A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Airegin,” an uptempo bebop piece, is one of those tunes that will bring your playing to a new level. Composed by tenor sax giant Sonny Rollins, the title is “Nigeria,” spelled backwards. It’s not one of the first tunes you’ll learn, but when you’re ready, it will challenge you to find ways to navigate its series of ii/V/I progressions that move down by half steps.

Here are some recommended videos/recordings:
(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.)

Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins

This is the original recording from 1954.

Miles Davis: Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet

Miles revisited the tune again a few years later after he had formed his now-classic 1950s quintet.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The main challenge in improvising on “Airegin” is that the chords move through several keys, including B major. Start out by practicing it at a very slow tempo, and just improvise simple melodic lines as you move from chord to chord. You can even keep each phrase contained within each key a first. When that becomes comfortable, start keeping some phrases going as the key changes, starting the phrase in one key and seamlessly ending in another. Then you’ll be ready to gradually pick up the tempo over time.

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

Further links and resources:
Airegen: Journey Through The Real Book #4

This video illustrates a way to play a Sonny Rollins tune without comparing yourself to him.

Jazz Piano Tip #21: Airegin

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

Here’s a transcription of Rollin’s sax solo from the 1954 Miles Davis recording
Listen (and see) how effortlessly Rollins connects the chords melodically.

Airegin: Wikipedia

Airegin playalong track

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