A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Silver Hollow” is a beautiful tune by the drummer/composer Jack DeJohnette. It’s in ¾ time and is played with straight 8ths throughout. As you’ll hear from the recordings below, you can play a kind of “atmospheric” feel beneath the melody, or go into more of a groove, like the composer himself did on his album “Irresistible Forces.” And, you can hear him play it more gently in the live performance as well.

While “Silver Hollow” may not be one of the most commonly-played tunes in The Real Book, you should definitely give it a try. Playing tunes like this will broaden your musical horizons and give you a slightly different perspective on jazz. You’ll also get new ideas. For instance, what would “Autumn Leaves” sound like if you played it in this style?

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.)

Jack DeJohnette: Irresistible Forces

Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland: Live (video)

Check out how Hancock uses a guitar sound on his keyboard, to play an acoustic guitar “duet” with Metheny!

Gonzalo Rubalcaba

A piano trio version

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Silver Hollow” is a modal tune, meaning that you’ll be improvising with scales, or modes over chords that are held out for a while. This is both an opportunity and a challenge.

It’s an opportunity because since we don’t have to think about playing a new chord every few beats, we only have to think about playing the same scale for up to 8 measures in a row, as indicated by the tune’s chord changes. This frees us up considerably, and it’s relatively easy to improvise melodically, especially when compared to a tune like “Blues For Alice” or “Giant Steps.”

But with the also comes a challenge; the challenge to play a solo that stays fresh and interesting. Since there’s less variety in the chord sequence, we need to construct our solos in a way that provides this variety through the use of melodic phrases.

These opportunities and challenges were clearly articulated by Miles Davis and the other jazz musicians who pioneered the modal style of playing during the late 1950s. They were excited by the fresh opportunities this style presented for them, and they were also well aware of the need for them to “rise to the occasion.” The energy with which they embraced both these facets of modal playing remains an inspiration to us today.

Enjoy the journey, 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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