Ideas for playing Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” on piano

I get emails all the time about my Journey Through The Real Book video series on YouTube, saying things like “I loved your video on such-and-such a tune – I’ve been waiting for that for months!”

Well, this week I finally got up to tune #167, which is the one that I’ve been waiting for months to play! It’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” which was composed by my own piano teacher, Billy Taylor.

I studied with Taylor during the 1980s, and I got to hear him play this joyful, gospel-tinged tune on many occasions. Sometimes while sitting just a few feet away from his piano. Billy wrote the song in the 1960s to sound like an African-American Spiritual, and in the practice of the day, he played it with a Gospel groove that owed a lot to both soul-jazz and rock. And, being a jazz pianist himself, he brought a jazz-permeated improvisatory sensibility to the whole thing.

Playing “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” may be the most fun we can have at the piano. It combined an uplifting beat with gospel harmonies and a catchy melody. And it’s flexible enough to welcome any type of improvisation we wish to bring to it.

This installment of Journey Through The Real Book has a very special place in my heart, and on the video, I share some warm memories of Billy Taylor, some insights into his piano style, and as an added bonus, a fun Charlie Parker story which you won’t hear anywhere else. It’s an anecdote that Taylor told me personally, about the time when he was “house pianist” at the legendary Birdland jazz club, and Parker arrived early for a gig and heard Billy practicing a classical piano piece by Debussy.

You can enjoy it all here:

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free: Journey Through The Real Book #167

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”


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