A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Litha” is one of Chick Corea’s early compositions, from his 1967 album “Tones For Joan’s Bones.” Listening to it now, a half-century later, I’m amazed at how much “new” jazz these days sounds exactly like this. It’s as if “Litha” became a sort of template for the contemporary small jazz group sound!

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.)

Chick Corea: Tones For Joan’s Bones

Stan Getz: Sweet Rain

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
A lot of times we associate jazz tunes with their composers in terms of musical style. In other words, we play Chick Corea tunes like Chick did, Duke Ellington tunes like Ellington did, and Bud Powell tunes like Powell did. But these artists themselves didn’t do that. Chick plays everyone’s tunes in the style of Chick Corea. Ellington didn’t play George Gershwin’s “Summertime” the same way that Gershwin did on piano, and Bud Powell, certainly didn’t let go of his bebop attitude when playing Swing Era material.

This doesn’t mean, however, that these artists never used different techniques. After all, even Corea occasionally plays stride piano. But they each do have a particular rhythmic, harmonic and melodic viewpoint which they put front and center when playing someone else’s compositions.

Listen to the melody of “Litha” in each of the recordings I’ve linked to above. Corea and company play it very energetically, and most performances of the tune I’ve heard use his version as a model. But Getz, as you’ll hear, interprets it very differently. The tempo is still swift, but his tone is much mellower and there’s a more of a relaxation in the overall feel. Same tune, different interpretation. Stan Getz has such a strong musical persona that he brought the tune to him, rather than going out to the tune. Corea, Ellington, Powell and the other greats do the same thing.

So the next time you sit down to play “Litha,” “In A Sentimental Mood,” or your favorite bebop tune, play it your own way. Dig down deep inside and discover what it is that you have to offer, musically. What makes you unique? How do you like to play? Then, play the tune the way that only you and you alone can play it. This is a part of the huge opportunity that jazz provides, and one that too few pianists are willing to truly explore.

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

Further links and resources:
The Best Way To Use The Real Book

Matrix: The Emergence Of Chick Corea
An overview of Corea’s early career development

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.

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