A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Red Clay” is a jazz-rock tune by trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Hubbard recorded it on his 1972 album of the same name, with a stellar group which featured Herbie Hancock on electric piano.

By the early 70s, jazz musicians had been moving toward straight 8th notes for about a decade already, first through the use of bossa nova rhythms and then rock beats. “Red Clay” is basically a jazz melody with jazz chords over a rock beat that’s initially laid down by the drums.

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.)

Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay

CTI All Stars: California Concert (1971)

Freddie Hubbard: Ancona Jazz ’85 (Live video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Even though the lead sheet to “Red Clay” looks pretty complex, the chord progression is short and repetitive. For soloing, it’s just Cm7/ Bbm7 Eb7/AbMaj7/Dm7(b5)G7(#5).

It’s interesting how composer Freddie Hubbard used once chord progression for the tune’s melody and a different chord progression for soloing. The melody’s chord progression is a little abstract, with lots of whole-step root motion and sus chords. But then, he puts in a very traditional jazz progression for soloing. It’s like he took a 4-bar “snapshot” from a bebop tune and just repeats it over and over!

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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