Ideas for playing John Lewis’s jazz standard “Milano” on piano

Hey Improvisers,

Well, our journey through The Real Book has brought us to another important tune, “Milano.”

“Milano” was composed by the jazz great pianist/ composer John Lewis, who is perhaps most famous for being the driving force behind The Modern Jazz Quartet. “Milano” is just as melodic as Lewis’s other tunes, such as “An Afternoon In Paris and “Django,” and gives us a lot of possibilities for improvisation.

John Lewis had musical roots in the Swing Era, and idolized Art Tatum. Whereas Tatum played a million notes, however, Lewis went in the opposite direction, developing a sparse, economical style that was uniquely his own.

During the Bebop Era, Lewis played with Charlie Parker and recorded with Miles Davis as part of the Birth of the Cool band. He also played with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, the rhythm section of that group eventually became the Modern Jazz Quartet.

John Lewis’s music contained elements of the whole history of jazz, and here’s a video I made to demonstrate ways that you can bring lots of different stylistic elements into your performance of the tune. You can use block chords, inner melodic voice motion, and both swing and bebop phrasing, and it all works well.

Here’s the video:

Milano: Journey Through The Real Book #232

John Lewis is one of my favorite jazz musicians and I was lucky enough to have met him three times, which I recount on the video. The first time I met him was backstage after a Modern Jazz Quartet concert. I was bold enough to ask him a musical question and I share the insight he told me on the video.

Have fun playing this great tune!


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