Playing Steve Swallow tunes on piano

Have you ever played a Steve Swallow tune? Although there are many great tunes he composed in The Real Book, if you’re like me, you’ve probably taken one look at them and quickly turned the page to find something with more familiar chords. I spent years doing this, but I’ve been sufficiently intrigued by his music to keep returning to them from time to time. The effort is well worth it!

There are 4 stages to learning an unusual jazz tune, either by Swallow or any other idiosyncratic composer:

1. You look at the tune, play the chords and melody, and find that they don’t make any sense to you.

2. You linger on each harmony and short melodic cell, letting the sounds wash over you. Gradually, the tune’s internal logic will begin to reveal itself.

3. After much practice, you’re pleasantly surprised to find that you can play the tune. (Hooray!!!)

4. You dig deeper, try various approaches, and internalize the tune. You’ve developed your own, personal interpretation of it.

You can watch how I went through these 4 steps here, on Steve Swallows beautiful tune, “Chelsea Bells.” Try it yourself!

Chelsea Bells: Journey Through The Real Book #58

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