A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Ceora” is a 1965 composition by hard-bop trumpeter Lee Morgan, and was featured on his great “Cornbread” album. Musically, it’s what I call a “jazz bossa,” since it’s a bossa nova that was written by a jazz musician as a vehicle for improvisation, as opposed to a Brazilian song originally to be sung.

The melody to “Ceora” is more complex than that of its jazz-bossa cousin, “Blue Bossa.”

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.)

Lee Morgan: Cornbread

Herbie Hancock’s comping during the intro and throughout the recording is a model in how to accompany bossa novas in the jazz style.  Also, check out the solo transcription in the Further Links and Resources section below.

Lee Morgan: Live At The Lighthouse ‘70

Note the faster tempo in this live performance.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
I love soloing over “Ceora” because it’s a bossa, but with jazzier chord changes than most bossa novas contain. It’s not that “jazzier is always better,” but rather, “Ceora” is just different enough to be like a breath of fresh air from the usual bossa repertoire. And then when we go back to playing “Wave” or “Quiet Nights,” those songs will sound fresh too, since we’ve just been playing all the jazz chords in “Ceora.” This is one of the ways that playing different variations on a musical style can keep us fresh and inspired. (In other words, if you’ve spent too many gigs playing “The Girl From Ipanema” behind vocalists, try playing “Ceora”once in a while!)

As you play the melody, pay attention to how wonderfully (and logically) t unfolds. Morgan starts out with a big upward leap which is followed by a gentle descending chromaticism. The next 4 measures contain variations of this phrase. And then, just when it might become boring or predictable, the melody morphs into a different phrase in m. 8-10 which sounds like an inevitable next step. Also, the melodic language used is bebop-influenced so “Ceora” can be seen as a kind of “bebop bossa.” Have fun playing this great tune!

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

Further links and resources:
How To Create The Perfect Solo
A transcription and analysis of Herbie Hancock’s piano solo on “Ceora”

Ceora: Journey Through The Real Book #57

How To Learn Jazz Piano
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