A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Seven Steps To Heaven” is an uptempo tune by Miles Davis and pianist Victor Feldman. They composed it in 1963 during a period of transition for Davis. His previous group had broken up, and he was just beginning to assemble the musicians who would become his groundbreaking 1960’s quintet. In fact, the studio version of “Seven Steps To Heaven” was the first recording that Miles made with the now-famous rhythm section of Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on 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.)

Miles Davis: Seven Steps To Heaven

Miles Davis: Four and More

A live version

Miles Davis Quintet: Rehearsal, May14, 1963

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
To learn “Seven Steps To Heaven,” you’ll need to listen to the Miles Davis recording in order to get the overall “feel” and arrangement. It starts with the bass line, like in The Real Book. Then the piano chords come in, exactly as they’re written in The Real Book as well. After that, during the melody, the bass and piano play in the same rhythm s the melody notes during each ‘A’ Section, with exciting drum fills where The Real Book says “N.C.” for “no chord.” The bass walks during the bridge.

This is a real fast tune and while the chords aren’t particularly challenging, it does take a while to become comfortable playing solos at tempos this fast. One way to practice this is to set your metronome to a very slow tempo, improvise once through the tune, and then move the metronome’s tempo up one notch. Do this for an hour or two and see how fast you get. Then, the next day, start slowly again (but not quite as slow as on the previous day) and see if you can get to a slightly faster tempo. After a few weeks or a month, you should be comfortable playing it much faster than you began with.

Another way is to start by practicing it at a fast tempo, while improvising a very simple solo with whole and half notes. This way you get used to the fast tempo right away and can gradually add quarter and half notes as it becomes easier for you. Again, do this for a few weeks or a month and see where it takes you.

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

Further links and resources:
Seven Steps To Heaven (album): 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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