When we’re first studying jazz piano at, say, the intermediate level, we spend a lot of time mastering one technique after another: walking bass, chord voicings, block chords, melodic interpretation and development, modal improvisation, and the list goes on. And one of the big “payoffs” is when we’ve internalized these various techniques to the point where we can use them at will, often on the same tune.
There are a few classic solo piano recordings that, for me, contain the whole history of jazz. They sum up what came before and give a taste of what what is still to come. The first recording that made this impression on my was Art Tatum’s “Aunt Hagar’s Blues. Tatum recorded this old W.C. Handy song in 1949 and it still astounds me every time I listen to it. For one thing, check out the chords and syncopation at :43. Does anyone even try to play this way today???
Another “history of jazz but fully in the moment” recording for me is Thelonious Monk’s “Functional. Again, it’s a blues, and Monk is telling us about deep culture with this one. Check out those walking 10ths at 2:38!
These are two of my all-time favorite solo jazz piano recordings, and I was reminded of them this afternoon as I was playing “Call Me Irresponsible” for my Journey Through The Real Book video series on YouTube. I won’t claim to playing the whole history of jazz like Mr. Tatum and Mr. Monk have, but the video does show how you can combine various solo jazz piano techniques seamlessly in a single performance.
Once you’ve been using each of these techniques for a while it’s fun and actually easy to let them come out on a single tune. Watch what I’ve done here and then try it yourself on a tune you know very well. It’s a very effective way of playing a tune.
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