A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Grand Central” is a great tune by tenor sax giant John Coltrane that’s not played as much as it should be. While everyone’s practicing other Coltrane compositions like “Giant Steps,” “Grand Central” sits there on p.164 of The Real Book, just waiting for someone to come along and play it. Why not you?

All kidding aside, it IS a fun tune to play and solo on, and the only reason I know it so well is that I played in a jazz group in college called Grand Central. We were kind of like The Manhattan Transfer, with a vocal quartet out front. One day I was leafing through The Real Book and discovered this tune, which I realized could become our “theme song.” I wrote and 4-part jazz vocal arrangement and we played it at just about every gig, including numerous appearances at the New Haven Jazz Festival in Connecticut. It felt great to play a piano solo on this tune in front of 25,000 listeners!

Here is a recommended recording:
(for international readers who may not have access to this YouTube link, I’ve indicated the original album name wherever possible so you can listen to the recording on music streaming services, etc.)

Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane: Cannonball and Coltrane

This album was originally called Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Grand Central” is a straight-ahead uptempo swinger that contains a lot of harmonic energy in a short amount of time. Passages like the ii-V sequences in m. 2-3 give the tune a sense of propulsion that will carry your solo along. The Bbm/B7b5 section is also very energetic and is fun to solo over. Perhaps the hardest part of the song to improvise on is the bridge, which is mostly a repeated ii-V in the key of E major. But look at the bright side: if you learn this really well, the end of the bridge on “All The Things You Are” will suddenly become very easy for you!!!

Enjoy this fun and lively tune, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
Grand Central playalong track

Grand Central: Journey Through The Real Book #139

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