One of the great things about jazz is that the genre is incredibly flexible. So flexible, in fact, that we can incorporate just about any specific musical interest we have into our jazz piano playing.
Do you love melody? Great! You don’t even have to improvise solos! Just play the songs themselves.
Do you enjoy playing classical them and variations? Wonderful! You can have fun varying and embellishing all the brilliant songs that Gershwin, Porter, and Ellington composed.
Are you a Bach fan? If so, you’ve hit the jackpot! Bach used the same walking bass lines, reharmonization techniques, and counterpoint that many jazz pianists employ in their interpretations.
You’ll find that ragtime, parlor piano, New Age, cocktail stylings, 20th century classical music, rock, blues, folk, and many other genres can all offer us something that we can use in a jazz context.
Just as J.S. Bach found the Lutheran Hymns of his time to be infinitely flexible in this way, the songs of The Great American Songbook can absorb all of the influences I mentioned above, and also many more.
I sat down and played a jazz version of the 1936 Rodgers and Hart classic song “A Fine Romance” for a YouTube video today. Afterwards, I went back and listed all of the various musical techniques I used, many of which originally came from other musical genres such as classical, folk, and marching band music (such as stride). I spent countless hours writing and playing classical counterpoint during my college days and now enjoy improvising counterpoint in a jazz context.
Here’s the video, along with the list of techniques I used:
1. Harmonizing a melody with an alto voice
2. 2-part counterpoint between the hands
3. Melodic variation and embellishment
4. Pseudo-stride LH accompaniment
5. Traditional jazz piano stylings, a la Early Bebop
6. Full-out stride pattern
7. Block chord harmonizations
8. Walking bass lines
9. And independent melody in the bass
10. Textural contrasts (loud/soft, busy/sparse, energetic/subdued, etc.)
A Fine Romance: Journey Through The Real Book #117
And if you want to dive deeper into “A Fine Romance” yourself, this resource I’ve put together will help you get started:
A Fine Romance, from The Jazz Pianist’s Ultimate Guide To The Real Book
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
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