if you guys don't mind, please answer this poll:
1) who are your 3 favorite jazz pianists?

2) what skill level would you consider yourself? (beginner, intermediate, advanced, professional)

3) to what extent have you studied and practiced modes?

[please embellish as you please]
i'll go first:
1) gene harris, oscar peterson, monty alexander
2) intermediate
3) i have never really practiced or learned modes.  i've read about it and intellectually understand it.  but i've never really used it.
There are 21 comments, leave a comment.
1) wynton kelly, red garland, bill evans, herbie hancock, joe sample

2) i am a professional.

3) i have practiced the modes of both major and melodic minor to the point of utter fluency. the modes were as important as learning my abcs.
1) herbie hancock, kenny kirkland, joey calderazzo

2) advanced/professional (work as a music teacher but try to play as much as i can)

3) i have studied major and melodic minor modes extensively, as well as arpeggios, approach notes to chord tone targets etc. i think both approaches are equally important.
i do not have three favorite pianists but i can list three of my favorites.  dave mckenna, keith jarrett, chick corea.
i am advanced/profesional
i have studied all the modes extensively.  i can not imagine being a modern day pianist involved in on any level with the jazz idiom and not have mastered the modes from every possable approach.
man, sure hard to pick three.  

1) bill, red, mulgrew miller.
2) beginner/intermediate
2) i study scales more as chord/scale rather than modes but of course that take me to dorian and lydian and others.  it works - slowly.
1)vince guraldi, diana krall, bill evans (don't think the first 2 are considered true jazz pianist, but i like to listen to their music.)
3)all i know is to raise the 4th for lydian mode, lower the 3rd and 7th for dorian and for locrian, you start on the root and go up half step and play that major scale.
1) oscar, herbie, bill - to name only a few
2) pro (semi-retired)
3) i never found them very interesting.  i found understanding harmony to be more useful.  to me, scales are boring and predictable and should be used sparingly.
dr. whack, i found your answer interesting.  i'd like to talk to you more about it if you wouldn't mind.
1/ nat cole, earl hines, wynton kelly... plus many others
2/ beginner/intermediate
3/ i can see that understanding them is essential. i have practiced major, jazz minor, pentatonic, chromatic, whole tone and dim scales often (which are all themselves modes) and sometimes other modes, but more often i try to practise modes while playing songs - eg. practise playing 4th mode of jazz minor scale over the ab7+11 in freddie freeloader, then transposing the song and therefore any modes to different keys - rather than endlessly practising scales which i find a bit monotonous.
sorry everyone, i've changed my name again... from piano paul to paul b. it's a bit of a habit i think - i'll probably change it again in a few months.
monk, art and bill.
had to practice them for school but never liked or had much use for them. i learned more on the gig from other musicians.  listening to records and trying to figure out what they were doing worked for me.  watch a dvd of monk and see if you don't pick up a hundred new things every time you watch it.

to me this is what jazz was and is all about.  i'm not really qualified to discuss the modes since i never found them particularly interesting.   what is interesting is that i was once complimented by a sax player friend of mine for my creative uses of the various modes - funny thing was that i wasn't thinking about them at all...guess i heard em on some records :)
jazz improvisation is supposed to be "spontaneous creation" and using modes ain't very creative to me.
we all use modes, whether we think about them all or not is a different thing.
okay, i'll take a stab at this.
i can barely really pick so few pianists but...

1. herbie hancock, wynton kelly, hank jones, lennie tristano, keith jarrett

2. professional

3. i've practiced the modes extensively, although i'd say once you reach a certain point you don't actively use them as such; you play what you hear and they come out, whether in voicings or in lines.


there seems to be a lot of confusion about modes here. i think that often modes are confused with aimless spinal tap style jazz odysseys because people get their beginning jazz book, play a root, noodle with the phrygian mode a little bit, and are like, well, that doesn't really do much for me.

i will echo jazz+ here by stating that in fact if you listen to those pianists you listed, you'll find some examples of modes in all of their playing. i think people's ability to find the modes in the playing they listen to has to do with their familiarity: they're everywhere, even if the use of them is not conscious. if you look at your playing, you are probably using the dorian mode on a minor chord when you aren't using a blues scale.

i learned primarily from imitating and listening to recordings. but i also practiced modes so that i could internalize the colors. people are confused about modes, i think, because they just think of them as dorian and locrian rather than cm7 or chalf-diminished7; things they can actually apply. they haven't absorbed the sound, or function of all the notes in a mode. each mode has a specific function and purpose, just like every other element of music.

i always think about music harmonically, in terms of alterations to a chord, rather than by scale. however, there really is no difference between a scale and harmonic content: if i play a phrygian scale, i suggest susb9. if i play a lydian scale, i suggest a maj7(#11). if i want a voicing for a minor 7th chord, i look no further than the dorian scale to select the colors i want to use.

modes and harmony are the same thing: a mode is simply the fully extended version of a chord. take cminor 13
c eb g bb d f a

arrange them in ascending order:

c d eb f g a bb c

i don't think of the modes as just an ascending or descending collection of notes: they are a color.

sure, you can learn to play without practicing the modes. no good jazz player just says, "okay, dorian time" and runs the scale up and down. but every good jazz player will play things that suggest one mode or another: it's unavoidable. when i play, i hear ideas and i play the ideas i hear. because i've spent time practicing and internalizing the sounds of players i admire, sometime i will hear different modes (think colors or alteration of a chord).

