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Earl Rudolph "Bud" Powell (September 27, 1924July 31, 1966 in New York Citymarker) was an American Jazz pianist. Powell has been described as one of "the two most significant pianists of the style of modern jazz that came to be known as bop", the other being his friend and contemporary Thelonious Monk. Along with Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Powell was a key player in the history of bebop, and his virtuosity as a pianist led many to call him "the Charlie Parker of the piano".


Powell's grandfather was a flamenco guitarist, and his father was a stride pianist. The family lived in New York Citymarker. Powell learned classical piano from an early age, but by the age of eight was interested in jazz, playing his own transcriptions of pianists Art Tatum and Fats Waller. His older brother William played the trumpet, and by the age of fifteen Powell was playing in his brother's band. His younger brother Richie and schoolfriend Elmo Hope were also accomplished pianists who had significant careers. Thelonious Monk was an important early teacher and mentor, and a close friend throughout Powell's life, dedicating the composition "In Walked Bud" to him.

In the early forties Powell played in a number of bands, including that of Cootie Williams, who had to become Powell's guardian because of his youth, and his first recording date was with Williams's band in 1944. This session included the first ever recording of Monk's "'Round Midnight". Monk also introduced Powell to the circle of bebop musicians starting to form at Minton's Playhouse, and other early recordings included sessions with Frank Socolow, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro and Kenny Clarke. In the early years of bebop, Powell and Monk, as the first great modern jazz pianists, towered over their contemporaries, Al Haig, Ralph Burns, Dodo Marmarosa, and Walter Bishop, Jr.

Powell soon became renowned for his ability to play accurately at fast tempos, his inspired bebop soloing, and his comprehension of the ideas that Charlie Parker had suddenly unearthed from "Cherokee" and other song-forms. His solos, conceived in emulation of and rivalry with Parker, are instantly recognizable, with frequent arpeggios punctuated by chromaticism. They are nonetheless progressive-sounding, exploring the harmonic series in unexpected ways. He often formed carefully phrased statements, moving confidently and singing along, even where a phrase broke off, through moments of eloquence and near awkwardness.

Powell adhered to a simplified left-hand "comping" recalling stride and pianist Teddy Wilson. The comping often consisted of single bass notes outlining the root and fifth. He also used a tenth, which he was able to reach easily due to his very large hands, with the minor seventh included.

He freed the right hand for continuous linear exploration, and facilitated in the left a statement of the harmonies typical of bebop. When Art Tatum questioned his neglect of the left hand, the younger player responded audaciously in a subsequent tune by soloing with his left hand. His favoring the treble was not to avoid integrating the hands, which is essential to both a solo and accompanying technique. With his polar division of the keyboard, however, Powell was most responsible for permanently establishing the piano on an equal improvisatory footing with the horns and bass. These formed the basic small ensembles that have dominated jazz since the bebop era (after swing). Before Powell, Art Tatum and Earl Hines had also somewhat explored independent homophony closely resembling later piano playing.

Powell's first session as a leader was in a trio with Curly Russell and Max Roach, recorded in 1947 for the short-lived Deluxe label, but released by Roost two years later. He also recorded on a Charlie Parker date with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Roach in May 1947, demonstrating his mature style in a few short solos.

In November 1947, Powell was admitted to Creedmoor Psychiatric Centermarker, where he stayed for more than a year, receiving electroconvulsive therapy which caused severe memory loss. The young Jackie McLean and Sonny Rollins became friendly with Powell on his release from the hospital, and Powell recommended McLean to Miles Davis. Powell suffered from mental illness throughout his life, possibly triggered by a beating by the police in 1945 after disorderly behavior. (Although he had a prior reputation for strange behaviour, the beating certainly exacerbated his problems.) He was also an alcoholic, and even small quantities of alcohol had a profound effect on his character, making him aggressive. Powell's continued rivalry with Charlie Parker, while essential to the production of brilliant music, was also the subject of disruptive feuding and bitterness on the bandstand, as a result of Powell's troubled mental and physical condition.

