Stanley Cowell’s Equipoise: A forerunner of jazz/rock, fusion, and smooth jazz

One of my current projects is to go through The Real Book in alphabetical order, tune by tune, and make a video for each one. Taking on a challenge like this is great because it forces us to learn tunes that we otherwise might pass over, and to dive deeper into the those we already know pretty well.

When I got up to Stanley Cowell’s “Equipoise,” which is the 11th tune in the book, my first reaction was, “Alright, here’s a tune I kind of enjoyed playing before and I’ll practice it a bit to get it back in shape.” As I began playing it again, however, it began to speak to me in different ways than before.

For starters, I was surprised to see the date 1968 at the bottom of the page. That’s earlier than I thought! I’ve always associated this straight-eighth tune with the mid-1970s when the fusion movement was already firmly established, but the earlier compositional date puts a lot more historical importance on the piece.

1968 was right at the time when some jazz musicians were just beginning to experiment with using straight 8ths as the basis of their music. Yes, there had been a few earlier soul-jazz tunes here and there, and some latin-jazz albums, but the move to combine jazz with rock was just beginning. For instance, The Miles Davis Quintet recorded their groundbreaking album Filles de Kilimanjaro in the same year.

“Equipose” has many musical elements that are characteristic of jazz/rock, fusion, and what later became known as smooth jazz. Its straight 8ths, repetitive harmonic movement, and lyrical melodicism all became defining features of 1970s artists such as Weather Report, The Pat Metheny Group, and The Jeff Lorber Fusion.

You’ll get some ideas on how to play “Equipoise” on piano here, in the video I made as part of my Journey Through The Real Book series on YouTube:

Equipoise: Journey Through The Real Book #111

You can also learn more about the tune and read some jazz piano practice tips to help you with your playing here:

Equipoise (from The Jazz Pianist’s Ultimate Guide To The Real Book)

Equipoise (from The Jazz Pianist’s Ultimate Guide To The Real Book)

I hope you’re inspired to dive deeper into the beginning of jazz-rock with this beautiful tune, and maybe you’ll go on to play some Pat Metheny or Chick Corea after this.

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

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