A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“502 Blues” is a tune composed by the pianist Jimmy Rowles, who had a unique, understated playing style that you may enjoy getting to know. The tune itself is famous mainly because tenor sax giant Wayne Shorter included it on his album Adam’s Apple, recorded in 1967. (I particularly like Adam’s Apple because it features Shorter playing in a quartet setting on a solo project instead of his more usual quintet. It also has some wonderful playing by the rhythm section which includes Herbie Hancock on piano.)

Here is a recommended recordings:
(for international readers who may not have access to this YouTube link, I’ve indicated the original album name so you can listen to the recording on music streaming services, etc.)

Wayne Shorter: Adam’s Apple

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Despite its title, “502 Blues” isn’t a blues composition (at least not in the usual sense: but maybe Rowles has a “bluesy” feel in mind or something). The tune is 32 bars long and is divided in half, with the first ending resolving to E major and the second ending to E minor.

When you first start improvising over the chords, you’ll quickly experience a challenge: the DbMaj7 in m.2 is “outside” the otherwise-typical Am7/Bm7b5/Et progression in A minor. It seems like Rowles has thrown a “wrench in the works” which makes it very hard to solo over. But in fact, there’s a #5 in the DMaj7#5 chord which makes it very easy. The #5 means that we can continue to use many of the piano’s white notes when soloing over the whole 4 bar phrase. To see what I mean, check out the melody. Rowles has written a very basic, diatonic melody for the first 8 measures. It’s just that the 2nd chord has a Db in the bass. That’s all. Everything else is just white notes. Use this as a model for your own improvisations for this section. Improvise melodies that use the same melodic language as the melody and you’ll be off to a good start.

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

Further links and resources:
Jimmy Rowles: Wikipedia

Adam’s Apple (album): Wikipedia

The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter
A wonderful biography, by Michelle Mercer. Features lots of interviews with Shorter himself.

502 Blues: Journey Through The Real Book #119

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.

Jazz Piano Lessons via Skype
Personal guidance from an expert, caring teacher. Beginning through Advanced.

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

Previous Song           Table of Contents           Next Song

Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You'll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration