A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
We don’t hear much about Benny Carter anymore, but he was a living legend back in the 1980s and 90s when I was in college and later when I moved to New York City as a professional pianist.

Carter was a bandleader played both alto sax and trumpet, and also composed and arranged extensively. His career began in the 1920s and lasted until he played his last gig in 1998. Talk about a long career!

“Only Trust Your Heart” is a nice Bossa Nova and the only Benny Carter tune in The Real Book. Have fun playing it, and also let it be your introduction to this great musician. Go back and listen to some of his recordings and study his melodicism. Carter came out of the Swing Era tradition but somehow his playing always seemed fresh and contemporary, even when he was playing with younger, more “modern” players. I guess that melody always stays current!

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.)

Benny Carter: Songbook

Featuring vocalist Dianne Reeves

Diana Krall: Only Trust Your Heart

Astrud Gilberto & Stan Getz: Getz/Gilberto #2

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Only Trust Your Heart” is a pretty tune that shows off composer Benny Carter’s natural melodic gifts. Use the melody as inspiration for your own soloing, on this and other bossas. The more you learn to trust the power of being melodic while you improvise, the better your solos will sound and the more your listeners will enjoy your playing.

Don’t worry: you can still play all your bebop licks. But there’s an underlying melodicism in the solos by the great improvisers that’s lacking in most of their imitators. Charlie Parker sounded melodic even while he was playing 32nd notes at light speed. This approach will help you, too!

For instance, can you play a solo on “Confirmation” that’s a gently melodic as the melody to “Only Trust Your Heart.” Work on it for a month or solo and see what happens to your jazz improv. Chances are that your playing will improve by about 300%! (After all, no one’s ever complained that a jazz pianist’s playing was “too melodic!”) Melody is important: embrace it and you’ll go far.

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

Further links and resources:
Benny Carter: Wikipedia

Benny Carter interview
With some links to other 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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