A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Very Early” is a beautiful jazz waltz by the great pianist Bill Evans. Evans enjoyed playing jazz waltzes and composed some wonderful tunes in ¾ time (“Waltz For Debby” is his best-known example.)

While writing this, it occurs to me that learning all the Bill Evans’ tunes in The Real Book would make an excellent project for someone who wants to improve their jazz piano playing. His compositions are rooted in the standard song tradition but bring in a pure jazz sensibility that can challenge and inspire us at the same time. Playing “Waltz For Debby,” “Blue In Green,” Time Remembered,” and “Very Early” can bring us directly into his unique musical world in a powerful way. Good luck!

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: Moon Beams

Stan Getz: Pure Getz

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Bill Evans composed “Very Early” in 1962, and it has a lot in common with the tunes of Wayne Shorter and other composers who were also looking to expand the harmonic vocabulary of jazz, while staying connected to the whole tradition.

If you’re new to playing “Very Early,” take some time to play it slowly, savoring how the chords and melody sound. Evans was a motivic composer, and the basic building block of the melody is a descending leap that’s followed by an ascending leap. That’s it! But, like Wayne Shorter, Evans takes this simple motif through a constantly shifting harmonic path, surprising and delighting us at every turn.

The tune is basically in the key of C major, and it’s fascinating to see how Evans chooses to end with a highly disguised ii-V in that key, before landing on a Bmajor7th instead!

Try using Evan’s melodic motif during your improvised solos. This will relate your improvisation to the main melody itself, and give a structural unity to your performance.

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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