A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Turn Out The Stars” is a complex, beautiful jazz ballad by Bill Evans. Evans first recorded the tune at his 1966 concert at New York City’s Town Hall, which we can listen to on the live recording (see below). It’s definitely not the kind of tune you’d call at a jam session since not many players have it memorized, but if you’re looking for new repertoire, it’s a wonderful choice.

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.)

Bill Evans: Bill Evans At Town Hall

Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin: Tribute To Bill Evans (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
In “Turn Out The Stars,” Bill Evans includes many traditional ii/V/I’s, in both major and minor. In this sense, you’ll recognize a lot of chord patterns you’ve probably seen in other tunes, which makes it easier to begin improvising over the chord progression. But the way in which Evans continually modulates from key to key can make it difficult to mentally hear what’s coming next.

In other words, Evans challenges our musical ears with a tune like this. So let’s take this as an opportunity to improve our musical hearing. You can have fun inventing eartraining exercises based on “Turn Out The Stars.” Sing the melody while playing it on piano. Then see if you can sing it correctly, on pitch, a cappella (without using the piano). Do the same with the bass notes. Then sing each chord as an arpeggio, hitting all the chord tones up and down.

Singing is one of the best ways to improve your musical ear. If you can sing it, you can hear it. And if you can hear it, you’ll play it.

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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