It is generally agreed that his best recordings are those made prior to 1954, both for Blue Note Records and for Norman Granz (at Mercury Records, Norgran Records, Clef Records and later on Verve Records). The first Blue Note session, in August 1949, features Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins, Powell, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes, and the compositions "Bouncing with Bud" and "Dance of the Infidels". The second Blue Note session in 1951 was a trio with Russell and Roach, and includes "Parisian Thoroughfare" and "Un Poco Loco", the latter selected by literary critic Harold Bloom for inclusion on his short list of the greatest works of twentieth-century American art. Sessions for Granz (more than a dozen) were all solo or trios, with a variety of bassists and drummers including Russell, Roach, Buddy Rich, Ray Brown, Percy Heath, George Duvivier, Art Taylor, Lloyd Trotman, Osie Johnson, Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke.

Powell recorded for both Blue Note and Verve throughout the fifties, interrupted by another long stay in a mental hospital from late 1951 to early 1953, following arrest for possession of marijuana. He was released into the guardianship of Oscar Goodstein, the owner of the Birdland nightclub. A 1953 trio session for Blue Note (with Duvivier and Taylor) included Powell's composition "Glass Enclosure", inspired by his near-imprisonment in Goodstein's apartment. His playing after his release from hospital began to be seriously affected by Largactil, taken for the treatment of schizophrenia, and by the late fifties his talent was clearly in eclipse. In 1956 his brother Richie was killed in a car crash alongside Clifford Brown. Three albums for Blue Note in the late fifties showcased Powell's ability as a composer, but his playing was far removed from the standard set by his earlier recordings for the label.

After several further spells in hospital, Powell moved to Parismarker in 1959, in the company of Altevia "Buttercup" Edwards, a childhood friend. In Paris, Powell worked in a trio with Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke. Buttercup though did not have his best interests in mind; she kept control of his finances and also overdosing him with Largactil, but he continued to perform and record. The 1960 live recording of the Essenmarker jazz festival performance (with Clarke, Oscar Pettiford and on some numbers Coleman Hawkins) is particularly notable. In December 1961 he recorded two albums for Columbia Records under the aegis of Cannonball Adderley: A Portrait of Thelonious (with Michelot and Clarke), and A Tribute to Cannonball (with the addition of Don Byas and Idrees Sulieman—despite the title, Adderley only plays on one alternate take). The first album was released shortly after Powell's death (with overdubbed audience noise), and the second in the late 1970s. Eventually Powell was befriended by Francis Paudras, a commercial artist and amateur pianist, and Powell moved into Paudras's home in 1962. There was a brief return to Blue Note in 1963, when Dexter Gordon recorded Our Man in Paris for the label. Powell was a last-minute substitute for Kenny Drew, and the album of standards—Powell could not by then learn new material—showed him to be still capable of playing with some proficiency at least. In 1963 Powell contracted tuberculosis, and the following year he returned to New York with Paudras. The original agreement had been for the two men to go back to Paris, but Paudras returned alone, and Powell died hospitalized in 1966 after months of increasingly erratic behavior and self-neglect.


The pianist Bill Evans paid Powell a tribute in 1979:
If I had to choose one single musician for his artistic integrity, for the incomparable originality of his creation and the grandeur of his work, it would be Bud Powell.
He was in a class by himself.

In 1986 Paudras wrote a book about his friendship with Powell, translated into English in 1997 as Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell. The book was the basis for Round Midnight, a film inspired by the lives of Powell and Lester Young, in which Dexter Gordon played the lead role of an expatriate jazzman in Paris.


Years listed are years recorded (not years released).

