A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Wes Montgomery recorded “West Coast Blues” on two separate 1960 albums: one under his own name and one with saxophonist Harold Land (see links below).

The tune uses a jazz waltz rhythm and at first glance doesn’t look like a blues. But closer analysis reveals that the chord progression is in fact a blues. It’s a 24-bar blues, with each harmony held out for twice as many measures as in a basic 12-bar blues. Montgomery also throws in a few bebop-like harmonic substitutions for variety. There is an interesting juxtaposition between the use of the “sidestepping” Bm7-E7 sequence and the “down-home” F7 to Eb7 motion towards the end of the form. “New” (for the time) and traditional go hand-in-hand in Montgomery’s music.

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.)

Wes Montgomery: The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery

Harold Land: West Coast Blues!

Wycliff Gordon

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
It can be a lot of fun to practice improvising over a variation of the blues form such as Wes Montgomery has given us here. For one this, playing in ¾ time leads us to play different melodic lines than we usually play, simply because we have one less beat per measure to play then in! We can’t go on “automatic pilot” and use our usual licks and patterns verbatim.

The use of substitute chords also gets us out of our usual thought patterns, in a very good way. Even the shift down a whole step to the Ab7 chord in m. 3 makes us think a little. It’s not what we normally do on the blues.

So.. what can we do in the first 4 measures of the tune, with 2 measures of Bb7 followed by 2 measures of Ab7. We have several choices:

1. We can play a 2-bar phrase over Bb7, and then transpose the exact same phrase down a whole step over the Ab7.

2. On the Ab7, we can play a variation of the phrase we used over Bb7.

3. We can play one 4-bar phrase that takes us through both chords.

There are other possibilities as well, including the emotional feeling of the phrases. The important thing it to become intensely curious about exploring all of these different ways of playing over the chords, and seeing where each avenue takes you. This will ensure that you continue to grow as a musician.

Above all, enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
West Coast Blues!: (Wikipedia)

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

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