A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Ana Maria” is a real beauty of a composition (and it’s my favorite tune in the Real Book!). Wayne Shorter composed it so that each A section begins the same way, but then goes off in slightly different ways. In this respect, and in its extended length, “Ana Maria” is similar to some of Cole Porter’s songs such as “So In Love” and “Begin The Beguine.” Their melodies all have long, sweeping arcs.

Wayne Shorter composed the tune in 1974, a few years after he had left Miles Davis’ group and while he was co-leading the seminal jazz fusion group Weather Report. A lot of jazz musicians of the time, Shorter included, were looking for ways to appeal to a rock-oriented listening public while staying true to their own improvisational roots. Playing song with the Brazilian rhythms of “Ana Maria,” with its straight 8ths feel, was one such way they could accomplish this.

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.)

Wayne Shorter: Native Dancer

This is the original recording, with Herbie Hancock on piano.

Kenny Kirkland

Kenny Kirkland, who came to fame as part of Wynton Marsalis’ first group, plays wonderfully here. Kirkland had actually recorded “Ana Maria” earlier, on an album by flutist James Newton. If you can find a copy of that recording, check it out; Newton soars on the melody!

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
You can choose to solo over the whole tune or just the introductory 2-chord vamp. In the recordings I’ve linked to above, Wayne Shorter solos over just the repeating vamp while Kenny Kirkland plays his piano solo over the whole chord progression. Listen to both versions and try them both!

The tune’s form, and chord changes can be a little tricky to get used to playing. While I would say that “Ana Maria” is still in the traditional AABA form, the bridge flows into the last A Section halfway through, so we never really hear an obvious return to the opening melody. Part of Shorter’s genius is how he makes this compositional “sleight-of-hand” sound so inevitable and compelling.

When memorizing the chord progression, you may want to practice each section by itself for a while. This will help you identify and “hear” how each section goes off on its own direction and you won’t get them mixed up when you improvise over the whole tune.

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

Further links and resources:
Ana Maria : Journey Through The Real Book #15

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

Wayne Shorter interview:
Here's Shorter interviewed by pianist Ethan Iverson, of the group The Bad Plus. Ethan’s follow-up questions got Wayne to go more in-depth than he does in some other interviews.

Ana Maria playalong track

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