Freshen up your jazz playing like Chick Corea

Have you ever wondered how great jazz pianists like Chick Corea keep their playing fresh? How they keep their playing from becoming stale?

One way they do this is to learn different types of tunes.

Chick and his contemporaries grew up in the post-bop era. They learned bebop inside and out and also other traditional styles of the time, such as blues and in Chick’s case, Latin music. But in some cases, this can lead to simply “playing what you know.” Playing the same licks over and over, or at least maybe becoming bored with playing the same songs all the time.

So what do you do then?

For Chick and his contemporaries, like vibraphonist Gary Burton, this meant improvising over different types of chord progressions. Tunes that contained chords that followed one another in unusual and surprising ways, not necessarily in combinations of jazzy ii/V/I’s.

Tunes like Steve Swallow’s “Arise, Her Eyes,” which Corea and Burton recorded on their classic album, “Crystal Silence.”

Although “Arise, Her Eyes” is in The Real Book, you’ve probably never played it. Or if you have, you might have considered it a little strange or “not worth learning” since it’s not a typical jam session tune.

But let’s go back and take another look at it. It’s an amazing piece of music, but not one that yields its secrets readily. You have to spend some time with it. You have to be willing to feel “lost” for a while, not knowing how your performance is going to turn out. And perhaps most importantly, you have to be willing to put aside much of what you already “know,” and trust your ear and your instincts. If you’re willing to do this for awhile, you’ll come out of the experience refreshed and invigorated.

Here’s a video I made to help you get started. Enjoy!

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