A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Maiden Voyage” is one of pianist Herbie Hancock’s most famous tunes. First recorded for Hancock’s landmark Maiden Voyage album in 1965, it features a sustained melody over a syncopated rhythmic pattern.

“Maiden Voyage” is a great tune to play at any level, but especially if you are just beginning to learn your modes.

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.)

Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage

Herbie Hancock: V.S.O.P

Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock: Corea/Hancock

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
When learning a modal tune like “Maiden Voyage,” the first step is to assign a mode to each chord. There are two ways to think about the chords in “Maiden Voyage” in terms of which modes to play.

The first way is to take The Real Book chords at face value. Each chord is a minor 7th chord over a bass note which is a perfect 4th lower. The opening chord, for instance, is Am7/D in the bass. To pick which mode to use in this tune, you can simply play a Dorian mode for the minor chord, while you keep the indicated bass note underneath. So for the Am7/D, you’ll improvise with the A Dorian mode but with a D in the bass (played either by you or the bass player).

With these “slash chords,” however, there’s another way to think about the mode which I actually prefer in this case. Since Am7/D can also be seen as a D7sus4 chord, you can think of the scale as a D Mixolydian mode, which contains the exact same notes as the A Dorian mode we discussed above. The 2 ways sound the same; the advantage to thinking about it as a D7sus4 chord is that the chord and scale both have the same root. It’s a more direct relationship and hence is easier to think about while you’re soloing. Whichever method of choosing modes you prefer, have fun soloing over this great tune!

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

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

Maiden Voyage (album): Wikipedia

Herbie Hancock on Piano Jazz
Radio host Marian McPartland interviews Hancock. (also features piano solos and duets)

A transcription of George Coleman’s tenor sax solo on “Maiden Voyage”
This transcription, by Steve Kahn, will give you some ideas on how to solo over the tune’s chord changes

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