Exploring modal piano textures with John Coltrane’s “Impressions”

You (and I) have the potential to improvise on the piano in a highly personal, satisfying way. In fact, this is something that connects us directly with our musical idols. And, 40 years of performing and teaching experience has shown me that you’re closer to having extraordinary musical experiences that you might think. Here’s some “food for thought,” along with some very practical ways to develop your own, unique style of playing piano.

Have you ever played modal jazz?

It’s funny, because as much as we hear things like “there are so many possibilities with modal jazz” and “you can play anything you want on a modal jazz tune,” most jazz musicians tend to stay within a fairly narrow spectrum when they play modally. I’ve even noticed that they usually play like the artist who composed the tune, instead of bringing their own personal taste and musical interests to the tunes they’re playing.

Ironically, they’re avoiding the creative approach which the original artists themselves did when playing their music.

Miles Davis improvised like Miles Davis and John Coltrane improvised like John Coltrane.

Who do you improvise like?

These questions and explorations came up in a big way while I recently played Coltrane’s tune “Impressions,” which is based on the chords to Miles’ classic “So What.”

I asked myself, “What kinds of music do I myself enjoy?” And “how can I bring my own musical interests and personality to modal jazz, instead of playing just like Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner. (After all, these great pianists aren’t trying to play like me, right? We listen to them because they play like themselves.)

You’ll learn a lot about modal jazz and what types of musical techniques and influences you can bring to your keyboard on this video I made for you:

Impressions: Journey Through The Real Book #175

Have fun exploring these concepts, both in the short and long-term. And always remember to enjoy every step of the journey and “let the music flow!”


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