A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Moonchild” is a beautiful ballad by Keith Jarrett that appeared on the Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett album in 1971. The original creators of The Real Book (whose identities are shrouded in the mists of time) must have liked this album a lot because they included several tunes from it in the fakebook, including “In Your Quiet Place, “Como En Vietnam,” and “Grow Your Own” in addition to “Moonchild.” I think they liked it so much because the sound of Jarrett’s piano and Burton’s vibes playing pop-influenced jazz sounded very new and refreshing in the early 1970s. (Burton also made some famous recordings with pianist Chick Corea at this time such as “Crystal Silence.”)

Recommended recording:
(for international readers who may not have access to this YouTube link, I’ve indicated the original album name so you can listen to the recording on music streaming services, etc.)

Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The thing to keep in mind when you’re playing Keith Jarrett’s early compositions, is that he was constantly combining traditional jazz harmony with bits of pop, gospel, and some randomness. So while “Moonchild” starts out with a very traditional ii-V (C#m7 – F#7, which is in the key of B major), he quickly shifts gears into a gospel-style deceptive resolution with a Gdim7 moving chromatically up to G#m7. Then we have a bit of “randomness,” with the Em7, before we return to C#m7 in m.4.

And so it continues. Some traditional jazz harmony with pop, gospel, and a bit of randomness. This sounded very new and fresh in the early 1970s and still challenges us today, since Jarrett’s chord progressions don’t often go where they think they’re going to go.

It can be especially challenging to solo over chord progressions such as these, but with some consistent practice you’ll begin to “hear” the changes better and mentally anticipate where they’re going, so you can shape you improvised melodies accordingly. In this respect it could be very helpful to immerse yourself in Jarrett’s tunes for a month or so, playing all of his Real Book pieces until you begin to “live in his world.” In other words, face his music head-on until it becomes easy!

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

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

Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett (album): Wikipedia

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