A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Unchain My Heart” is an R&B song that was a big hit for Ray Charles and then covered by many other singers over the years, notably by Joe Cocker. It was composed in 1960 by Bobby Sharp who shares songwriting credit with Teddy Powell.
The original Real Book included a few non-jazz pop and rock hits, and Hal Leonard seems to be following in this tradition by including “Unchain My Heart” in the published 6th Edition. If you want to include an exciting, easy-to-play rhythm and blues tune in your repertoire, this is it!
(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.)
Ray Charles: Greatest Hits
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
When you’re soloing on “Unchain My Heart,” please resist the temptation to play all your bebop licks and treat it as a jazz tune. It’s not. Rather, it’s a soulful R&B tune that can absorb elements of jazz and especially blues. So come to it from the R&B tradition and let loose over the groove, using the ‘A’ Blues scale like we see in the melody. Once you’ve established a solid, bluesy foundation with your improvising, then yes, start experimenting with modes, bebop licks, and anything else you want to try from the jazz side of the spectrum.
Use your personal taste as your guide, and check out how well the jazz alto saxophonist Phil Woods navigates the jazz/pop divide on Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are.” Also check out the master himself, Ray Charles, as well as Maceo Parker’s tenor sax wailing on James Brown’s recordings. By listening to what established improvisers have done on pop, rock, soul, and R&B recordings, you’ll get a good sense of how far you can “push the envelope” with your own soloing.
And when in doubt…..groove!
Further links and resources:
Unchain My Heart (song): Wikipedia
Ray Charles interviewed by Dick Cavatt (excerpt)
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively
Mastering The Real Book: A 10-week Skype Intensive for Jazz Pianists
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