A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Bright Size Life” is the title tune from guitarist Pat Metheny’s first album, released in 1976. The album is notable for having the legendary electric bassist Jaco Pastorius, of Weather Report fame, in the trio as well as drummer Bob Moses. After recording this album, Metheny soon forms catapulted to fame himself by forming his long-lasting Pat Metheny Group.

Pat Metheny was one of the musicians, along with Keith Jarrett, to define the “ECM sound.” ECM is the German record label that helped develop a mellow, refined sound for their jazz fusion recordings. Straight 8th notes and a “pearly-sounding” production was a characteristic of their albums.

Here are some recommended recordings/videos:
(for international readers who may not have access to this YouTube link, you can listen to the tune on music streaming services, etc.)

Pat Metheny

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
While Pat Metheny tunes sound great when played on piano, a lot of his melodies contain large intervallic jumps that are probably much easier to play on guitar than on a keyboard instrument. This is particularly true of “Bright Size Life.” The first meadure of letter B, for example, is almost pointillistic, but you can play it if you spend some time memorizing the intervals and using a little sustain pedal.

Pat Metheny’s chord progressions are very different than those used in most of the other tunes in The Real Book. They tend to have an expansiveness that can be very refreshing to solo over. First, go through each chord and decide which scale you’re going to use for improvisation. The best choice may not always be obvious, so look at the musical context and not just each chord itself. For the opening GMaj7 chord, for example, you may immediately think of using the G major scale. But look at the key signature: 2 sharps. Now look at the last 2 chords in the tune: it’s a V7 – I resolution in D major which matches the key signature. This tells us that the overall key in D major, which makes the opening G major 7 chord a IV chord in D major. So we can improvise over this chord using a D major scale (or G Lydian, if you choose to think of it like that).

Go through the whole tune like this and practice soloing over each chord separately. Then string them together and, above all, have fun and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
Pat Metheny Looks Back At Bright Size Life (Interview)

Bright Size Life playlong track

Bright Size Life: Journey Through The Real Book #45

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

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