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The challenge of improvising over Rhythm Changes

By |January 12th, 2019|

If you’re like me, you didn’t fare so well the first time you improvised a solo over Rhythm Changes. In fact, I was unhappy with the way I played them for years. (But that didn’t stop me from continuing and I still had fun playing, even when it sounded terrible!) Even now, I’m not exactly sure why Rhythm Changes are so challenging to so many jazz players. They’re the chords, or sometimes variations on the chords that George Gershwin used in his 1930 song “I Got Rhythm.” The musical form is a standard AABA, and during the A sections they [...]

Shadowing the melody on Miles Davis 1958 Stella By Starlight recording

By |January 7th, 2019|

Here's a listening exercise that may change the way you play jazz: Have a listen to the famous Miles Davis Quintet recording of Stella By Starlight, from 1958. (The leadsheet is in the Real Book, so you can follow along with that if you wish.) First, hum the song's melody as Miles plays it. Stay with the original notes and rhythm, even when he plays something different. Then, and this is the important part, keep humming the melody as you listen to John Coltrane's tenor sax solo and Bill Evans' piano solo. What do you discover? And how does it [...]

The flexibility of playing Beatles songs on piano

By |January 4th, 2019|

A great song is a great song, and as you know, the Beatles wrote a ton of great songs. (Paul McCartney completely deserved the Gershwin songwriting award he received a few years ago!) For us pianists, this gives us some huge opportunities when playing their music. For starters, we can enjoy playing their songs in the same style they themselves recorded them. And going further, we can take a cue from the Beatles themselves and experiment a bit. From alternate takes, demos, and rehearsal recordings, we know that the Beatles enjoyed playing their songs in a variety of ways, and [...]

Are you resolute?

By |January 1st, 2019|

Are you resolute? Yes, I think you are. Maybe you’re not resolute in the sense of “I’m going to practice piano for 5 hours every single day for the next year,” but yes, you are resolute. Very resolute. You’ve resolved to care for your family. You’ve resolved to help your friends. You’ve resolved to do well at your job. You’ve resolved to eat lunch every day, provided food is available. Have you thought about what all these things have in common? There’s an emotional element to each of them. And they satisfy a real need. When we make a “pie [...]

Is it the end, the beginning, or both? Musings on the 12-Bar Blues and New Year’s Eve

By |December 31st, 2018|

As I write this, it's early evening on December 31st, otherwise known as "New Year's Eve," and a blues lyric has just popped into my head: "Well here we are again... another New Year's Eve, Well here we are again... another New Year's Eve, I can't wait for midnight to get here.. so this tired old year can leave." That's not a real song, and it's not how I actually feel. I'm just having fun with the rhyme "Eve/leave." At the same time, I'm remembering a "Jazz meets World Music" music workshop I attended at Wesleyan University back in the [...]

20 Real Book tunes that are based on the blues

By |December 30th, 2018|

Here are 20 Real Book tunes that are either blues, blues-based, or have a bluesy style: Alright, Okay, You Win Au Privave Bessie's Blues Blue Monk Blue Trane Blues For Alice Bluesette Chitlins Con Carne D Natural Blues Equinox Footprints Freddie Freeloader Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You Mr. PC Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out Pfrancing (No Blues) Road Song The Sidewinder Straight No Chaser Twisted Blues Learning these tunes will give you a good experience in playing a wide variety of blues-based jazz styles, ranging from traditional blues to bebop, and jazz waltzes to contemporary [...]

Going out of our comfort zones

By |December 29th, 2018|

The only way for us to truly grow as musicians is to go out of our comfort zones, at least occasionally. Depending on what our individual comfort zone is, this can mean simply practicing a new type of music or it may mean going to the local nightclub and sitting in on a jam session. Or, we might put on a recording and try to play along, without knowing the musical key or chord progression in advance. But whatever it is, we need to sometimes go out of our comfort zones in order to become better pianists and well-rounded musicians. [...]

10 piano blog posts to ring in the New Year

By |December 28th, 2018|

As the earth completes its yearly revolution around our nearest star, I’ve looked through my 2018 blog posts and found my 10 favorites. Here they are: 1. The Tortoise, the Hare, and the Snail A riff on the famous tale. 2. Playing through The Real Book tune by tune Practice suggestions for playing through a wide variety of repertoire, at whatever level you’re currently at. 3. A stride piano jazz cover of the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” Paul McCartney’s classic song really lends itself to a full stride piano treatment. 4. What does “I’m no good at that” really mean? [...]

Two musical miracles

By |December 25th, 2018|

The music of J.S. Bach is a miracle. The radio station WKCR-FM, from New York City's Columbia University, is another. This week they're playing the music of J.S. Bach 24/7, as they do each year from Christmas and New Year's Eve. I tuned in a few times yesterday and heard an historic 1953 English recording of the Mass in Bm, featuring tenor Peter Pears, a few early recordings of the double keyboard Concertos, and some 2- and 3-Part Inventions. You can listen via the internet here: WKCR https://www.cc-seas.columbia.edu/wkcr/# Enjoy! Enter your email here to get your free copy of my [...]

What do you do when you play a wrong note?

By |December 21st, 2018|

What do you do when you play a wrong note? This week, an email exchange with one of my online piano students really got me thinking about the whole issue of wrong notes. He (correctly) pointed out that we can basically make any “wrong” note sound good by following it with a note that incorporates it into the overall phrase. In other words, it’s not the mistake that matters so much, but the note(s) we play after it. It's true that the next note is much more important than the actual mistake itself. You can resolve it or otherwise incorporate [...]