One of the biggest questions beginning jazz pianists have is, “What do I play behind a soloist?” Comping, or accompanying is one of the most fun parts of jazz piano. As the group’s pianist, not only do you get to solo, but you get to interact with each soloist as they take their turn in the spotlight. (Horn players don’t get to do this!)
Here are 3 great examples of piano comping. List carefully to each pianist as they give harmonic and rhythmic support behind each soloist.
1. Miles Davis “Freddie Freeloader”
Pianist Wynton Kelly is known for his impeccable sense of “swing feel.” You can also hear the blues influence in the way he interjects subtle blues fills between some of the solo phrases. This can be effective, but be careful not to overdo it. A little of this goes a long way!
2. Miles Davis “All of You”
Miles Davis was known for having great pianists in his groups, and Red Garland was no exception. Garland’s pearly piano touch is evident here as he gives subtle, non-intrusive support to each soloist in turn.
3. Ella Fitzgerald “Them There Eyes”
This concert video is a good introduction to Ella’s longtime accompanist Tommy Flanagan (who I once literally bumped into at the NYC jazz club Bradley’s!). You can hear how Tommy provides a solid cushion for Fitzgerald to sing over while providing exciting rhythmic life for this uptempo tune.
I hope you enjoy listening to these great examples of jazz piano comping. Listen to them closely and pay particular attention to how much, or little, they play. Applying these lessons to your own playing will give you a good introduction to comping within a jazz group context.
Here’s a fun listening exercise to take your ensemble playing to the next level.
Take your left hand playing to a new level with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You'll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration