A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Beauty And The Beast” is from Wayne Shorter’s incredible Native Dancer album. Recorded in 1974, the album is a collaboration by Shorter and the musician Milton Nascimento, who was introduced to Shorter by Herbie Hancock, who plays piano on the recording.

Musically, the compositions on the album combine Brazillian, jazz, funk, and pop influences in a way that sounded different from what Wayne was doing with the group Weather Report at the time. In retrospect, Native Dancer was a pioneering “world music” album.

“Beauty And The Beast” is a fun tune to play, although it isn’t as widely performed as Shorter’s more “straight-ahead” compositions from the 1960s. If you plan to play it at a jam session, be sure to give your fellow musicians some advance notice so they can practice ahead of time!

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.)

Wayne Shorter: Native Dancer

Wayne Shorter Quartet: Live in Portland, Oregon

Wayne Shorter: Live in Finland, 1983

An interview and live performance, nine years after the song was composed.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
From a performer’s perspective, “Beauty And The Beast” is an interesting tune. The funkified intro on the F13 chord immediately gives way to the softer melody, which gives us a wide spectrum of possible interpretations. For instance, we can either solo over the funk vamp or the tune itself. Or both. Or we can keep the harder edge of the funk groove going for our solos while using the chords of the tune itself. Each of these options will work well, and it all depends on your own individual taste and preferences. If you’re playing the tune in a group setting, each soloist can take a slightly different approach as well. (And since Wayne Shorter is often inspired by stories and movies, it’s possible that he was evoking the “Beast” of the fairy tale in the intro and the character “Beauty” with the melody.)

There must have been something “in the air” during the early-to-mid 1970s that lent itself to quarter-note intros played with a funk beat. Both Shorter’s “Beauty And The Beast” and Elton John’s classic rock/pop song “Bennie And The Jets” start the same way. (And as I type this, I notice how similar the titles are, too!) Elton’s song came first and while I don’t think Shorter intentionally mimicked it, he had certainly heard it on the radio at some point. This groove was also popular among funk musicians which is probably more what Shorter and pianist Herbie Hancock used as a point of reference.

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

Further links and resources:
Native Dancer: Wikipedia

An Introduction to Wayne Shorter in 10 Records
A nice overview of some of Shorter’s landmark recordings

Beauty And The Beast: Journey Through The Real Book #27

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

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