A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Dexterity” is a great Charlie Parker tune that’s not played as much as it perhaps should be. First recorded in 1947, it’s one of the many Parker tunes that are based on the chords to George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” (“Anthropology” is a more famous example.)
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.)
Peter Bernstein and Dave Kikoski: Festival JazzUV (video)
Brad Mehldau Trio: Live In Brazil, 2013 (video)
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Even though “Dexterity” has a complex, bebop melody, it’s very “hummable!” Tunes like this remind us that despite his exceptional technique, Charlie Parker was essentially a melodist, both on the alto sax and as a composer.
Improvising on “Rhythm Changes” can be challenging, and my piano teacher Billy Taylor advised me to learn as many bebop “Rhythm Changes” tunes as possible since they use the same vocabulary you’ll use when improvising. If you spend 20-30 minutes per day humming “Dexterity,” “Anthropology” and a few others to yourself, you’ll have tat sound “in your ears” and it will begin to come out more and more in your improvisations.
The good news is that a tune like “Dexterity” doesn’t have to be played fast. Parker put enough “bounce” and rhythmic life into the melody that it works very well at medium tempos!
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
What are jazz “Rhythm Changes?”
Dexterity: Journey Through The Real Book #91
List of Jazz Contrafacts
An interesting list of “contrafacts,” which are jazz melodies like Dexterity that are written over the chord progressions of earlier tunes. (The 5th song listed, by Charles Mingus, is probably one of the funniest titles in jazz history!)
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