A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Charlie Parker based “Scrapple From The Apple” on the chords to “Honeysuckle Rose,” with the bridge from “I Got Rhythm.” These were both songs that Parker had played as a teenager so “Scrapple” must have meant a lot to him.

This is one of the most popular bebop tunes to play at jam sessions so be sure to learn it well. Bebop melodies may sound complex at first, but I always find it fascinating how fast they become “catchy” and melodic after we get to know them a little better. I sometimes even find myself humming “Scrapple” and other bebop melodies while walking down the street!

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.)

Charlie Parker: Charlie Parker On Dial

Sonny Stitt: Sits In With The Oscar Peterson Trio

Keith Jarrett Standards Trio: Up For It

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
We can learn a lot about bebop soloing by analyzing their melodies. In fact, my own jazz piano teacher, Billy Taylor (who had known and played with Parker) once advised me to do this myself. I came up with a system whereby I would analyze a very short part of the melody and figure out exactly what was going on with it. I would then take that specific technique through the whole tune, applying it in every place I could.

Let’s look at the first few notes, for instance. The first 3 notes and F#, G, and Bb, and these take place over a Gm7 chord. The G and Bb are chord tones which are preceded by a lower neighbor tone, the F#. Now, see if you play this same pattern of “lower neighbor-chord tone-chord tone” in other ways on the same Gm7 chord. One way would be to play A-Bb-D. Do you see how it’s the same concept, but starting on a different note? You could also mix up the melodic direction by playing A-Bb-G. On the next chord, C7, something like D#-E-G would be an example of this.

You can then take this same short phrase through the whole chord progressions. And then, you can analyze the next part of the melody and do the same thing. This is a very powerful way to learn bebop. You’ll be taking Parker’s melodic language and learning to use it fluently. This is a huge study and will give you enough material for countless hours of fruitful practice.

Dig in, have fun, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
A transcription of Charlie Parker’s alto sax solo
In concert key

An audio of Charlie Parker being interviewed by Paul Desmond

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

10 Ways To Learn Bebop Piano

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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