Approaching Wayne Shorter’s “Miyako”

Hey Improvisers,

Have you ever played any of Wayne Shorter’s compositions?

If so, you’ve probably played “Footprints,” and perhaps “Speak No Evil” or “Witch Hunt.” Those are all great tunes and among his most popular and most approachable. But after you’ve played those, keep going. Shorter has written many wonderful pieces and they’re all right there, waiting for us to discover them!

I was first introduced to Wayne’s music when I took lessons with the jazz pianist Harold Danko, back in the 1980s. Harold had learned to play jazz during the 1960s, when Shorter was with The Miles Davis Quintet, and had recorded an album of piano duets with Kirk Lightsey that featured Shorter’s compositions. The album is titled Shorter By Two.

One of the challenging-yet-fun aspects of Wayne’s compositions is that his harmonies don’t always go where we think they are going. He’ll set up a phrase with a standard ii/V sequence, and then – bam! – it’ll veer sideways into a totally unrelated key!

This is exactly what happens at the beginning Shorter’s tune “Miyako,” which I played as part of my Journey Through The Real Book video series on YouTube. The first two chords are pretty traditional: Em7/A to A7. But instead of the expected resolution to the tonic of D major, Wayne take a “left turn” to a C#m7/F#, which can be viewed as an F#sus9 chord.

Although these harmonic twists and turns can initially be disorienting, with a little persistence we can learn to embrace and enjoy them, as they lead us to improvise phrases that start in one key and end in another. In other words, Shorter pushes us to grow as musicians!

Check out my suggestions on how to practice “Miyako,” as well as the various pianistic textures you can use while playing this wonderful tune yourself. Here’s the video:

Miyako: Journey Through The Real Book #238

Enjoy the journey and let the music flow!


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