A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Pinocchio” was recorded by the Miles Davis Quintet in 1967 for their album Nefertiti, which was basically their last all-acoustic album where they played with a swing beat (they soon began transitioning to a more straight-8th note feel). As with many of Wayne Shorter’s compositions, “Pinocchio” is built upon a short melodic motif. It’s fun to see how Shorter plays around with this motif; extending it, inverting it, and developing it’s various intervals and rhythms.

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.)

Miles Davis: Nefertiti

Weather Report: Mr. Gone

Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, & Michael Brecker

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
If you’re like most jazz pianists, the first time you try to play a tune like “Pinocchio” you’ll say to yourself, “What the heck IS that???” The chords may not make “sense,” and the melody may not be like anything you’ve ever encountered.

But before you give up, remember that even a great musician like Wayne Shorter didn’t begin his musical career by writing and playing songs like this. “Pinocchio” represents a time in Shorter’s music development when he had already been playing swing, bebop and post-bop for a long time and was now looking towards a more fluid, abstract way of making music.

So… what does this mean for you? It means that instead of becoming frustrated that you can’t immediately play “Pinocchio” like Wayne Shorter, you can view this as simply your first encounter with a new jazz concept. (I’m telling you this so you can avoid reacting to it as I did when I first played it!) Realize that you’ll have to find it strange for maybe the first 1,000 times you play it. This is a necessary, and probably unavoidable, phase in your own development as a jazz musician.

Don’t get impatient or frustrated if you feel this way. Instead, just keep playing the chords in your left hand and the melody in your right, day after day, until it begins to sound, and feel, more natural. (And yes, it eventually will!) At that point, start improvising simple, stepwise melodic phrases over the chords, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering this wonderful, advanced, piece of music.

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

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

Transcription and analysis of Herbie Hancock’s “Pinocchio” piano solo
By Steve Kahn

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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