A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Au Privave” is one of the great blues melodies written Charlie “Bird” Parker. Parker composed and recorded it in 1951, right in the middle of the bebop era. Musically, it’s a 12-bar blues with a very “boppish” melody that’s typical of Parker’s compositional style, with several short “start-stop” phrases strung together. (Compare this with the longer phrases in “Donna Lee,” for example.”
Incidentally, the word “Privave” appears to have been made up by Parker, who occasionally invented European-sounding words for his song titles (“Klactoveedsedstene” is another famous example.)
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.)
Sonny Stitt: Stitt Plays Bird
This recording features John Lewis from The Modern Jazz Quartet, who had played piano with Parker, on piano. His piano intro is a lesson in individuality, as is his solo. I’m especially interested in his playing here, because although he began playing in the bebop era, he gradually moved away from bebop towards a simpler, more “direct” means of expression. Listen to how he solos in a way that fits with the bebop rhythmic feel of the group, but is more motivic than most bebop solos and leaves more space between phrases.
Wynton Marsalis Quartet: Live At Blues Alley
Check out Marcus Roberts’ piano solo, as he brings in riffs, single-note lines, and a whole lot more from jazz history.
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
When I was first learning to improvise bebop, my piano teacher Billy Taylor suggested that I learn some bebop melodies, such as “Au Privave” and other Charlie Parker tunes. Billy told me that bebop melodies are good models for improvisation because they use the same melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic language that bebop pianists use when they improvise. So as you learn the melody to “Au Privave,” study its musical elements closely. Then you can begin improvising in the same style.
When you analyze the melody to “Au Privave,” one of the first things you’ll notice it that there’s an E natural in the first measure. Even though it can be seen as a quick “neighbor note,” it definitely implies an FMaj7 harmony rather that the “usual” blues tonic chord of F dominant 7th. Parker’s use of the E natural here brings a lightness to the melody and probably sounded very fresh to listeners of the day. Parker went further in the FMaj7 direction on “Blues For Alice” and his other tunes which used the “Parker Blues” chord progression, but it’s interesting to see him use a little of it here as well. His sideman of the time, Miles Davis, liked to improvise with the major 7th on blues tunes as well, most notably on his later rendition of “Bag’s Groove.” So this gives us more possibilities for our own soloing: do we play an E natural or an Eb in the first measure. Try both and see which you prefer.
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
Au Privave playalong track
Paul Desmond interviews Bird
There are only a few published interviews with Parker. This one, by fellow alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, is perhaps the best.
"Au Privave": Journey Through The Real Book #23
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