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Ideas for playing Weather Report’s “Man In The Green Shirt” as a jazz piano solo

By |July 1st, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Have you ever tried to play a full band arrangement on piano, as a solo? If you have, then you know the types of challenges that present themselves in this scenario. I recently had this experience while playing Weather Report’s “Man In The Green Shirt,” and I’d like to share some methods you can use when playing solo versions of group songs. Here are some of the questions that arise, along with some solutions: Question: Do you play the bass line exactly as the bass player did? Answer: First of all, Weather Report’s bassist at the time, Alphonso [...]

Pianists: Should you always sight-read in tempo?

By |June 28th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Have you ever heard that “you always have to keep a steady tempo while sight-reading?” This is good advice at times, since when you’re sight-reading in a rehearsal with other musicians, or even during a public performance, you can’t slow down, right? That would mess everybody up. So it makes sense to practice keeping a steady tempo while sight-reading at home. This means that you’ll be prioritizing the tempo, while leaving out some notes when the music becomes too complicated. But it this the only way to effectively practice sight-reading? No, it isn’t, and this is where the [...]

Improvising on Francis Lai’s “A Man And A Woman”

By |June 28th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Have you ever played Francis Lai’s tune “A Man And A Woman?” While it’s not a common jazz jam session tune, it gives us improvisers a lot to work with if we meet it halfway, and not try to force it into a typical jazz mold. “A Man And A Woman” is one of those tunes in The Real Book, Volume 1, that we often pass over. However, it yields rich musical rewards when we sit down at our pianos and actually begin playing it. I found this out myself when I played the song as part of [...]

Personalizing Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”

By |June 24th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Even though it’s always fun to discover new tunes that we haven’t played before, it’s great to revisit old chestnuts and explore fresh ways to play them. Better yet, we can use these familiar tunes as a way to further develop our own personal approach to playing piano. Our Journey Through The Real Book has brought us to tune #224, which is Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” Composed in 1965, five years after Miles Davis’s “So What,” “Maiden Voyage” is to the Mixolydian Mode what “So What” is to the Dorian. Simply put, “So What” will get you started [...]

Why 3rd-7th left-hand voicings are not always best for beginning jazz pianists

By |June 22nd, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Contrary to what we often hear these days, 3rd-7th voicings aren’t always the best way for beginning jazz pianists to learn harmony and play jazz standards fluently. In fact, they often prevent many beginning jazz pianists from playing with any sense of flow and ease. Here’s a video I’ve made to show you why this is so, and to give you some good, practical suggestions on how to get started playing jazz piano in way that’s fun and musically productive. It will also help you to understand the role that 3rd-7th voicings could have in your musical development, [...]

Ideas for Wayne Shorter’s “Mahjong” as a jazz piano solo

By |June 20th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, While I was in college during the 1980s, I used to drive from Connecticut into Manhattan a few times per year to take jazz piano lessons with Harold Danko. Harold, besides being a really nice guy, had played with Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, and The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and was a genuine connection with the professional jazz world for me. Harold eventually recommended me to be Gerry Mulligan’s band assistant, which also helped shape my musical development. Harold suggested that I learn some Wayne Shorter tunes, since they are wonderful compositions and also provide an excellent entryway [...]

Billy Strayhorn’s original chords to Lush Life

By |June 17th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” is one of the all-time great jazz ballads. And while the chords in the most popular fake books are good, they aren’t quite what Strayhorn himself played. Here’s a video I’ve made to show you Strayhorn’s original harmonies in some key places, most notably in the final measure of the tune: Journey Through The Real Book #222: Lush Life https://youtu.be/E_QAE0XW-ao In addition to learning the original chords, pay particular attention to the various pianistic textures I use throughout my performance. A tune such as “Lush Life’ really lends itself well to Ellington-like diminished voicings, [...]

Is it OK to look at your hands on the keys when you play piano?

By |June 14th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Every month, I receive at least one or two emails asking me if it’s OK to look at your hands on the keys when you play piano. The people asking me are usually adult “piano re-starters” who remember their childhood piano teachers telling them to never look down at their hands while playing. These pianists are finding it very difficult to play the correct notes without looking at their hands, and they’re wondering if this is good advice or not. It’s an excellent topic, and I’ve made a video to help you understand the broader picture. Here it [...]

Keith Jarrett’s The Magician In You as a jazz piano solo

By |June 13th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers! Keith Jarrett’s tune “The Magician In You” is one of his greatest. It features a fun rock groove and it takes us on a harmonic path full of delightful twists and turns. One aspect of the tune which intrigues me is that it features a short introductory vamp, which briefly returns at the end of each chorus. Since historical hindsight shows us that Jarrett eventually became famous by improvising over long vamps, we can see the seeds of this type of modal improvising contained in the short vamps int his tune. Seen in this light, we can have [...]

Creative Inspiration from Paul McCartney

By |June 2nd, 2022|

Hey Improvisers! I’ve been spending the past few weeks working hard to finish my book on piano improvisation, which I hope to release on either July 1st or 15th. Last December, when I began going through my 10 years of blog posts and newsletters, I imagined that it would take about 2 months to organize them into book form. Wow - I was completely wrong about that! It’s taking much longer than expected, but the result is well worth it in every respect. I began by pasting about 200 of my posts into a long document. I chose the ones [...]