Playing Joe Lovano’s “Lines and Spaces” as a jazz piano solo

By |December 31st, 2021|

Hey Improvisers, The actor/comedian Steve Martin once made a TV skit where he simply looked into the camera, perplexed, and said, “What the heck IS that?” Being the great comedian that he is, the skit somehow got funnier and funnier each time he repeated the question! Do you ever look at a jazz tune with complex chord changes and ask yourself “What the heck IS that?” It’s OK. This is a natural response to when we encounter unusual chord progressions, which often don’t establish tonal centers in conventional ways. After all, we’ve practiced soloing over ii/V/I chord progressions, and then [...]

Using musical text-painting can keep our jazz piano playing fresh

By |December 29th, 2021|

Do you ever feel “stuck in a rut” with your jazz piano playing? Do you get tired of playing the same licks over and over again? Do you ever feel like your playing lacks freshness? Well… one of the best (and easiest) ways to invigorate our jazz piano playing and keep it fresh is to use musical ”text painting.” Text painting is a term that comes from classical music, when composers would musically describe something non-musical in their compositions. Beethoven used text painting when he made part of his 6th symphony sound like a rainstorm. And Mussorgsky used text painting [...]

A 3-Step Plan to achieve your musical goals

By |December 28th, 2021|

Hey Improvisers, Since the transition to a New Year is a natural time for renewal and rejuvenation, let’s take a moment to reflect on our individual musical goals and how to develop a 3-step plan for achieving them in the coming year. First, let’s reflect upon what we know doesn’t work, and how to tap into a method that we know will actually work. We know, from lots of experience, that resolving to “practice more” in the coming year probably won’t work. After all, we’ve been down this road before. We get all motivated to practice 3-6 hours per day [...]

Playing a jazz piano interpretation of “All I Want For Christmas Is You”

By |December 24th, 2021|

Every December (and sometimes as early as November!), I hear Mariah Carey’s ever-present song “All I Want For Christmas Is You” on the radio and think to myself, “This song would make a great jazz piano piece. Someday I’ll play it as a jazz standard.” Well, I’ve finally done it, and my hunch was correct: the song is a fun vehicle for jazz improvisation. When we think about it, this shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, the melody, chord progression, musical form, and swing beat would sound right at home on a 1950s Ella Fitzgerald album. The only thing that [...]

The musical reason why “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is such a huge hit!

By |December 23rd, 2021|

Hey Improvisers, Have you ever wondered why some songs become timeless classics and others don’t? While a popular singer or a big marketing campaign can catapult a song to a place on the pop charts, why do some songs, like “Let It Be” and “Yellow Submarine,” endure for decades? What makes a song take its place in the hearts of young and old listeners alike? In the case of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” it’s because the song was composed in a way that cleverly combines classic musical elements with new, contemporary ones. The classic elements [...]

Getting past the “Ghost of Art Tatum” while playing Limehouse Blues

By |December 15th, 2021|

Hey Improvisers, When I sat down to play the old chestnut “Limehouse Blues” this week, I was faced by a crushing thought: “I have Art Tatum’s version running through my head, and everything I can play seems really lame in comparison.” Have you ever felt this way when playing piano? Have you ever had your musical idol’s version running around in your head, and you had to face the fact that you yourself couldn’t play like that? Well… let’s take solace in the fact that we’re not alone! Actually, just about every improvising pianist has faced this reality at some [...]

How to take a quantum leap forward with your music

By |December 11th, 2021|

Hey Improvisers! In the majority of musical education, whether in private lessons or in classes, there’s an implicit assumption that: 1. We are “down here,” and musicians like Beethoven, Charlie Parker, Paul McCartney, and Joni Mitchell are “way up there.” 2. Furthermore, there are about 10 steps in the ladder between us and them. 3. To rise to their level, we have to go slowly, step-by-step, and gradually climb up this ladder over the course of our lives. 4. But…. (and this is the clincher)… we’ll never really get to where they are because they are “geniuses” and we are [...]

Interpreting the melody of the jazz standard “Like Someone In Love”

By |November 27th, 2021|

Hey Improvisers, One ironic aspect of the current information-overload era of music instruction is that melody is usually overlooked. I’m always mystified by this because we all love melody and when we think of a particular song, isn’t it the melody we hear in our minds? Melody is one of the primary aspects of music that resonates with us, yet it’s one of the least-mentioned when it comes to learning music these days. Indeed, there are entire websites devoted to improvisation that don’t even contain a single melody. Let’s remedy this for ourselves, and rediscover what Mozart, Charlie Parker, and [...]

Keeping our musical thread going

By |November 12th, 2021|

Lots of great stuff going on here, and over the past few weeks I’ve experienced the same thing that many of you email me about: life can become too busy for us to get to our music (or, in my case, this newsletter) as often as we’d like. I’ve been performing and teaching around the clock, and also had a wonderful but unexpected project come up that kept me very busy. When this happens to me, I try to remember what the true priority is: to keep our musical thread going. If we can’t play music for 3 hours per [...]

Understanding the process of learning piano improvisation

By |October 24th, 2021|

“Practice licks.” “Don’t practice licks.” “Play everything in all 12 keys.” “Stay with one key for a while until you’ve mastered it.” “The Real Book is great!” “The Real Book is terrible!” “Start by improvising with scales.” “Start by improvising on chord tones. Hey Improvisers, Let’s begin by taking a deep breath. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve watched any YouTube “musical advice” videos, but earlier today I couldn’t resist. I was enjoying the film of Miles Davis playing “So What” from an old TV show, and YouTube recommended a video on the right side of the window caught [...]