All About Jazz

Home » Musicians » Carl Perkins

Carl Perkins

Not the rockabilly guitarist/vocalist - rather, the exceptional but little-known West Coast pianist. Carl Perkins was born in Indianapolis, IN in 1928 and eventually settled in Los Angeles in the late 1940s where he passed away in 1958, at the age of only 29. He was a classic hard bop pianist whose original technique and conception were dictated by a crippled left arm.

Despite this handicap and a very short career,Perkins played with Tiny Bradshaw and Big Jay McNeely, before he relocated to the West Coast. He was with Oscar Moore's trio (1953-1954) and with the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet (1954), but is acknowledged for his recordings with Curtis Counce (1956-1958).

Perkins made a host of exceptional recordings with most of the major West Coast artists besides Counce, including Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Harold Land and Dexter Gordon to name just a few. His best work is concentrated in 1957, a very good year for recorded jazz in general. The large number of reissues of many of these recordings provides testimony to the high regard in which they are held.

Carl Perkins was one of the most distinctive voices to emerge on the piano in the 1950s, combining Bud Powell's urgent melodic lines with Erroll Garner's rhapsodic orchestrations into a highly personal style. As a pianist, his chord voicings and comping defy transcription, not just the notes but the touch and placement of them opening up the spacious sound of the ensemble (bassist Leroy Vinnegar, who grew up with Perkins in Indianapolis, says of his childhood friend, “He not only played the chords”he played the beauty in the chords, and his time was perfect”).

Read more



View complete discography at



Shop Amazon

All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.