A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Guitarist Wes Montgomery’s “Road Song” is from his 1968 album of the same name. In the 1968’s, it was still possible for an instrumental album to get mainstream radio play, and it looks like Montgomery selected the album’s songs with the intention of reaching a wide audience, while still playing great jazz. In addition to the bluesy title track, the group also plays two Beatles songs, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair,” and the folk song “Greensleeves,” which John Coltrane had also recorded in a jazz context.

It’s exciting to see some of today’s jazz musicians, such as pianist Brad Mehldau, incorporate pop and rock tunes into their repertoire in much the same way. What pop songs do you enjoy listening to? Do some experimenting and see if you can find a way to improvise on them and stretch out a bit. We’re only limited by our own imagination!

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.)

Wes Montgomery: Road Song

Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery: The Dynamic Duo

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One of the fun things about a tune like “Road Song” is that you can play bluesy and minute, and bebop the next. In fact, the chord progression almost “asks” us to do this!

The first 4 measures set up a nice, 1960’s soulful sound, especially over the tune’s Latin groove. Blues licks sound great here. And then, the chord progressions takes on a different flavor in measures 5-7. These chords imply a more melodic-type solo line, and you can definitely go in a bebop direction if you wish.

Musical contrast works well in many tunes, and “Road Song” is no exception. Enjoy playing this Wes Montgomery classic, 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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