A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
When most jazz musicians think of the tune “Afro Blue,” they’re usually thinking of John Coltrane’s version. But it’s worth checking out other recordings too, since the tune can be played in various ways. In other words, you play “fourth voicings” like McCoy Tyner did with Coltrane, but there are other possibilities too!

Here are some recommended recordings/videos:
(for international readers who may not have access to these YouTube links, I’ve indicated the original album names wherever possible so you can listen to them on music streaming services, etc.)

John Coltrane

This is a great example of how to use modes and keep melodic interest while soloing over just one chord.

Mongo Santamaria

After the relentless intensity of Coltrane’s recording, it can be refreshing to go back to the Latin source of the tune with the composer himself!

Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spaulding’s group shows the modal influence of Coltrane while relaxing into a cool Latin/Smooth Jazz groove.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
It can be both liberating and challenging to improvise one a chord, like Fm, for a long time. See if you can keep your solo fresh by varying phrase lengths, and using a mix of melodic repetition and contrast.

The interesting thing about modes is that they are often taught to beginning improvisers, since it's relatively easy to create improvised solos if you don't have to think about a lot of chord changes. Ironically, though, the jazz musicians of the late 1950s, like Miles Davis, considered it harder to improvise using modes on one chord, since they couldn't resort to their "usual" bebop melodic patterns.  They were forced to be creative!

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

Further links and resources:
Afro Blue: Journey Through The Real Book #2

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

Afro Blue: Wikipedia

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