A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Sea Journey” is a 1972 tune by Chick Corea. It’s not a “typical” jazz tune, in that it features a repeating bass pattern, also called an “ostinato,” in the left hand. Corea composed it when he, and others, were looking for a way to bring jazz to a wider audience, which was embracing the sounds of classic rock and pop at that time. One of the ways Corea did this was to use Latin rhythms, which are played with straight-8th notes in much the same way as pop and rock are. He also used harmonies such as the extended Am chord at the beginning of the tune to give it an “open” and fresh sound that appeals to both jazz and non-jazz audiences. You can still hear this influence in jazz today.

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.)

Chick Corea: Piano Improvisations Vol.1

This is the original recording of the tune, when it was still called "Song For Sally." (Much thanks to Todd Yampol for this link!)

Gary Burton’s Bootleg Series

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The main thing to practice with “Sea Journey” is improvising over the left hand ostinato. This type of playing requires a good degree of rhythmic independence between the hands, and the key is to work on it methodically, so you’ll gradually develop it over the course of a few weeks or months.

To begin, just play the LH pattern alone. Play it for 5-10 minutes for several days in a row, and don’t even try to improvise over it for now. Just get your left hand used to playing that pattern, over and over, until it can play it “on its own.” Develop your muscle memory so you don’t have to think about it so much.

Then, begin playing the simplest things possible with your RH, while keeping the ostinato going with your LH. Whole notes are good to begin with. Just play one whole note in each measure over that repeating bass pattern. No hurry. (Ironically, practicing patiently and methodically in this way will help you improve faster than the other way!)

Once playing whole notes becomes easy, try to improvise simple melodies. Yes, you’ll mess up the LH pattern. Everyone does. Don’t worry about it. Just “recover,” keep going, and you’ll soon be able to play “Sea Journey” with a sense of ease. It’s a joyous moment when playing over an ostinato starts to become easy for you!

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

Further links and resources:
Chick Corea: Wikipedia

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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