A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“I’m All Smiles” is a Broadway show tune composed in 1965 by Michael Leonard and Herbert Martin. Jazz musicians began playing and recording it soon thereafter, probably because of the jazziness of the harmony and the fact that the melody makes extensive use of chord extensions and altered notes such as #9’s and #11’s. In other words, it automatically sounds “jazzy,” even when played in the original version.

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.)

Hampton Hawes: I’m All Smiles

Charlie Haden, Geri Allen, Paul Motion: Segments

Don Friedman Trio: My Favorite Things

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One way to learn jazz is to use a song like “I’m All Smiles” as a way to become familiar with and study a wide range of jazz pianists.

For instance, have you heard Geri Allen play yet? If not, then check out the recording I’ve linked to above. She’s playing in a trio with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motion, who during the early 1970s were two-thirds of the Keith Jarrett Trio.

Geri Allen is a wonderful pianist and check out how she plays “I’m All Smiles.” She brings a deep, rich sound out of the instrument which gives her playing a unique quality. As you learn the tune, keep returning to her recording and see what musical decisions she makes at each point in the song. Does she harmonize the melody with block chords, or use single notes? Does she play fast runs or does she take her time? Or maybe a little of both? Ask yourself what is Charlie Haden playing on bass. Is he sticking to the roots or is he playing more melodically. Does he have a full or a thin sound? And as for drummer Paul Motion, is he keeping strict time or does he imply the beat? What patterns is he using on the cymbals? Or is he constantly changing it up? You can also go further and listen to the Haden and Motion play with Keith Jarrett. Do they play the same way with Geri Allen? What does Allen’s solo sound like? Is she playing straight-ahead bebop? Has she been influenced by Herbie Hancock? Duke Ellington?

This kind of “inquisitive listening” is what it’s all about, and as you can see, it’s endless. One thing can lead to another and you’ll learn more than you may have ever imagined, if you stay with it.

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

Further links and resources:
Vijay Iyer on Piano Jazz
An audio interview with radio host Marian McPartland, including a performance of “I’m All Smiles”

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.

Jazz Piano Lessons via Skype
Personal guidance from an expert, caring teacher. Beginning through Advanced.

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

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