A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Every time I hear this Weather Report tune, I wonder “Who exactly was the man in the green shirt, and why did Joe Zawinul write a tune about him?” In any event, it’s a great piece of music and I’m guessing it was inspired by some guy that Zawinul saw in a café one afternoon. But who knows? Maybe the group’s saxophonist, Wayne Shorter, walked into rehearsal wearing a green shirt!

“Man In The Green Shirt” was composed in 1970 by the pianist and multi-keyboardist Joe Zawinul, to be played by the jazz fusion group Weather Report. Like all Weather Report tunes, “Man In The Green Shirt” has a complex musical form and isn’t the kind of tune that you’re going to call at a jam session. It needs preparation and all the players have to know it well in order to play it together.

But with some advance preparation, your group and have a lot of fun with “Man In The Green Shirt.” Zawinul knew how to write “groove” tunes and this one can be thrilling to play. Give it a try!!

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.)

Weather Report: Tale Spinnin’

Weather Report: Live and Unreleased

Bill Warfield and the New York Jazz Repertory Orchestra: Live at Iridium (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One glance at the Real Book leadsheet for “Man In The Green Shirt” will tell you that this isn’t a “typical” jazz tune. No member of the group can play their “usual stuff.” No walking bass lines, AABA forms, or ii/V/I progressions. Instead, you’ll need to listen to the recording to get a sense of the rhythmic pulse. It’s basically a rock beat with lost of 16th notes in the cymbals and syncopation by the bass and piano. (Zawinul, by the way, plays an electric piano on the original, but acoustic piano works well too.)

And speaking of Zawinul’s playing, check out his “comping” rhythms during the Cm section in the 6th line of the leadsheet. It’s just a C minor chord, so you can try doing this yourself. Make sure you keep feeling the underlying groove and then play the piano like it’s a pair of hand drums. This style is a lot of fun to play!

The piece is pretty simple, harmonically, and you get to solo over chords that don’t change frequently. There is one tricky section, however, where Zawinul writes “slash” chords, like C/F (a C major triad over an F bass note). Practice these slowly to get the sound in your ear as your hands become accustomed to playing them. After a while, it will begin to feel natural, but you’ll generally need to practice this section for a few weeks, especially if you’ve never played anything like this before.

Since “Man In The Green Shirt” isn’t a straight-ahead jazz tune, begin by listening to recordings of it for a few days. Then, sit down at the piano and start learning to play it. This kind of energetic jazz-fusion can bring a new kind of spark to your playing!

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

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

Tale Spinnin’
An informative article about the Weather Report album

Joe Zawinul in rehearsal 1985
Amazing footage of Zawinul in his studio

1970s in Jazz: Wikipedia

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.

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