sure, you can play jazz your whole life never playing a phrygian scale (or susb9 chord). but why would i want to play "red" all the time? why not a "soft blue"? think of the notes contained in the modes as not scales for regurgitation, but further colors on your palette which you can dispense.  

personally, my favorite modes to work with are the modes of the melodic minor scale.

by the way, in the first video i turned on of gene harris, i heard the diminished whole tone scale (7th mode of the melodic minor) within the first 30 seconds.

i think most people only think to recognize the modes in the sound of the scale, but they're powerful tools for harmony:

d f# c f bb d

this is diminished whole tone city. but if you think that all the modes are are merely patterns and academic exercises, you might not realize that all the color, dissonance, and excitement in your playing can actually be found in these modes. think about it.

i'm sure gene harris wasn't thinking 7th mode of the melodic minor when he played that chord. he was thinking of the sound, the feeling, the color, where all of those notes were being pulled to go. that's what music's all about. so don't cut off your nose to spite your face.  

if you practice modes, a myriad of colors will be at your fingertips. just don't run them as scales, think of creative ways to use them like a beautiful voicing, or a line on a dominant chord that aches to resolve. i think it's mark levine that said that scales and modes were merely the words, not the poetry of jazz. and i don't think it can be said any better.
excellent post, hepcatmonk!

and theory, whether they know it or not, i think almost everybody plays "phrygian" briefly when on e-7 in this very common type of vanilla progression:

| cmaj7  ami7 | dmi7 g7 | emi7 ami7 | dmi7 g7 |

so its like:

| ionian aeolian | dorian mixolydian | phrygian aeolian | dorain mixolydian |

of course when we improvise we shouldn't think so specificly because that would tangle us up and distract us from hearing the nice melodies we attempt to weave.

and in theory, whether we know it or not, i think almost everybody plays "phrygian" briefly when on e-7 in this very common type of vanilla progression:

| cmaj7  ami7 | dmi7 g7 | emi7 ami7 | dmi7 g7 |

so its like:

| ionian aeolian | dorian mixolydian | phrygian aeolian | dorain mixolydian |

of course when we improvise we shouldn't think so specificly because that would tangle us up and distract us from hearing the nice melodies we attempt to weave
my take on modes is that it provides a theoretical framework to understand how to solo over a progression.

it's back to vertical vs. horizontal soloing. if you think vertical, you are watching each individual chord come by and furiously react to chord changes.

then you listen to miles davis and he stretches out a line over several chords. let's say a ii-v-i progression. wait! he didn't play any of the major chord tones. it's not explainable by saying he did chord tones and neighbor tones. instead he hung on the 13th and 5th for several measures, and then went to the 9th and then +11. what's going on?

modes are used to explain that he was sitting on the major scale and saw the ii-v-i as one entity and determined that some of those tones are shared by multiple chords. it provides a horizontal view of the chord progression and simplifies things by looking at the underlying scale.

you can just use modes and not know a single thing about them and then you copy what miles was playing and in effect you have used it. but understanding what was done in theory makes one able to apply it other situations and other keys and creates a modified sound instead of the continuous stream of bebop notes outlining chords.
when i see jazz+'s progression above, and repeated here again below,

cmaj7  ami7 | dmi7 g7 | emi7 ami7 | dmi7 g7 |

i see a c major scale in one instant. i don't need to particularly care what the theoretical constructs are and that i played phrygian on the em7 chord. what i can see is that these are all diatonically related and belong to a single scale. then beyond that, hopefully, i'll just pick out a good melody but my fingers will know the baseline is a c major scale.

however, it was important to know how it was constructed and how each of those chords fit in the c major scale. i already figured that out at one time and that's the extent of modal concepts that i need on the major scale. i also know to use some important melodic minor modes for some special chords. but even for a minor ii-v-i progression, one quick glance and i recognize it and i know which scales to apply, and i also know that v chords can handle some other extra melodic minor mode/scales for added color.

so as a simplification, in my head, i think of mode = scale. and that's all i normally worry about.

some insights into modes.

as i mention in the above article, modes are used in (at least) two ways:

as tonal centers in their own right (think "little sunflower", "so what", et al) and as vertical soloing devices ("what's the best set of notes to play over this current chord?").

it should be noted in jazz+'s example in c, that when applying modes in order to be consonant with an underlying chord, that you are generally leaving one or more notes out of the "parent scale".

so when playing the dorian over a dm7 chord, one often avoids its 6th (b).

when playing aeolian over an am7, the note most likely to be omitted is (once again) its 6th (in this case f).

when playing mixolydian over a g7 chord, the 4th is the note most often left out (c).

and when playing the ionian over the cmaj7 chord, its "avoid note" is also usually the 4th (f).

using this knowledge (and a little good taste) will still give a certain vertical sense to your solos because you are primarily using the notes which sound the best with each underlying chord as it comes down the pike (and "avoiding" the ones that don't go so well - which, of course, changes from chord to chord).

and yes,
like the way i play.

that's not to say that i think that i'm the best pianist that ever lived, it's just that i'd rather be me than anybody else.

i like the smell of my own farts, too.
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