A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Black Nile” is from Wayne Shorter’s 1964 album, “Night Dreamer.” McCoy Tyner is the pianist and one of the fun things about listening to Shorter’s 1960’s recordings is to hear how different the group sounded when Tyner played versus when Herbie Hancock was the pianist. Here’s Tyner brings a taste of John Coltrane’s Quartet to Wayne's world, and shows that he’s more versatile than you might think if you only heard his modal excursions with Coltrane.

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: Night Dreamer

Kenny Kirkland Trio (video)

Performance and interview

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Like “Armageddon,” “Witch Hunt,” and other Wayne Shorter tunes, “Black Nile” begins with an introduction that precedes the main melody. This intro is only played once and never improvised upon. Jazz musicians only improvise solos on the main section itself, which starts in m.9.

Even if you didn’t know when“Black Nile” was recorded, you can tell that it’s one of Wayne Shorter’s earlier solo efforts because it sounds so similar to his previous writing for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messingers. It features tight horn voicings and a catchy melody over a fairly traditional chord progression. There are ii/V/I’s in several keys, Shorter later used much less frequently. There’s also a nice Dm7/Eb7 chromatic movement which will be familiar to you if you’ve played Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia.”

The Real Book included a nice harmony line on the bridge, which harmonizes the melody in thirds. Originally written for the horn players, this sounds good on piano too, so you may wish to include it when playing the melody yourself.

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

Further links and resources:
Black Nile playalong track

Transcription of Kenny Kirkland’s “Black Nile” piano solo
From Jeff “Tain” Watts’ album “Megawatts”

Joe Lovano interviews Wayne Shorter (video)
An insightful conversation between jazz masters

Black Nile: Journey Through The Real Book #34

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

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