Playing piano in a big band, meaning a traditional 12-16 piece jazz band with trumpets, trombones and saxes, can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you’re part of a BIG, swingin’ sound with lots of energy and excitement. On the other hand, the rest of the band is so loud that no one may every hear you. And to top it off, most of the interesting arranging stuff goes to the other instruments, and you’re often stuck having to comp off a chart that has about 90 chords per measure, all the while feeling that no one can even hear you!
Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Gil Evans and other piano-playing bandleaders solved this problem by having the arrangements constructed in a way that had the piano play in between the loud horn phrases. Or in quieter sections where the piano could be heard and utilized well. But many bands don’t (or can’t) do that. The pianist is there, but not really utilized as well and the trumpet, sax, and trombone sections are.
Those are just some of the reasons why it can be fun to play a big band tune on solo piano. I’m up to the Woody Herman tune “Apple Honey” in my Journey Through The Real Book video series, and while Apple Honey isn’t a tune typically played as a piano solo, I jumped at the chance to explore various big band textures as a solo pianist.
First, check out Apple Honey as played by the Woody Herman band:
Now, watch me discuss a few different approaches to the song so you try them out in your own playing:
Have fun and good luck with your jazz piano playing!
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