Studio recordings

Live and home recordings

Notable compilations

As sideman

with Cootie Williams with Frank Socolow with J. J. Johnson with Dexter Gordon with The Quintet (Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Max Roach) with Art Blakey with Charles Mingus

Selected Compositions

  • "Blue Pearl"
  • "Bouncing with Bud"
  • "Bud's Bubble"
  • "Bud on Bach"
  • "Celia"
  • "Cleopatra's Dream"
  • "Dance of the Infidels"
  • "Dusk in Sandi"
  • "Fantasy in Blue"
  • "Glass Enclosure"
  • "Hallucinations" (aka "Budo")

  • "John's Abbey"
  • "Monopoly"
  • "Oblivion"
  • "Parisian Thoroughfare"
  • "The Scene Changes"
  • "So Sorry Please"
  • "Tempus Fugue-it" (aka "Tempus Fugit")
  • "Time Waits"
  • "Un Poco Loco"
  • "Wail"


  1. 10 inch LP release of January 1947 recording session. Roost RLP-401. Later re-issued together with Bud Powell Trio, Volume 2 on a single 12 inch LP, Bud Powell Trio (Roost RLP 2224 / RST 2224)
  2. 10 inch LP release of February 1949 and February 1950 sessions. Mercury MG 35012 (Clef MGC 102 / Clef MGC 502 / Mercury MGC 502). Re-issued together with (most of) Piano Solos #2 as Jazz Giant (Norgran MGN 1063 / Verve MGV 8153)
  3. 1951 release of August 1949 and May 1951 sessions. Blue Note BLP 5003, BLP 1503
  4. 10 inch LP release of February & July 1950 sessions. Mercury MGC 507 (Clef MGC 507). All but the two July tracks re-issued together with Piano Solos as Jazz Giant (Norgran MGN 1063 / Verve MGV 8153)
  5. July 1950 session in trio; February 1951 session solo. Mercury MGC 610 (Clef MGC 610 / Clef MGC 739 and, as The Genius of Bud Powell, Verve 8115) Not to be confused with the Norgran release Bud Powell's Moods
  6. 1954 release of August 1953 session. Blue Note BLP 5041, BLP 1504 / Blue Note BST 81504 (pseudo stereo)
  7. 10 inch LP release of September 1953 recording session. Roost RLP-412. Later re-issued together with Bud Powell Trio on a single 12 inch LP, Bud Powell Trio (Roost RLP 2224 / RST 2224)
  8. June 1954, January 1955 sessions. Norgran MGN 1064 (Verve MGV 8154) Not to be confused with the Mercury / Clef release Bud Powell's Moods
  9. 1955 release of December 1954 and January 1955 sessions. Norgran MGN 1017 (and, as Bud Powell '57, Norgran MGN 1098 / Verve MGV 8185)
  10. January and April 1955 sessions. Verve MGV 8301
  11. April 1955 sessions. Norgran MGN 1077 (Verve MGV 8167)
  12. September 1956 session. Verve MGV 8218
  13. October 1956 session, RCA Victor LPM 1423
  14. February 1957 session, RCA Victor LPM 1507
  15. August 1957 session. Blue Note BLP 1571 (Blue Note BST 81571, CDP 7 81571-2)
  16. October & December 1957 and January 1958 sessions only released in 1997
  17. May 1958 session. Blue Note BLP 1598 (Blue Note BST 81598, CDP 7 46820-2)
  18. December 1958 session. Blue Note BLP 4009 (Blue Note BST 84009, CDP 7 46529-2)
  19. December 1961 session in Paris, produced by Cannonball Adderley
  20. February 1963 session in Paris, produced by Duke Ellington
  21. April 1961 live recording in Milan, Italy (Moon MCD 055-2). The album is split between the Powell session and unrelated 1966-70 European sessions by Thelonious Monk
  22. April 1962 live recordings at the Gyllene Cirkeln, Stockholm, Sweden. With Torbjörn Hultcrantz on bass, and Sune Spångberg on drums. 5 volumes available as individual discs. Rare Powell vocals on "This Is No Laughin' Matter".


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