A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Domino Biscuit” is a tune by electric bassist Steve Swallow. It appeared on vibraphonist Gary Burton’s 1975 “Hotel Hello” album. It’s not one of the usual jam session tunes, and I’ve never actually heard anyone ever play it. But like all Steve Swallow compositions, it has something special to offer, if we take the time to look closely.

At the time of this writing, there are no recordings or videos of “Domino Biscuit” that I could find on YouTube. The Hotel Hello album isn’t on Spotify, but if you want to track it down, it looks like it’s available.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
To learn “Domino Biscuit,” start by simply playing the chart in The Real Book. Unlike most Real Book tunes which are just leadsheets, there’s a full piano arrangement for “Domino Biscuit.” This is probably because the melody is in the bass range and is therefore notated in the piano’s bass clef. Play the melody with your left hand while your right hand plays the triads in the treble clef. They’re simple and quite beautiful and have the effect of floating over the melody.

The melody and chords as notated are almost a classical composition and, in a way, complete by themselves. Except that the song is so short. You’ll need to expand it through improvisation. Use straight 8th notes, by the way, not “swing.” This tune was from the 1970s when Gary Burton and Steve Swallow were mostly using straight 8th notes in their playing.

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

Further links and resources:
Hotel Hello, from Between Sound And Space (ECM Records)

Expert Testimony: Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow tells the story of how his tunes were included in The Real Book

Domino Biscuit: Journey Through The Real Book #97

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