A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Eighty One” was composed by bassist Ron Carter for the 1965 Miles Davis album E.S.P, on which he played as a member of the Miles Davis Quintet. This was the first time that Miles Davis used a straight-8th rock feel on one of his recordings. As such, “Eighty One” represents the beginning of Davis’s gradual transition from playing jazz with a traditional swing feel to the rock, funk, and hip hop grooves of his later style.

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: ESP

Milton Nascimento, Wayne Shorter, and Ron Carter, Brazil, 2008 (video)

The V.S.O.P. Quintet: Tempest In The Colosseum

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Eighty One” is a 12-bar blues with some twists and turns. First of all, the melody contains a few unpredictable rhythmic hits. During the 1960s, Miles Davis encouraged his sidemen to compose tunes for the quintet. Then, when they brought their music into rehearsal, Miles would routinely change it a bit, and with “Eighty One” he apparently squashed some of the melody notes together, which also opened up longer spaces between the phrases. (By all accounts, Wayne Shorter was the exception. Miles never changed Wayne’s music.)

The chord progression is also interesting, and it’s worthwhile to look at the ways in which Carter “modernized” the traditional blues chord progression. He starts out by using the standard I/IV/I/I sequence in m.1-4. But instead of basic dominant 7th chords, he makes each one a sus4 chord, to give a little more “floating” sound to the piece. He stays with the suspended chords throughout, and surprises us in m.11 with a deceptive resolution to DbMaj7, while keeping the F tonic in the bass.

Have fun jamming on “Eighty One.” It’s not played as much as many of the other Real Book tunes, but it will give you a lot to do. Keep a straight-8th rock rhythm throughout, and focus on keeping this groove as you improvise over it.

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

Further links and resources:
E.S.P. (album): Wikipedia

Ron Carter interviewed by pianist Ethan Iverson

Eighty One: Journey Through The Real Book #107

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