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Should jazz instrumentalists learn the lyrics to the songs they play?

By |January 26th, 2020|

I once heard a story about the song “Old Man River,” which was written for the Broadway musical Showboat by the composer Jerome Kern and the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. (Quick quiz – what famous “Real Book” tune did they also write together? The answer is at the bottom of this post.) As the story goes, their widows were once at a social event, and Mrs. Kern was bragging that “Well… MY husband wrote Old Man River. Upon hearing this, Mrs. Hammerstein interjected, “No… YOUR husband wrote Dum-dum-dum-dum!” I don’t know if this story is true or not, but the point [...]

How having varied musical experiences can enrich us as musicians

By |January 19th, 2020|

I hope you‘re having a great weekend! (And to quote the old saying – “It’s ain’t over till it’s over!) This morning, I woke up, taught a Skype lesson to a student who lives in Australia (not near the wild fires), responded to a few emails, and then drove into Manhattan to play organ at a church. I gave up my steady church organ/choir director position over a decade ago in order to keep my schedule flexible on weekends, and now I enjoy playing at various churches when I get the occasional call to sub for someone. In this case, [...]

Exploring Elton John and Classical music

By |January 13th, 2020|

I’ve been fascinated with Elton John’s piano playing ever since I bought his Greatest Hits (on cassette!) when I was about 14 years old. I still love his music, and I learn something new every time I listen to one of his recordings. Lately, I’m becoming more and more interested in the influence of classical music on Sir Elton, and I’ve made a video to share a fun pianistic exercise with you that explores this musical connection. First, have a quick look at this video, where rock and roll DJ Jim Kerr asks Elton specifically about this classical influence, and [...]

Building community to help us with our music

By |January 11th, 2020|

Hey everyone, I hope you’re having a great weekend! I just have to say that the response to my ebook Get Ready To Jam Vol. 1 was very touching. Lots of you downloaded a copy and I was overwhelmed by how many of you emailed me to share your experiences with learning walking bass lines. One of my favorites was hearing about the group of “Dads” who get together to jam while their daughters are at their dance class each week. It was very gratifying to hear how they use my Journey Through The Real Book videos to learn about [...]

A question about “listening”

By |January 8th, 2020|

Q. When we play music, what are we listening to? A. (Study this for 30 years, and then please let us know your answer.) Enter your email here to get your free copy of my ebook, Pop and Rock Accompaniment for Piano * indicates required Email Address *

Playing Keith Jarrett’s “Grow Your Own”

By |January 7th, 2020|

Here's my (our) latest Journey Through The Real Book video. It's #142 which means we're nearing the 3-year mark! (At one video per week, it’ll take about 8 years to complete the entire book.) "Grow Your Own" is an early Keith Jarrett tune which to my ears reflects the influence of composer Steve Swallow, who played bass on the original recording (Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett, from 1971). In fact, Swallow is one of the largely unsung heros of the early jazz fusion scene, particularly around the Boston area where Jarrett had the Berklee College of Music for a while. [...]

The value of playing jazz walking bass/ rootless chord voicing accompaniments

By |January 4th, 2020|

I remember it well. I was accompanying a well-known jazz vocalist at a New York City jazz club called Cleopatra’s Needle (great name!). It was just the two of us, and I was having a great time playing walking bass lines with my left hand while “comping” with my right, as this wonderful vocalist sang the melodies to jazz standards old and new and expertly scat-sang her improvised solos. As we finished our first set and headed to the bar area to take a break, she whispered to me “I’m so glad you’re playing walking bass lines!” This surprised me, [...]

Two ways to play “old” musical genres

By |January 3rd, 2020|

When you play an older musical genre, what approach do you take? Do you simply “wing it,” or do you think about the possibilities you can use? It’s a good question and whether we realize it or not, almost all interpretations of historical musical styles take one of two approaches to interpretation. One approach is to basically play the way you like to play, and “flavor” it with some elements of the older style. Paul McCartney did this with his song “When I’m Sixty-Four,” for example. It doesn’t really sound like something from the 1920s, but it has a little [...]

5 Songwriting Lessons From Taylor Swift

By |January 2nd, 2020|

Have you seen the NY Times video on Taylor Swift, where she shows us exactly how she composed her song "Lover?" If you haven't seen it yet, here it is: Here are 5 Songwriting Lessons we can learn from her: 1. The song doesn’t have to be complete when you begin. This is where a lot of would-be songwriters get stuck. They get a little idea for a song but then give up because they can’t envision the entire song. Taylor Swift knows that this is still an early stage in the development of a song, and it’s important to [...]

What don’t you know yet?

By |January 1st, 2020|

What don’t you know yet? Here’s the thing: we think we know what we don’t know, but we don’t really know it until we learn it, right? This isn’t just semantics. It’s what’s limiting our musical experiences and our abilities at the piano. Let’s take improvisation, for example. We each have a “specialty,” or perhaps several specialties. (Rock, jazz, etc.) And we each have an idea of the music we can’t yet play. (Latin, Middle-Eastern, etc.) But here’s the thing: we don’t actually know what it’s like to play that other kind of music until we actually do it. And [...]