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 [...]

An essential step when learning jazz waltzes such as “My Favorite Things”

By |September 6th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, One essential step that many players skip when learning jazz waltzes it to play then straight, as traditional waltzes. Although it may be tempting to plunge right in with your favorite Bill Evans-style jazz waltz rhythm, take a moment to play your favorite ¾ tune as a traditional waltz. You know… 1-2-3, 1-2-3, with an “oom-pah-pah” left hand pattern, One of the reasons why players of the past such as Bill Evans played jazz waltzes so well is that they had so much previous experience playing straight waltzes and even dancing them because waltzes were such a big [...]

Being inspired to learn a particular song

By |September 2nd, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, What do you do when you look at the leadsheet for a tune you’ve never heard? Well, if you’re like most people, you probably turn the page and look for something more familiar. Yet, this approach, while understandable, also limits us. Part of the challenge is that the days are long gone when jazz standards were popular songs. It didn’t take a lot to get Miles Davis to enjoy playing, say, “If I Were A Bell,” because the song was a big hit during the 1950s when Miles recorded it. He heard the song everywhere, and was inspired [...]

Piano Improvisation is becoming mainstream again

By |August 29th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Once upon a time, in the days of Bach and Mozart, most pianists improvised. They added embellishments to written melodies, created their own accompaniments from figured bass, and learned to improvise preludes, fugues, and variations on folk songs and operatic arias. Gradually, though, improvisation died out in the classical music world, and became associated with specific styles such as jazz, blues, and rock. Nowadays, the situation is changing as pianists all over the world are integrating improvisation into their musical lives in a way that crosses musical genre. Classical pianists are adding synth tracks to Bach 2-Part Inventions, [...]

Will learning fancier left-hand accompaniments make you a better pianist?

By |August 28th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, When I begin working with new piano students, I begin by asking them about their musical goals. Often, they’ll say that they want to “improve” by learning a bunch of fancy left-hand accompaniment patterns. Whether they play jazz, rock, pop, or whatever, they dream of watching their left hand fly up and down the lower part of the keyboard under the melodies they play. While I do show them some new patterns to play, the biggest change in their playing comes when I lead them through the process of playing the left-hand accompaniments they already know with a [...]

3 approaches to playing The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” on piano

By |August 28th, 2022|

Hey Improvisers, Playing pop and rock songs on piano can be fun, but sometimes we find that the right approach eludes us. (Incidentally, by “right approach,” I mean the right approach for each of us individually.) I’ve loved The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” since the very first time I listened to the Sgt. Pepper album, back in my teenage days. Yet it took me until not to find a way of playing it on piano that I liked. There are two famous recordings of the song, the original recording by The Beatles and the slow, gospel-blues [...]