Tips for accompanying a vocalist on jazz ballads

By |March 16th, 2023|

Hey Improvisers, There’s no better feeling in the whole world than playing a jazz ballad. For me, it’s pure bliss: complete relaxation combined with the most beautiful harmonies imaginable. When the wonderful vocalist Juliet Ewing and I went into the recording studio to made a video of George Gershwin’s classic ballad “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” I had the chance to renew the jazz ballad accompanying experience for me personally, and I thought I’d take this as an opportunity to share a few tips on how to do it yourself. First, check out the video Juliet and I made: [...]

Having fun with your music

By |February 13th, 2023|

Hey Improvisers, One of my Zoom piano students, who is taking a jazz ensemble class, recently listened to Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings for the first time. These are groundbreaking recordings from the 1920s and a wonderful example of joyous New Orleans jazz. When I asked her what she thought of the performances, she replied, “Wow! It sounds like they were having so much fun!” She then told me that she wished the musicians in her jazz class would have more fun, instead of being so worried about playing wrong notes. With this in mind, I then asked another of [...]

The 2 missing ingredients in most New Year’s resolutions

By |December 29th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, The New Year is a good time for reflection, and as we near the transition into 2023, let’s look at the missing ingredients in the way most people make New Year’s resolutions. This will help you achieve your goals for the upcoming year. New Year’s resolutions are usually about what we’d like to do differently, such as “I’d like to practice piano more,” or “I’d like to learn jazz.” These types of resolutions are good, of course, but the fact is that most people don’t stick with them for very long. They start out enthusiastically, but by February [...]

Have you heard of the iv/VII/iii chord progression?

By |December 10th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers! “Beware the Jabberwock, my son.” (Lewis Carroll) Have you heard of the iv/VII/iii chord progression? If not, then count your blessings and skip down the page a bit. If you have heard of it, it may be because you’ve looked at the opening chords of “Autumn Leaves,” Am7/D7/Gmaj7, and tried to fit them into the key of E minor, which the ‘A’ section ends in a few measures later. Or, perhaps you’ve heard someone else refer to these chords as a iv/VII/iii chord progression in the key of E minor. (If you’re playing “Autumn “Leaves” in the key [...]

Jazz Piano Skills Interview with Ron Drotos

By |October 20th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Here's an interview that Dr. Bob Lawrence of The Dallas School of Piano did with me. Bob is an amazing interviewer and took me back to my very beginnings as a pianist. To date, this is the only place where you can hear my “musical life history.” Ron Drotos interview: https://www.jazzpianoskillspodcast.com/special-guest-ron-drotos/ Enjoy! Ron Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano You'll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration

Using Gil Evans-inspired reharmonization on “My Ship”

By |October 11th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, I vividly remember the first time I saw a pianist reharmonize a jazz standard. It was in 1983 and I was attending a 2-week jazz workshop with the great jazz pianist Billy Taylor. During our first class, Billy sat down at the piano and changed the chords to a jazz ballad. Wow! While I don’t remember which tune it was, I do remember the feeling of being amazed by this. Taylor was finding exciting new sounds in a tune that I had played countless times. I wanted to learn how to do that myself! Later, I discovered another [...]

2 ways to play The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” on piano

By |October 9th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Do you want to play some classic rock? Great! So let’s go to a traditional Italian wedding and dance the tarantella, OK? No? Why not? Isn’t traditional Italian folk music the kind of classic rock you enjoy listening to? Well… if you enjoy The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” then you absolutely do enjoy Italian folk music, since the song uses the tarantella rhythm as well as a very traditional chord progression in the famous chorus… “We all live in a Yellow Submarine…!” “Yellow Submarine” is a great example of how folk music has influenced rock music. The Beatles took [...]

Exploring the joys of mainstream jazz piano with “My Romance”

By |September 25th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, As wonderful as it is to develop our unique musical personalities, it can sometimes be fun to simply play a jazz standard in “the tradition.” Case in point: My Romance My Romance, which was composed by the great songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart, has become the epitome of swinging, mainstream jazz piano at it’s best. When I sat down to play it during my Journey Through The Real Book, I decided to ride the wave of mainstream jazz piano, in the tradition of Oscar Peterson, James Williams, and my teacher Billy Taylor. I had a lot of [...]

Imrpovising on The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”

By |September 24th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Is “Strawberry Fields Forever” the Beatles’ greatest song? Well, whether it is or not, it certainly revolutionized their sound. Producer George Martin recalled how fresh and unexpected the music and lyrics sounded when John Lennon first played it for the group while strumming his acoustic guitar. After a couple dozen attempts at arranging the song, engineer Geoff Emerick amazingly managed to splice together the beginning of one arrangement and the ending of another, which were originally in two different keys and at different tempos as well. The result is a landmark in modern musical history. Here are some [...]

Piano improv on The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow The Sun”

By |September 8th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, There are two stages to playing songs by The Beatles on piano. First, we simply get comfortable playing the chords and melody, seeking to emulate the overall feel of the Beatles’ recording. After a while, though, I’ve found that I want to go deeper. After all, we don’t have John and Paul harmonizing along with us, and often, something seems to be missing. What can we do to bring out the magic of these great songs? I’ve found that the answer is to personalize the songs. We can bring something of our “own” to the table, whether it’s [...]