A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Peace” is a gorgeous jazz ballad by pianist Horace Silver. As a composer, Silver is best known for his “hard bop” swingers like “Nica’s Dream,” so “Peace” is a bit of a rarity for him.
“Peace” is 3 widely played at jam sessions, so be sure to learn it thoroughly and memorize the chords so you’ll always have the tune “at your fingertips” when needed!
(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.)
Horace Silver: Blowin’ The Blues Away
Norah Jones: from Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz radio show
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
I guess that you could technically say that “Peace” is in the key of Bb, since it ends with a resolution to BbMaj7. But it visits several other tonal centers along the way.
It begins with an upward phrase into an Am7(b5) chord, which begins a descending iii-bIII7–ii-V that would typically lead right into F major. But instead of going there, Silver surprises us with a colorful BMaj7 harmony. This splash of color doesn’t last long, however, since Silver quickly puts in a very traditional ii-V-I to Bb. This mix of the expected and unexpected is a big part of what makes “Peace” so compelling. After this, the tune’s harmonic journey takes us through the unrelated keys of A major and Db major, before settling into Bb for the final resolution.
Looking at a harmonic progression like this can help us with our improvisations, because otherwise the chords might seem random and meandering. But seen in the light of where they’re resolving, the map becomes clearer. F major, a surprising BbMaj7 coloration, Bb major, A major, Ddb major, and finally Bb major. It also becomes evident that the resolution to Bb in m. 4 is related to the final cadence in the same key. It’s a unifying relationship.
So when you improvise on “Peace,” pay attention to what key you’re in at each moment, and use the major scale of that key to construct your melodic lines. If you find it too challenging at first to change keys so quickly, isolate each tonal center and practice improvising over those chords until it becomes easier for you. Then you can practice connecting the various tonal centers until your improvisations start to flow naturally.
“Peace” is one of the great jazz ballads. Stick with it until you learn it well, and you’ll get more and more enjoyment from playing it.
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
Transcription of Horace Silver’s piano solo on “Peace”
Horace Silver interview
Silver discusses his career in this excellent interview by Bob Rosenbaum
How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively
Mastering The Real Book: A 10-week Skype Intensive for Jazz Pianists
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