An Art Tatum anecdote from Billy Taylor about reharmonizing jazz standards at the piano

I love giving myself musical projects! They’re inspiring and give me a lot of energy to learn more about music and become a better musician.


Each month, I’ll now be featuring a “Musician Of The Month” on my blog. I’m doing this for both you and me, as a listening project and so we can learn more about many of the great pianists and keyboard players in various genres of music. For this month, I’m focusing on one of my own piano teachers, Dr. Billy Taylor. I studied with Billy for 4 summers during the 1980s at the Jazz In July workshop at The University Of Massachusetts, and we kept in touch year-round as well. He was very kind and generous with me, and it’s a true pleasure to pass along what he taught me.

Here’s my Journey Through The Real Book video #149, in which I discuss and demonstrate Billy Taylor’s approach to chordal reharmonization, which he himself received from the legendary Art Tatum and a similarly-wonderful jazz pianist named Clarence Profit.

Here’s That Rainy Day: Journey Through The Real Book #149

Ron Drotos: Jazz piano solo and musical/historical discussion of the Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke jazz standard “Here’s That Rainy Day.”

Chordal substitutions on the opening bars of “Here’s That Rainy Day” 0:00
My jazz piano lessons with Billy Taylor 0:27
Billy Taylor’s recollections of Art Tatum and Clarence Profit 0:46
Getting past the concept of “following rules” 1:43
Using tritone substitutions 1:50
Listening to Clarence Profit’s recordings 2:16
Billy Taylor’s reharmonization techniques 3:00
Chordal movement up by half steps 3:07
Chord qualities during reharmonization 3:52
Using chords that move down by whole steps 4:02
The Art Tatum/Franz Liszt connection 4:25
Cultivating a mindset of “harmonic exploration” 4:47
Find various harmonic “routes” between chords on a jazz standard 5:10
Reharmonizing jazz tunes with added ii/V/I chord progressions 5:18
With jazz reharmonization, the overall concept is more important than the details 5:53
The prevalence of reharmonization among the great jazz pianists 6:12
Reharmonization as a way to “personalize” your jazz piano playing 6:26
“Here’s That Rainy Day” in the Broadway musical “Swinging On A Star” 7:01
A solo jazz piano interpretation of “Here’s That Rainy Day,” using chordal reharmonization techniques and concepts developed by Art Tatum, Clarence Profit, and Billy Taylor 8:23
Building chords around a descending middle-register line 8:56
Inserting a iim7/bII7/Imaj7 as substitute chord progression 9:03
Tritone substitution 9:19
Ending a phrase on a “surprise” chord 10:32
Varying the musical texture by adding 8th note motion 10:55
Improvising over a pedal tone 11:02
Subtly transitioning to the song’s melody 11:05
Ascending chromatic inner-voice movement over a minor chord 11:30
Billy Taylor-like chord substitutions 11:42
Improvising a Debussy-like pianistic texture 11:55
Establishing a steady jazz ballad tempo 12:28
Improvising with Pentatonic scales 13:07
Polytonality 13:15
A more active melodic improvisation 13:34
Reprising the tune’s melody 14:02
A wistful “coda,” inspired by the song’s lyric 14:58
Being inspired by another pianist, without copying them directly 15:24
How Art Tatum taught Billy Taylor 15:28
How to internalize your jazz piano influences16:00

If you’d like information about my online jazz piano lessons, please visit or send me an email at [email protected]

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You’ll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration

Leave a Comment

Sign up for Blog Updates