The great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane would often play tunes in concert for extended lengths of time, like 45 minutes or an hour. This baffled many of his audiences, and certainly stretched their attention spans. When he was asked why he played a single tune for so long, he explained that he was trying to play as long as it took to exhaust all the things he usually played. At that point he would be able to find new musical ideas and means of expression. Not content to merely play “the same-old same-old,” as the expression goes, he was looking for a way to stay fresh. And to discover new possibilities.
We can take a cue from Coltrane and try this too. Pick a jazz tune that you know very well, set a timer, and play the song for a full hour. (Yes, a full hour!)
Don’t have any specific aim in mind; simply start playing and see where it takes you. What you’re looking for is that moment where you get bored, since even the best playing will grow stale after a while. This is where it gets interesting! At this point, try something different. Simplify. Take your right hand off the keys and just play walking bass lines. Play chords only. Anything you like, as long as you keep playing for the full hour.
I did this with the jazz standard “Stella By Starlight” and was amazed at what happened. Here’s the video so you can see for yourself. A fellow pianist paid me a nice compliment when they said they watched it until it became “Stella By Sunrise.” (Thx Howard!) The hour flew by, and I discovered a lot about both the tune and my own playing.
Check out my video for inspiration, and then try it for yourself on any tune you know well:
1-Hour Stella By Starlight
Have fun and let us know how it goes, in the comments section below!
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