A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” is probably his most often-played tune, and it’s a good tune for beginning improvisers. It has a simple melody and is a minor blues in Cm, although the chords are extended to twice their usual length.

There are two classic recordings of “Footprints,” and you’ll benefit from listening to and comparing them both. First, Shorter recorded it himself, for his album Adam’s Apple. Later, he recorded it again in a more rhythmically and harmonically abstract version on Miles Davis’ album Miles Smiles. Both recordings were released in 1967 and also feature Herbie Hancock on piano.

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.)

Wayne Shorter: Adam’s Apple

Miles Davis: Miles Smiles

Terence Blanchard: Newport Jazz Festival, 2003 (video)

Wayne Shorter & Esperanza Spaulding: TV appearance (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Any rehearsal of “Footprints” will inevitably involve a discussion about which chord changes to use in measures 17-20. It seems like every recording of the tune uses different chords in this spot, so definitely get to know at least a few of the options. Take a look at the link by Peter Spitzer I’ve included below, which discusses many of the various choices.

Aside from that, “Footprints” is a fun tune to play, and the basic changes are fairly easy. It’s a minor blues in an extended form. There’s also a nice “3 against 4” rhythmic thing you can get into at times, resulting from how the bass line relates to the melody.

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

Further links and resources:
Footprints playalong track

Miles Smiles and The Invention of Post Bop
This book, by Jeremy Yudkin, has a good discussion of the difference between the Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis Quintet recordings of the tune, with transcriptions of Sorter’s tenor saxophone solos you can look at. Yudkin’s musical analysis is informative and insightful, although I disagree with his implication that the Davis recording is superior to the version on Adam’s Apple because it is musically more abstract and “advanced.” I’m not sure that stylistic evolution can necessarily be equated with “progress” in and of itself. In fact, Wayne’s solo version sounds better to my ears in several ways, including his amazing solo! The whole book is excellent throughout, though, and has some transcriptions of Herbie Hancock’s playing as well as the whole group’s.

Those “Footprints” changes
Peter Spitzer shows all the various chord changes that have been used on “Footprints”

Footprints: Journey Through The Real Book #121

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