Attaining a good understanding of jazz history

I was going to title this “Attaining a good understanding of jazz history as it relates to piano performance practice” but that sounded a little too much like those kind of academic papers that end up in some drawer in the back room of a University library. (I’m sure some of the most wonderful writings about music are collecting dust somewhere. Let’s go read them!)


Let’s talk about jazz history and how it can help us as pianists.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past 2-3 years, because this important topic comes up every time I sit down to make a Journey Through The Real Book video.

Basically, there are 3 main reasons why I’m going through The Real Book and making a video about each tune:

1. I want to give you the opportunity to “stand over my shoulder” and watch my fingers as I play these tunes, just as I stood over the shoulder of pianists such as Billy Taylor and others when I was coming up. It’s an invaluable experience and allows us to “soak up” their playing.

2. It helps aspiring pianists discover me for lessons. They find the videos to be helpful and many of them say, “This is the person I want to study piano with.” I love to teach and it’s helps us connect with one another.

3. I’m doing it for the future. I first learned jazz piano in the late 1970s-early 80s and caught the last wave of original beboppers and even some pre-boppers (as Billy Taylor called that earlier era). In these videos, I try to pass on as much as possible from what I learned from Billy Taylor, Gerry Mulligan, Max Roach and also those whom I only met briefly, such as Dizzy Gillespie. Right now we’re in the beginnings of a new era, where the whole perspective on how to approach these tunes is transitioning from a “been there” experiential knowledge to a “that’s ancient history” attitude. This is fine in one sense and yes, unavoidable. At the same time, much is already lost and I cringe when I hear a university jazz ensemble director tell his students, “Let’s play Satin Doll, which your grandparents danced to in the 1960s.” Leaving aside the fact that Satin Doll already sounded traditional when it was composed in the 1950s, there’s nothing about Swing music that’s directly related to the dance crazes of the 60s other than the fact that wedding bands played a variety of styles as they still do today. I’m hoping that my Journey Through The Real Book videos will help future jazz enthusiasts gain the wide perspective on the music that my teachers passed on to me “back in the day.”

YouTube didn’t exist when I was coming up. But if it did, I’d be literally devouring anything I could get like this which could help me reach my potential as a jazz musician.

Here’s the latest video in the series:

Four On Six: Journey Through The Real Book #127

Good luck with your own piano pursuits, and I hope you develop into the jazz musician you’re capable of becoming.

As always, enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!


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