A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Reincarnation Of A Lovebird” was recorded by bassist/composer Charles Mingus in 1960, and is reflective of his expansive musical vision. Mingus studied classical music, and was never bound by the 32-bar song form (or any other musical convention, for that matter!).
Bebop, early jazz, the blues, and lounge music exist side-by-side in Mingus’ musical universe, and “Reincarnation Of A Lovebird” contains it all. Even though the notes are all there on the leadsheet, you’ll absolutely need to listen to Mingus’ recording at least a few times to get a “feel” for how the tune goes. And once you do, you can go along for the ride!
(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.)
Charles Mingus: The Clown
Gil Evans/Steve Lacy: Paris Blues
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
As I mentioned above, be sure to listen to Mingus’ own recording of “Reincarnation Of A Lovebird” to get his ensemble “sound” in you ears. Then you’ll be in a better position to decide if you want to base your interpretation on his concept or aim for something more personal. Gil Evans and Steve Lacy, on the other recording I’ve linked to, choose a highly personal approach. Their duet is introspective whereas Mingus’ is more “outward” and boisterous. It’s fascinating to compare versions that are as different as these are. Not only do they give us some great ideas on how to play these tunes, but they can give us the confidence to follow our own instincts, and play jazz standards in a way that reflects our own, unique personality.
To get started with soloing on “Reincarnation Of A Lovebird,” let’s check out the melody. Look at the great lick that Mingus wrote in the very first measure, over the Gm(maj7) chord. What a great lick! Play it a few times and get a feel for it, physically. See how it outlines the chords, and also included the ‘A’ passing tone? You can use a lick like this in many situations, and on other tunes as well. Try it on any m7th chord, substituting a m(maj7)chord. (You could use it in the first measure of “Scrapple From The Apple,” for instance.)
If you study the entire melody in this way, you’ll find that Mingus actually teaches you the melodic vocabulary you can use to solo over this tune and others. Look at the 3rd and 4th measures of letter C, for example. Do you see how the melody is constructed of upward 4th intervals? That sounds great and you can use them in your soloing throughout the whole tune. And, just as we did above, try using these intervals of a 4th in other tunes as well. Try them on “Autumn Leaves,” “Donna Lee,” and “Take The ‘A’ Train.” See how it freshens up your playing and gives you new ways to play the tunes you already know well.
This method of learning can take you a long way. Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
A biographical sketch of Mingus
A beginner’s guide to Charles Mingus and his music
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
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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