Playing Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology” on piano

There’s no doubt about it. Charlie Parker tunes sound great on piano, and “Anthropology” is no exception. The only hard part is soloing over it!

The bebop classic “Anthropology,” like many jazz melodies written in the 1930s and 40s, is based on the chords to George Gershwin’s hit song “I Got Rhythm.” The chords alone are referred to as “rhythm changes,” and tunes in this category include “Lester Leaps In,” “Moose The Mooche,” and “Oleo.” The good this is that they all have the same chords, so once you know “Rhythm changes,” you can improvise over dozens of tunes!

The heard part, as I said above, is actually learning how to improvise over this chord progression. Tunes that use “Rhythm changes” tend to be played fast, and the chords only last for 2 beats each. They basically fly by. It took me a long time and lots of practice to become comfortable soloing over these chords, and I’m here to tell you that you can do it too!

Approach “Rhythm changes” in 2 steps:

1. Practice slowly and work your way through each chord, melodically.

2. After you can do this, pick up the tempo a little and think in terms of longer phrases.

This, more than anything else, is what helped me get to the point where I enjoy playing tunes like “Anthropology” just as much as my other favorite jazz standards. Here’s a video I made to give you some ideas on how to play it. You’ll hear techniques like:

Improvising over a pedal tone (F)
Playing the melody and improvising in octaves
Playing rootless chord voicings in the left hand
Alternating bass notes and medium-register chords
Improvising a bass line based on root motion and then taking it “outside the changes”

Here it is: Enjoy and good luck with your playing!!!

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