25 Ways to Play Steve Swallow’s Jazz Composition “Hullo Bolinas” on piano

Jazz is a marvelously flexible art form, and when combined with an instrument as versatile in nature as the piano, the musical possibilities are endless.

Steve Swallow’s composition “Hullo Bolinas” is a great vehicle for exploring the musical and textural range of the piano, since it’s written in a way that doesn’t lock us into any particular genre or style. It’s a short piece, written in the kind of “circular form” that was popularized by Bill Evans in his tune “Blue In Green.” In fact, “Hullo Bolinas” in reminiscent of “Blue In Green” in several ways, including the opening phrase, which begins on an E and then descends stepwise for five notes.

“Hullo Bolinas” sounds great at any tempo. Chick Corea and Gary Burton took a lively approach to the tune, while Bill Evans slowed it down.

Here are 25 ways to play “Hullo Bolinas.” I played it in much the same way that classical composers such as Mozart and Beethoven created Theme and Variations on popular songs of their day, taking a fresh approach with each new chorus. I start the video by discussing the tune in view of its historical, cultural, and musical contexts, and then I begin playing it on piano at 8:55.

Hullo Bolinas: Journey Through The Real Book #156

1. Melody with simple accompaniment 8:55
2. A chromatic “alto” voice under the melody 9:27
3. Long chromatic lines in the bass 9:54
4. A Chopinesque pianistic texture 10:19
5. A jazz waltz groove 10:37
6. Getting more rhythmic 10:51
7. Improvising bebop-like lines 11:05
8. Breaking up the melodic phrasing with short motifs 11:16
9. A “4 against 3” polyrhythm 11:31
10. Left hand rootless chord voicings 11:44
11. Fast soloing 11:56
12. Rhythmic displacement of phrases; inspired by Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans 12:09
13. A very “mainstream jazz piano” chorus 12:22
14. Chromatic lines in the right hand 12:35
15. Having fun with rhythmic chord voicings 12:48
16. Varying and embellishing the melody to “Hullo Bolinas” 13:00
17. Right hand trills over a left hand melodic line 13:14
18. A slower, more reflective tempo and texture 13:30
19. Playing more abstractly 14:00
20. Displacing the melodic line by octaves in the right hand 14:15
21. Improvising with parallel 6ths 14:29
22. “Frilly” arpeggios 14:45
23. Reharmonization 15:06
24. Using left hand trills and tremolos a la Bill Evans 15:37
25. A pensive restatement of the main melody 16:03

After you study what I did with the piece, give it a try yourself. Enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!


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