American pianists have shaped the sound of music for centuries. In fact, some of the most famous American piano players are considered some of the best musicians to ever live.
This article will cover some famous American piano players, including a short biography and what type of music they play. Keep reading if you’re looking for some exceptional pianists to take inspiration from in your own music or if you just want some great new music to listen to.
1. Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein is a prolific pianist with a storied career across several music genres.
He is highly respected for his compositional works for orchestra, concert music, and piano.
However, you may know him best for his insanely popular musical West Side Story.
Bernstein studied music at Harvard and subsequently the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
While supporting himself as a singing coach and piano teacher in New York City, he published enough works to get him on tour around the United States and Canada.
Eventually, he became the music director of the New York City Symphony in the late 1940s.
Afterward, he composed a number of musical works, which cemented him as one of the best pianists of the time.
2. Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock is considered one of the godfathers of the post-bop sound and a pioneer of a new wave for jazz rhythm sections.
Before it was popular to do so, Hancock experimented with all manner of digital pianos such as synthesizers and various electronics.
As a result, he and his cohorts completely redefined what jazz would mean moving forward.
Hancock began his career as rhythm piano in trumpeter Donald Byrd’s band, then became a fixture in the Miles Davis Quintet.
There, he developed a reputation as one of the most famous American piano players to ever live.
3. Amy Beach
Amy Beach was born in New Hampshire in 1867 and quickly considered a child prodigy by all around her.
She had memorized 40 songs by the age of one and was able to produce a counter-melody by two and the ability to read music by three.
In all respects, a child genius, if there ever was one.
Beach became the first woman to ever gain recognition for art music compositions during the 19th century.
Before dying in 1944, she was applauded for being one of the few American pianists, female no less, to succeed at the piano without European training.
4. Scott Joplin
Known as the “King of Ragtime” by all his colleagues and followers, Scott Joplin was an African American pianist born in 1868 in North Carolina.
He traveled across the United States, performing with all sorts of bands and orchestral companies, composing hundreds of works in the process.
Later in his life, Joplin focuses almost entirely on operatic compositions but is best known for being a ragtime composer of songs such as Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer.
5. Chloe Flower
Chloe Flower is an award-winning American pianist with roots in the hip hop and R&B music scene.
She’s been featured as a pianist on several popular artist’s albums and has been recognized by numerous foundations for her compositions and work in philanthropy.
Most recently, Flower went viral for a sensational performance of “Money” with Cardi B at the Grammys in 2019.
She also composes classical music as well as more contemporary genres, cementing her as one of the hardest working pianists in the industry today.
6. Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau is considered one of the leading jazz pianists alive today.
He’s had a long career that started when he was still studying music at the New School in the early 1990s and has since evolved into something to marvel at.
Mehldau currently tours with several groups on occasion and regularly writes compositional works for different concert halls around the world.
7. Murray Perahia
Unlike many others on this list, Murray Perahia was not a child prodigy.
In fact, it wasn’t until he was 15 years old that he began to take the piano seriously, improving markedly year after year.
By his early 20’s, he was recognized as one of the best young pianists around.
Perahia is widely known for his renditions of classics by composers such as Chopin and Bach.
Today, he conducts orchestral arrangements for concert halls in Europe and America.
An absolute legend of American pop-cultural history, Liberace was, at one point, the highest-paid entertainer in the world.
He was considered a child prodigy and performed across several mediums, including movies, television, radio, and dozens of concerts.
While he started off in classical composition, Liberace found his fortune in pop hits that pushed the boundaries of what the piano could do.
9. Emanuel Ax
Emanuel Ax was born in the Soviet Union in what is now Ukraine in 1949 to parents who were Nazi concentration camp survivors.
He began studying music in Warsaw, Poland, but then moved to Wisconsin to continue his path with the piano.
Ax is best known for being famous Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s main duo recital partner since 1973.
10. Van Cliburn
Van Cliburn was an American pianist born in 1934 who would go on to become a focal point of rising tensions during the Cold War.
At a time when Russian pianists were considered the best in the world, Cliburn went to the Soviet Union and beat them in their own competition.
After returning to the United States, Cliburn found success playing numerous concert halls across the country but was best known for being a cultural diplomat in the struggle against the USSR.
11. David Benoit
David Benoit is a Grammy Award-nominated pianist based in Los Angeles, California.
Born in Bakersfield in 1934, Benoit studied with noteworthy pianists and forged a career in jazz.
Benoit has penned 25 albums since 1980 and often composes works for movies and television.
He’s rightly considered one of the best jazz pianists still performing today.
12. Constance Keene
Born and raised in Brooklyn in 1921, female pianist Constance Keene was taught piano by Abram Chasins, among other noteworthy pianists of the time.
She was well-regarded in concert halls around the country but is best known for her recordings of the works of Johan Nepomuk Hummel, Carl Maria von Weber, and Felix Mendelssohn.
13. Jonathan Biss
Jonathan Biss is an American piano player who has played in all of the best philharmonics in the country.
He was born in Bloomington, Indian, to a family of musicians and cut his teeth at the Curtis Institute of Music.
Today, he is well-known for focusing on single composers who changed their style later in life and advocating for fresh compositions from today’s best pianists.
14. Eric Lu
Eric Lu is a rising star in the realm of classical piano, having won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2018.
He was the first American pianist to do so since Murray Perahia in 1972.
Lu is considered a child prodigy and has won many awards since he first started playing in the early 2000s.