A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Night Dreamer” is a 1964 Wayne Shorter composition from his album of the same name. It’s a jazz waltz with a driving, swinging beat that’s very much in the Blue Note records tradition.

Recommended recordings:
(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.)

Wayne Shorter: Night Dreamer

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The musical form of “Night Dreamer” tells us a lot about Wayne Shorter’s interests as a composer. After the intro, the tune itself is only 16 measures long, which at first glance may look very “un-traditional.” But if you look at it a little more closely, you’ll see that it’s clearly divided into four 4-measure phrases; one per line. The first phrase is repeated in m. 5-9, and again, with some variation, for the final phrase. And since the 3rd phrase, in-between, is clearly a big contrast both melodically and harmonically, it functions as a “bridge.” So the short, 16-bar tune can be seen as a miniature AABA composition, which is about as traditional as you can get in jazz!

This “disguising” of a traditional form is emblematic of much of Shorter’s work, throughout his career. His music is deeply rooted in the past, but thoroughly modern at the same time. (Many of the greatest jazz musicians do this too, each in their own way.)

Interestingly, Shorter modernizes a very traditional pattern with his harmonies, too. Sit down at the piano and play the following chords: Gm, F, Eb, and D. Now, play them with a stride or “oom-pah” pattern and it’ll sound like 1920s jazz and Broadway music. So what did Shorter do? He simply changed the “quality” of the first two chords and adding extensions to the last two, making the progression: GMaj7, Fm7, EbMaj7 and D7(#9). Playing this over a jazz waltz rhythm further obscures the traditional use of this descending progression. Brilliant!!!

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

Further links and resources:
Night Dreamer (album): Wikipedia

Wayne Shorter’s homepage

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