A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Swedish Pastry” is a 12-bar blues in Bb, composed by the guitarist Barney Kessel in 1948. Guitarist-written tunes tend to be mostly played by other guitarists these days, and this is unfortunate, since “Swedish Pastry” is a wonderful bebop blues that sounds similar to many Charlie Parker compositions and was recorded by a wide variety of musicians at the time. The bebop influence is no coincidence, since Kessel played with Parker on the “Relaxin’ At Camarillo” recording sessions. (I’ve been exploring some guitarist-written tunes in my Journey Through The Real Book video series on YouTube, and it’s been fun playing tunes I’ve overlooked before.)

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.)

Benny Goodman Septet

George Shearing Quintet

Bill Evans: The Best Of Bill Evans

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
My piano teacher Billy Taylor advised me to study bebop melodies as a way to learn and absorb the musical language. This was life-changing advice and I’ll pass it along to you here. Once you learn “Swedish Pastry,” play it and see what’s happening melodically and harmonically. (Rhythmically too!)

Isn’t it interesting how there’s an A natural in the first measure? We’d expect to see an Ab in a traditional blues, so it’s as if the beboppers wanted to set their music apart and use fresh sounds. The A can also be seen as foreshadowing the A in the 2nd measure, where it functions as the #11 in the Eb7 chord. Pianist Wynton Kelly would later use this same note to great effect in his solo on Miles Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader,” from the 1959 album Kind Of Blue. Kessel keeps us rooted in the blues, however, by bring in the expected Ab a few measures later, at the end of the phrase in bar 4. Measure sounds even more like Wynton Kelly’s style, in the way that the #11 leads into an upward arpeggio. But this sound was also firmly established during the 1940s, in Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop classic “A Night In Tunisia.”

Analyzing and investigating a bebop melody in this way can show us a lot about how to improvise using the style’s musical language, as well as the interconnections between various musicians as I’ve described above. See if you can explore the whole melody in this manner.

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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