A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Dolores” was composed by Wayne Shorter for the Miles Davis album, Miles Smiles. The album was recorded in October, 1966, and released a few months later, in January, 1967. Wayne was playing tenor sax in Miles’ classic 1960s quintet at the time, and his tunes helped the whole group stretch their musical boundaries. It’s one of the most difficult tunes that shorter composed around this time and isn’t played as much as it perhaps should be.

Be sure to read the interview with Shorter that I’ve linked to below.

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.)

Miles Davis: Miles Smiles

Miles Davis: Live in California, 1967

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
In some ways, the chord progression to “Dolores” is kind of “cubist,” like many of Picasso’s paintings. We find familiar elements, such as ii/V’s and deceptive resolutions, such as Am7(b5) D7 (#9) moving to DbMaj7, but they’re strung together in a way that at first sight may seem random. It isn’t random, though, since Shorter is a meticulous composer. In a tune like “Dolores,” he’s not as interested in leading us through one key as much as he wants us to go for a new kind of journey, with harmonic twists and turns at every step of the way.

Be sure to read Wayne’s interview with Mel Martin, which I’ve linked to below. He specifically mentions how he and his fellow musicians improvised over “Dolores.” Part of the fun with a tune like this is playing around with different approaches to improvisation. At first, improvise over the written chords, much as you would with any other jazz tune. Then experiment with the “Musical DNA” concept that Wayne describes, which is freer and not necessarily bound to any specific set of chord changes. Listen to the Miles Davis recording, with Shorter on tenor saxophone, to hear how this sounds in actual practice.

See how they use various phrases from the tune’s melody in their improvisations. This was one way in which many jazz musicians of the late 1950s and 1960s went beyond the earlier bebop style that they has mastered in their youth. By composing a chord progression like that used in “Dolores,” Shorter was basically forcing himself and his bandmates to come up with something new!

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

Further links and resources:
The Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-68
This incredible book, by Keith Waters, thoroughly analyzes the group's approach to improvising on "Dolores" and shows the correct chord changes, which are different than the ones in The Real Book.

Miles Smiles: Wikipedia

Dolores: Journey Through The Real Book #95

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