A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Charlie Parker’s composition “Anthropology” is one of many jazz tunes based on the chords to the George Gershwin song “I Got Rhythm.” The chord progression is known as “Rhythm Changes” and was a favorite of both Swing-era players and beboppers, as well as some more contemporary players.

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.)

Charlie Parker

Here’s a live recording of “Bird” playing the tune. These club recordings help us remember that Parker and his cohorts were real people, playing for real audiences. The spoken intro is by the radio DJ, “Symphony Sid.”

Bud Powell: Live video from Copenhagen

This was filmed in 1962. Even though Bud had lost some of his youthful energy by then, he’s playing with 100% dedication and commitment here. We can do the same!

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
There’s no way around it: “Rhythm Changes” are hard! Practice them slowly and gradually increase the tempo until you can solo over them comfortably at a medium swing tempo. Then you can focus on improvising over the form and building a cohesive solo. My teacher Billy Taylor advised me to think of each A section as “an 8-bar blues.” After a while, you can keep increasing the tempo until you can play them fast!

By the way, the song “I Got Rhythm” itself has 34 bars (it has the “usual” 32 measures plus and “extra” 2 at the end as an extension.” Tunes that are based on Rhythm changes, like “Anthropology,” don’t include the extra 2 measures. They use a standard 32-bar AABA song structure.

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

Further links and resources:
Anthropology: Journey Through The Real Book #17

Jazz Piano Tip #31: Anthropology

How to use bebop tunes to improve your left hand technique

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

What are jazz “Rhythm Changes?”

10 Ways To Learn Bebop Piano

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