A recent email from a jazz piano student reminded me of something that drove me crazy for years:
I started learning “Autumn Leaves” when I was 15 years old. By the time I was about 18 or 19, I could play it really well. In fact it was probably my “best” jazz tune. I could improvise freely over the chord progression and generally sounded very good while playing it with other musicians.
But as I continued to practice, gain experience, and improve on other jazz tunes, “Autumn Leaves” didn’t get any better.
By the time I was in my 30s, I was living in New York City, playing with great musicians at the top jazz clubs, performing my own orchestrations at Carnegie Hall, and musical directing Broadway shows.
But I still played “Autumn Leaves” like I was 19!
Sure, I can laugh about it now, but this was very frustrating at the time. Has this ever happened to you? If so, I’m sure you can relate. You learn a tune to the best of your current ability, but then it becomes kind of “frozen.” Everything else gets better, except that tune!
Logically, it’s a mental challenge. right? You’ve improved, but somehow you revert to your habitual ways of playing tunes you’ve learned at a particular age. How do you get around this? Facing these types of challenges head-on will take you to the “next level” as a jazz pianist. You can it, but it’s not easy.
What tunes are you stuck on? Dig into them on a deeper level, and apply what you’ve recently learned to the material you learned early on. Then you’ll be a more consistent player and be able to express yourself as you are now, not as you were 5, 10, or 15 years ago.
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