A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
This is from The Pat Metheny Group’s debut album, aptly titled; The Pat Metheny Group(!) Released in 1978, the group brought a smooth gloss to jazz-rock that initially disguised their advanced musicality and improvisational abilities from many traditional jazz listeners. But it turned out that jazz was alive and well underneath their pop beats and Pat’s reverb-heavy guitar sound!

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.)

Pat Metheny Group: Live in Hamburg, Germany (video)

Lyle Mays’ beautiful piano solo begins at 2:31. Listen to how he gradually builds intensity during the solo, beginning with lyrical melodies, then moving to fast single-note-runs and finally, rhythmic chords.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
When The Pat Metheny Group first came on the scene, a lot of musicians considered them a kind of “jazz lite.” Their pop-like rhythms and Metheny’s pearly guitar tone made them seem closer to instrumental popular music than to “real” jazz to some listeners. But to others, like me and my friends, their new sound was exciting and a doorway into the world of improvisation that we could relate to.

Now, decades later, it’s clear that the group’s repertoire provides the same improvisation opportunities as more traditional jazz styles do. You can use many different pianistic textures, scales such as modes and blues scales, motivic development, and even an occasional bebop lick if you choose. In addition, you can play with varying degrees of rhythmic vigor, moving from light, ethereal sounds to sections where you “dig in” to the rhythmic beat more energetically. In short, there are as many ways to put your own individual “stamp” on “April Joy” as there is on any other jazz standard.

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

Further links and resources:
April Joy: Journey Through The Real Book #20

Listen to the variety of piano textures that you can use on a tune like this.

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

Pat Metheny Interview with Jazziz
I find it interesting to hear him speak about how intensely he practiced during his teen years, because he felt he had so much to learn!

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