A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Joe Zawinul became so famous as the founder of the 1970’s jazz/rock fusion group Weather Report that his earlier career is often overlooked. He rose to prominence as a member of alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s group, made some excellent albums as leader, and recorded with Miles Davis at the time when Miles was transitioning from jazz into more rock-oriented grooves.

Zawinul’s beautiful waltz, “Midnight Mood,” is from this time period. First recorded in 1967, it’s not one of the more widely-played Real Book tunes, so you won’t want to call it out during a jam session and expect everyone to already know it. But if you’re looking for a new tune to add to your repertoire, this is a good one!

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.)

Cannonball Adderley: Radio Nights

Joe Zawinul: The Rise & Fall of the Third Stream

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The melody to “Midnight Mood” is a pretty waltz tune that’s fairly easy to play. When you add the chords, listen carefully to the first melody note in each measure. You’ll hear that Zawinul puts a lot of colorful notes at these points.

The first chord in the tune, for example, is a DbMaj7, and the melody begins with an Eb, which is the 9th of the chord. Go through the whole tune like this and analyze which notes are emphasized on the strong beat at the beginning of each measure. You’ll find a lot of 9ths, 11ths, and #9ths in addition to some “usual” chord tones.

By placing chordal extensions in prominent melodic spots, Zawinul creates a very colorful melodic sound which is very beautiful and evocative. Zawinul may have been influenced in this regard by Duke Ellington, who was one of his idols. Duke did this all the time and in fact once gave his son, Mercer, the musical assignment of composing a song where none of the melodic notes were in the corresponding chords. Try this for yourself can see what you come up with.

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

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

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

Money In The Pocket (Album): Wikipedia

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