A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Tour De Force” is a Dizzy Gillespie tune from 1957. In the 1940s, Gillespie was one of the creators of bebop, and it’s interesting to hear how he kept the bebop flame alive throughout the years, in a variety of musical settings and with different musicians.

If you look at “Tour De Force” on the page, it looks like pure bebop. But when you listen to it, you’ll hear that it has a more relaxed feel that the original bebop recordings and performances of the 1940s. By the mid-1950s, Gillespie had mellowed a bit, although he still played with fire when he chose to. But the overall culture had changed. Simply put, the 1950s were different from the 1940s, and the music often reflected this. It’s still bebop, in a slightly different feel than the recording we hear from the early days.

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.)

Dizzy Gillespie: Birks Works – The Verve Big Band Sessions

(Dizzy’s big band was an essential part of jazz history)

Jazz Giants Tivoli 1971 (video)

From a bebop reunion tour, with Gillespie on trumpet and Thelonious Monk on piano

The Modern Jazz Sextet featuring Dizzy Gillespie

John Lewis’ Modern Jazz Quartet grew out of the rhythm section of Gillespie’s big band, so it’s fascinating to hear the two of them get back together on this recording.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Tour De Force” begins with a chord progression that’s become very associated with bebop. The first chord is a m7(b5), or half-diminished harmony based on the #4 scale degree. After that, the bass line descends by half steps. And just when we think it’s going to resolve to an Ab major tonic chord at the beginning of measure 4, Gillespie surprises us by circling around a bit and then jumping right back up to the Dm7(b5) chord again. He follows this with the same descending bass line again before finally resolving to the tonic in measure 8.

Much of Gillespie’s music is associated with the sound of an opening half-diminished chord, and it’s a good study to see how he develops that sound throughout a composition. In this case, he uses the chord at the beginning of each phrase during the ‘A’ sections, which colors the sound of the overall tune in a certain way.

The bridge is based on a fairly typical chord progression that was used a lot during the Swing and Bebop Eras. It begins with a ii/V/I in the subdominant key (Db), and then mirrors this up a whole step 4 bars later. Once you learn it on this tune, you’ll begin to recognize it from time to time when you learn new repertoire. That’s one of the great aspects of learning jazz: each new thing you learn helps make the next things a little easier!

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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