A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Desert Air” is from one of the most influential jazz piano albums in jazz history, Crystal Silence. Recorded in 1972 as a piano/vibraphone duet by Chick Corea and Gary Burton, Crystal Silence helped herald in a new era of jazz which featured straight 8th notes and an almost classical, chamber-like sound to the music. “Desert Air” is one of several Chick Corea compositions on the album.

Here are some recommended recordings/videos:
(for international readers who may not have access to this YouTube link, I’ve indicated the original album name so you can listen to the recording on music streaming services, etc.)

Gary Burton and Chick Corea: Crystal Silence

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The thing that’s wonderful about a tune like “Desert Air” is that it’s as if Chick Corea sat down to write it without any preconceptions whatsoever. I once saw a video where he demonstrated his compositional process, and he literally started by playing a chord on the piano and then asking himself, “Hmmm… now where should the tune go from here?” Try this yourself; you may be surprised at what comes out!

We can sense this spirit of adventure when we play “Desert Air.” It starts on a DbMaj7 chord with F in the bass. A bold, unusual choice! Corea then moves to Cm7 and then GbMaj7, while keeping F as the bass note. To fully appreciate the effect that a pedal tone like this can have on the music, practice by playing the chords without the F note in the bass. Listen to what they sound like and then go back and add the F in the bass. What a difference it makes, especially under the GMaj7 chord! Chick brings in similar chords throughout, with the major 7th in the bass. Repeating a type of voicing like this throughout a tune serves to provide a unity that might other wise be missing, especially in a piece like this that has “roaming” chord changes. The repetition of Fm and GMaj7 during the last 8 measures further serves to “ground” the piece harmonically and give a sense of tonal center.

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

Further links and resources:
Crystal Silence (album): Wikipedia

Desert Air: Journey Through The Real Book #90

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

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