tried to highlight pianists who I think can have the most influence on an aspiring musician. So these names on my list aren’t just here based on technical ability; they are here because we can learn a lot from listening to them.
As with any list, there are some worthy candidates who didn’t make it, and I encourage you to listen to as much music as possible.
Understanding how and why others sound like they do will make it easier to develop a unique sound of your own.