A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Armageddon” is from Wayne Shorter’s great album Night Dreamer. In retrospect, I view this album as a kind of transition between Shorter’s earlier work as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messingers and the writing and playing he later did with the Miles Davis Quintet. Here, we still have the grooves and melodic hooks of his earlier style, but we hear the harmonies begin to unfold in new ways. (More on that below.)

Night Dreamer was recorded in April, 1964 (the month I was born!) by a group that included Shorter, of course, on tenor sax and McCoy Tyner on piano. At the time, McCoy was developing a unique piano style in the John Coltrane Quartet and it’s fascinating to hear him bring that influence to Shorter’s compositions.

Here’s a recommended recording:
(for international readers who may not have access to this YouTube link, you can listen to Wayne Shorter’s Night Dreamer album on music streaming services, etc.)

Wayne Shorter: Night Dreamer

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Wayne Shorter was one of the first jazz composers to move away from using a lot of ii/V/I’s in his writing. “Armageddon,” as well as many of his other tunes, makes extensive use of chords related by 3rds (eg: Bbm7/ Gb7). This was one way that Shorter made his music sound different from the previous generation’s jazz standards and bebop tunes. There is also a parallel with classical music, as composers such as Ravel and Debussy had moved away from constructing their music around traditional V/I harmonic resolutions.

These chords can be challenging to solo over at first, because you can’t rely on many of the bebop phrases or ii/V/I licks you’ve previously learned (although, yes, there is one ii/V/I sequence in “Armageddon.”). Instead, accustom yourself to really letting to the sound of each chord inspire your melodic lines as they unfold. I’ve found it helpful to practice the chords to “Armageddon” in pairs: Bbm/Gb7, Eb7/Gb7, Eb7/E7, etc. Also, listen to how well Shorter uses motifs to construct his solo. Motivic improvisation is fun and can give your solos a cohesive unity and sense of “inevitability.”

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

Further links and resources:
Armageddon: Journey Through The Real Book #22

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

Armageddon playalong track

“To me jazz means: I dare you”
An excellent interview with Wayne.

"Armageddon": Journey Through The Real Book #22

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