A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Tune Up” is one of the great tunes from the late Bebop period of the early-to-mid-1950s. It’s uptempo and has a very simple melody to learn. The chords are fairly easy to improvise on too, despite the fast tempo.

Even though Miles Davis is listed as the composer, the tune was probably composed by saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. (We can put this on the list of “tunes that Miles Davis got credit for but were really written by others. It’s a distinguished list of composers that also includes pianist Bill Evans and arranger Gil Evans!)

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.)

Miles Davis: Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet

Chet Baker: Live In Bologna 1985

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Tune Up” is constructed with a series of ii/V/I’s in various keys, going down by whole steps. To practice it, focus on one key at a time for a while. Em7/A7/DMaj7. Solo on these chords, starting slowly and working your way up to a fast swing tempo, until you feel comfortable spinning out improvises melodies in the key of D. Then do the same in the key of C with Dm7/G7/CMaj7. Be “patient yet persistent” and stay with it. After that, do it in Bb: Cm7/F7/BbMaj7.

After that, the first ending provides a nice contrast to this predictability. It starts out like we’re at the beginning of the tune again, with an Em7 chord. But instead of going to A7, it slides up a half step, to F7. This in turn resolves traditionally to BbMaj7. The effect of the 2nd ending is that it contains a bits of the key of D and bits of the key of Bb, effectively evoking both the 1st and 3rd phrases of the tune. In this way, it provides unity in a tune that might otherwise seem like it’s merely jumping around randomly from key to key.

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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