A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Bronislaw Kaper composed the music for “Invitation” in 1950 (the lyrics are by Paul Francis Webster). Kaper, by the way, also composed the tune “On Green Dolphin Street” which has mysteriously disappeared from The Real Book over the years. (“What happened???!!!”)

The song was originally a ballad, but also can be played with a medium swing feel or with Latin rhythms. You can hear several different approaches in the recordings I’ve linked to below. For some reason, I originally learned “Invitation” as a bossa nova, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps one of the musicians who introduced me to the tune liked to play it that way. For whatever the reason, I usually play it as a bossa to this day, and I’ll occasionally go into swing for the bridge.

Recommended videos/recordings:
(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.)

John Coltrane: Standard Coltrane

Coltrane plays it as a ballad

Joe Henderson: Tetragon

Henderson swings it

Ahmad Jamal: Blue Moon

Check out the rhythms on Jamal’s version!

Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez

Listen to the Chopin-like technique and arpeggios that Evans plays in his left hand on this recording.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Playing the melody of “Invitation” is kind of like walking into a candy store and sampling a bunch of truffles. I don’t mean that it’s “sweet” like a lot of pretty melodies are, but rather, every phrase contains notes that are “rich with flavor.”

In this respect, the melody is similar to some of Duke Ellington’s compositions like “Heaven” and “In A Sentimental Mood.”

To fully appreciate the harmonic richness of the melody, play just the first note, the D, over the Cm7 chord. Listen to how the D, which is the 9th, gives a whole now color to the basic 7th chord. Play the Cm7 without the D, and then with the D and hear the difference. We sometimes take the effect of these harmonic extensions for granted, but we play better piano when we’re aware of them.

The melody begins on this D and immediately moves up a half step to a chord tone, Eb (the m.3rd). But watch what happens next: It leaps upward to a high D and then immediately goes down a perfect 4th to an A. This is bold and surprising! In just 3 beats we have mostly harmonic extensions, two leaps, and we’ve landed on a very unusual chordal color (the natural 6th in a minor chord) which is now going to be held out for the rest of the measure!

Don’t take this harmonic richness for granted. It’s a wonderful aspect of jazz and my goal here is to help you sensitize your ear to it and appreciate it fully.

After you’ve studied the opening measure like this, take some time and explore the rest of the melody on a similar manner. The whole melody contains these same elements in a variety of ways. Then you can have fun bringing these elements into your improvisations, on “Invitation” and other songs you enjoy playing. Play “Confirmation” and begin on a held ‘G.’ See where this takes you. Improvise with large intervals on “Misty.” See if that leads you to new ideas and ways to express yourself. That’s the way to study jazz. Take what you learn from one piece and apply it to others. And somewhere along the way, you’ll discover that you’ve developed an individual style for yourself.

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

Further links and resources:
Antonio Carlos Jobim: Wikipedia

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