A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Missouri Uncompromised” is from guitarist Pat Metheny’s 1976 debut album, Bright Size Life. It’s a fun tune to play although you’ll need to spend a little time listening to the recording to get the sound in your ear. See my analysis of the chords, below, to get started playing the tune, which can bring an exciting “change of pace” to your jazz repertoire.

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.)

Pat Metheny: Bright Size Life

Gary Burton Quartet: Quartet Live

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Of the several early Pat Metheny compositions in The Real Book, “Missouri Uncompromised” may be the most “jazzy” in the traditional sense. The tempo is medium-fast, and the 8th notes are “swung.”

The chords, however, are very different from the sequences of ii/V/I’s that we find in most of the Real Book. Instead, the overarching chord movement is simply the tonic moving to the dominant and back again. Home – going away from home – and back home again.

This tonic – dominant – tonic concept is, of course, the basis of much folk and country music, and one of Metheny’s contributions to jazz is bringing elements of the folk music of his home state of Missouri into the world of jazz. The fact that he did so in such a fresh and exciting way is one sign of his musical genius. His music doesn’t sound like a “hybrid”; it sounds like “Metheny!”

While playing this tune, I’ve become fascinated with what Metheny did between the tonic and dominant. Yes, he starts on the tonic chord of A major (a triad, not a Maj7th, by the way), and in m.9 he arrives on an E chord, which is the dominant. But look at the chords in measures 4-8. We find that inside of the this most basic of chord progressions, Metheny has inserted 4 almost random harmonies, which harmonize a chromatically-descending bass line going from A down to F#, leading to the E chord in m.9. The resulting harmonies are: Bb/A, Db/Ab, Eb/G, and D/F#. Aside from the crunchy-sounding Bb/A bass, all the other chords are simple inversions, but when they’re played consecutively, they sound disconnected and almost random.

Analyzing the tune like this gives us some insight into what made Pat Metheny’s compositions sound so fresh at the time they were first recorded, in the mid-1970s. Compositions like “Missouri Uncompromised” contain elements of the most traditional folk music juxtaposed with the unpredictability of much modern jazz. And when all this is paired with a personal improvisational style, the result is “pure Metheny.”

From a piano perspective, I’ve found that all of Metheny’s pieces sound great on piano. Even the melody in the first measure of “Missouri Uncompromised,” which looks very “guitar-like,” fits right under our fingers on the keyboard. Try playing the opening, upward phrase using the fingering 1-2-3-1-2-3-4 and see how easy it feels. Use the same fingering in measure 5.

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

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

Bright Size Life
An interesting and informative discussion of this landmark album, from ECM records

Pat Metheny Interview with Jazziz
I find it interesting to hear him speak about how intensely he practiced during his teen years, because he felt he had so much to learn!

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.

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

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