A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Black Narcissus” was written by tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, one of the giants of the instrument. It first appeared on his 1969 album “Power To The People,” and featured Herbie Hancock on electric piano. This was after Hancock had left Miles Davis’ group but before he made his mark in the funk/fusion world. You can hear how was leaning in that direction, though, by his early use of the electric piano here (even though this is definitely a jazz performance, Hancock and his contemporaries like Chick Corea began using keyboards that were more associated with rock and pop. They would soon be collaborating with rock guitarists.)
Henderson and the band start out gently, with beautiful chord voicings by Hancock that remind me of Gil Evans’ orchestrations, which Hancock acknowledges as an influence. The group plays the last 8 measures of the tune with a big, controlled crescendo, which is fairly unusual in small group jazz, being heard more commonly in big band arranging. The effect is stunning.
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Here are some recommended recordings/videos:
Joe Henderson: Power To The People
Features Herbie Hancock on the Fender Rhodes electric piano.
Christian McBride Big Band featuring Makoto Ozone (video)
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The harmony to “Black Narcissus” is a little bit unusual among Real Book tunes in that it makes extensive use of chords that independently move over a pedal tone. For instance, the first chord is an Abm7 , and then it moves to Bbm7 while keeping the Ab in the bass. Even though the note Ab is the 7th of the Bbm7 chord, playing these chord changes can take some time to get used to.
The good news is that you only have to learn 2 of these patterns: Abm7 and Bbm7/Ab for the first 7measures of the tune and F#m7 and G#m7/F# for the next section. Once you know these, you’ll know two-thirds of the whole tune!
Begin by simply playing the first 2 chords and listening to them. Just play the Abm7 chord, without any tempo, and them move the voicing up a whole step while keeping an Ab in the bass. Do this several times and absorb the sound. Then, do the same for the F#m7 and G#m7/F#. Once this begins to feel and sound familiar to you, add the melody notes to the top of your voicings. I suggest practicing the whole tune like this out-of-tempo until it starts to come easily to you before you try playing it in tempo. Then it will make sense to you as you work your way up to speed.
Further links and resources:
Black Narcissus playalong track
Black Narcissus: Journey Through The Real Book #33
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
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