A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Uniquity Road” is what we might consider a “tune for specialists.” That is, you’ll enjoy playing it if you want to dig into a jazz waltz that shifts meters with an occasional 4/4 bar thrown in, harmonies that constantly modulate, and a melody that mainly features the kind of wide intervallic leaps that are idiomatic to the guitar and bass, but are extremely challenging for pianists and horn players. If you thrive on challenges such as this, then by all means, “go for it!” You’ll find plenty of musical rewards as you travel down “Uniquity Road.”

Guitarist Pat Metheny included “Uniquity Road” on his first album as leader, 1976’s Bright Size Life. The album sounded new and fresh when it came out, but Metheny didn’t catapult to fame until he formed The Pat Metheny Group and streamlined his musical approach in a more pop-jazz oriented approach. But Bright Size Life still sounds new and fresh today. The combination of Metheny’s melodic style, rhythmic flexibility, and pearl-like guitar tone makes him one of the all-time great jazz stylists.

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.)

Pat Metheny: Bright Size Life

Gary Burton and Pat Metheny: Live in Genoa

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One of the fun things about learning to play a tune like “Uniquity Road,” as I alluded to above, is that it’s utterly unlike most other tunes we’ll ever play. (At least as pianists.). Most of the melody is based on widely-spaced arpeggios and their variants, and the harmonies move as the wind blows. (Remember, this is a post-Wayne Shorter world we live in.)

To dive in, start by listening to Metheny’s recording every day for a few weeks. You’ll need to get the sounds in your ear so they begin to make logical sense and start to flow naturally. Then, or at the same time, practice just a few measures at a time, repeating them until they begin to feel “right” under your fingers.

A tune like this, as with, say, Steve Swallow’s compositions, unlocks its secrets gradually. With persistence, you’ll find yourself sitting down at the piano one day and playing “Uniquity Road” as naturally as you play “Take The ‘A’ Train” or “Satin Doll.”

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
Bright Size Life: Wikipedia

An interview with Pat Metheny
Contains nice insights into the difference between live performances and studio recordings

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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