A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Bessie’s Blues” composed by John Coltrane and recorded on April 27, 1964, by the classic John Coltrane Quartet, with Coltrane on tenor saxophone, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. Tyner’s use of “fourth” voicings and free-floating comping rhythms influenced whole generations of jazz pianists and gave Coltrane the bed of sound he was looking for as an accompaniment.

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.)

John Coltrane: Crescent

Chick Corea Akoustic Band: Rendezvous In New York

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Bessie’s Blues” represents a return to a simpler, more traditional blues chord progression than was typically used by jazz musicians of the time. Gone are the ii/V substitutions that were favored by so many swing-era and bebop jazz players. Instead Coltrane just uses the same basic I, IV, and V chords that have characterized “down-home” blues since its beginnings.

But at the same time, Coltrane gives himself free range to improvise any way he likes over these basic chords. He can use pentatonic scales, he can superimpose chord substitutions by using arpeggios, or anything else he chooses. This gives the music a “modern” sound while remaining firmly rooted in the blues tradition, without limiting Coltrane’s sense of personal self-expression, since this was the way he played at the time. It’s both old and new at the same time. Try this for yourself and see what you come up with.

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

Further links and resources:
Jazz Piano Tip #30: Bessie's Blues

Adding an alto voice under the melody will add richness to your jazz piano playing

Bessie’s Blues playalong track

Apart Playing: McCoy Tyner and “Bessie’s Blues”
A transcription and interesting commentary on Coltrane’s and Tyner’s playing on “Bessie’s Blues”

Bessie's Blues: Journey Through The Real Book #28

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

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