A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“El Gaucho” is from Wayne Shorter’s 1967 album Adam’s Apple. I particularly enjoy this album because it’s one of the few from this era that feature Shorter playing in a quartet where he is the only horn player. (Etcetera is another great quartet album.)
Adam’s Apple features Herbie Hancock, whom was in the Miles Davis Quintet along with Wayne, on piano, as well as Reggie Workman on bass and Joe Chambers on drums.

Generally speaking, Shorter’s albums as leader on Blue Note records are a little more traditional than his work with Miles Davis at this time. They’re a wonderful chance to hear Wayne soloing in a more “straight ahead” way, although his composition do contain their fair share of harmonic twists and turns!

Here is a recommended recording/video:
(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.)

Wayne Shorter: Adam’s Apple

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Many of Wayne Shorter’s compositions, like “El Gaucho,” are held together more by the melody than by a traditional harmonic path. A quick look at the tune’s chords will confirm this: it begins on FMaj7 and ends, 18 measures later, on Em7. This isn’t the kind of tune you’ll analyze using Roman Numerals like I, IV, and V!

Instead, Shorter uses the melodic motif from m. 1 and transposes it to fit the chords he chooses. Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe he wrote measure 1 and then “heard” the motif repeating down a half step, so this led him to use a chord that’s a half step lower too, EbMaj7.

Either way, the melody and chords work perfectly together, and you’ll enjoy finding similar ways to fit your improvised solos with the chords. Look at how Shorter uses a repetitive chord progression in m. 5-8, and repeats the melodic riff to mirror this. You can do this too while you solo. After the harmonic “meandering” of the first 4 measures, Shorter “grounds” the piece by using repetition, which is necessary since there’s no overall tonic key to give the performer or listener a sense of being “home.”

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

Further links and resources:
Adam’s Apple (album): Wikipedia

El Gaucho playalong track

Footprints: The Life And Work Of Wayne Shorter
Mercer’s biography has a whole section on Shorter’s mid-1960s recordings as leader

El Gaucho: Journey Through The Real Book #108

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