A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Speak No Evil” is one of the classic Wayne Shorter tunes. It’s the title track from one of his greatest albums and the tune itself is part of the “must-know” jazz repertoire. (It might not be the first tune you learn, but make sure you eventually learn it. It’s a good one!)

Incidentally, a good friend of mine who’s a jazz vocalist used to have “Speak No Evil” playing on his voicemail, underneath his spoken voice. I wonder how many callers noticed the message he was sending by playing this tune!

Recommended videos/recordings:
(for international readers who may not have access to this YouTube link, I’ve indicated the original album name so you can listen to it on music streaming services, etc.)

Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Speak No Evil” contains all the elements of a classic Wayne Shorter composition: a catchy melody that’s motivically-based, colorful harmonies that move in surprising ways, and propulsive rhythms in the melodic line that are picked up by the rhythm section.

The best way to become comfortable improvising over a chord progression such as this is to start simply. Begin by choosing just one note per chord and playing that using various rhythms. At the same time you’re doing this, listen to the chords really well and see if you become more and more accustomed to hearing how they move from one to another. After a while you’ll be able to improvise a simple melody that sounds good as it wends its way through the chord changes.

Don’t be in a hurry with this, though. It took some very accomplished musicians years to develop this style and none of us can expect to learn it overnight. Take your time, enjoy the process, and listen to a ton of jazz from the 1960s. At some point it will begin to come more naturally and you’ll be able to feel confident playing these tunes at jam sessions and on gigs. Sometimes it’s true that the slower you go, the farther you’ll eventually travel.

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

Further links and resources:
Speak No Evil (album): Wikipedia
Includes a brief commentary about each track

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