A left hand tip from jazz piano legend Billy Taylor

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I had the good fortune to study with jazz pianist Billy Taylor. In addition to being a very nice guy and great teacher, Billy had played piano with everyone from Charlie Parker to Ben Webster. He himself had learned from none other than Art Tatum and he liked to pass along stories and practice tips that Tatum and others had enjoyed in their own playing.

One of the best stories Billy told me was how Tatum and his contemporaries would sometimes play tunes, or portions of tunes, with their left hand alone. According to Taylor, this served two functions: 1. It helped develop their left hand technique, and 2. It gave their piano sessions a slight competitive edge, as they tried to outdo each other with their left hands alone!

Since I’m up to “All The Things You Are” in my Journey Through The Real Book video series, I thought I’d try this myself, since I often saw Billy Taylor play this tune with his left hand only for the first few choruses. This brought back a lot of great memories for me, and I even surprised myself by playing one of Taylor’s signature licks near the end. I hope this inspires you to try it yourself!

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