A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Skating In Central Park” is a lovely jazz waltz by John Lewis, who is most famous for being the leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Lewis composed the tune as part of the soundtrack for the 1959 film Odds Against Tomorrow. The Modern Jazz Quartet recorded the tune on their album Music From Odds Against Tomorrow.

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.)

The Modern Jazz Quartet: The Last Concert

Bill Evans and Jim Hall: Undercurrent

Toshiko Akiyoshi: New York Sketch Book

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One way to begin learning a jazz waltz such as “Skating In Central Park” is to play the chords in your left hand and simply hold each one for its full length, which in this tune will usually mean for three beats (dotted-half notes). Do this with your left hand while your right hand plays the melody and improvises.

Many jazz players hold themselves back because they’re constantly trying to “move forward” and play harder and harder things. It’s OK to try difficult things, of course, but at the same time you want to do something that’s “attainable” for you and do it over and over and over and over and over and over. You could play “Skating In Central Park” using this simple LH technique for 6 months. What would happen? You’ll get really good at playing in ¾ time, you’ll get really good at soloing on this tune, and you’ll be able to play a jazz waltz in tempo without struggling. That would be great, right! And then, you’ll be really ready to move onto more complex rhythms between the hands and more advanced pianistic textures.

Be patient yet persistent. That’s what’s going to get you where you want to go with your jazz piano playing. Above all, enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
The Best Way To Use The Real Book

John Lewis on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz radio show
Interview, solo piano performances, and duets with McPartland

“Inside information” from jazz piano legend John Lewis

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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