A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Oliloqui Valley” is a great Herbie Hancock tune from his 1964 album, Empyrean Isles, which was was one of Herbie’s early albums as a leader. “Oliloqui Valley” combines the bebop influences that Hancock grew up learning with that modal type of improv that had become popular a few years earlier on Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue recording.

While you won’t find “Oliloqui Valley” being called at many jam sessions, it’s a lively, exciting tune to play. Just be sure to let the other players know about it ahead of time, so they can spend some time practicing it before your rehearsal or jam session.

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.)

Herbie Hancock: Empyrean Isles

Christian McBride: Fingerpainting

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
You’ll learn a lot about Herbie Hancock’s piano playing by studying “Oliloqui Valley.” For starters, check out the “fourth voicings” he uses during the introduction. Herbie came into Miles Davis’ group a few years after pianist Bill Evans famously introduced this type of chord voicing in the tune “So What.” Herbie, along with McCoy Tyner in The John Coltrane Quartet, expanded upon this by comping with fourth voicings in a wide spectrum of tunes and musical styles.

Check out the intro’s bass line, too. Decades later, Hancock still enjoys writing this type of bass line, even on jazz standards. His arrangement of “Solitude” on his River album is another example of how he personalized a well-known song with the use of a composed bass line.

Hancock’s interest in rock, pop, and R&B music is here too, in the way in which he uses a “straight 8th” feel for much of the tune. Herbie continued to explore straight 8th grooves for his whole career and even had a pop hit with “Rockit.”

There are two more musical elements at play here: modal playing and the use of #11 harmonies. The whole tune is basically modal, and Herbie emphasizes the #11 in a big way right when the groove moves into swing.

Much of Herbie’s musical style lies in the way in which he blends these elements together in a highly personal way. By identifying and studying each one in turn, you’ll become more familiar with his style and be better able to bring some of his magic into your playing as well!

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

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

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

Mastering The Real Book: A 10-week Skype Intensive for Jazz Pianists

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