A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Wild Flower” is a beautiful Wayne Shorter composition from his 1964 album Speak No Evil. The tune is in ¾ time, and is generally played smoothly during the melody and more like a rhythmic jazz waltz during the solos.

Wayne Shorter is probably the most influential jazz composer of the modern (post-1950s) era, so be sure to learn at least several of his pieces thoroughly until you understand his musical concept and approach.

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.)

Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil

With Herbie Hancock on piano

Eddie Henderson Project

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One of my favorite aspects of Wayne Shorter’s music is how he’ll use subtle chord substitutions to color a melody differently the second time it appears in a tune, or how he’ll go to a new melodic note when we think a phrase is repeating exactly. It’s as if he’s turning a kaleidoscope so that we see/hear new combinations of color-sounds.

We can study this in “Wild Flower.”

The tune is in two 32-bar halves, for a total of 64 measures. The opening section begins with an upward Bb major scale, over a Bbmaj7 chord. On the repeat, however, the same melody is harmonized by and Ebmaj7 chord, followed by Cm7.

Why does Shorter do this?

Well, we can’t know exactly what was going through his mind while he composed this music, but we can look at where the progression is coming from and what the musical effect is. In this case, it turns out the first section ends on an E7(#9) chord. So it makes good harmonic sense to move to the Ebmajor7 right after this, as a downward resolution. And by adding the Cm7 in the next measure, the increased harmonic rhythm serves to build momentum as the tune enters the new section.

Shorter does this again, with the melody this time, 11 measures from the end of the tune. At the corresponding spot in the first half, in m. 21, there’s an upward leap of an octave to a high D. This sounds pretty dramatic, and sets up the high E which follows as the peak of the melodic arc.

When this place happens again in the second section, Shorter leaps up to an Eb instead of the D. This reminds of, incidentally, of how Cole Porter would go to notes that were progressively higher throughout a tune. “Begin The Beguine” and “So In Love” are good examples of Porter’s use of this compositional technique. In Shorter’s case, the high Eb serves as the last melodic peak, and is followed by a repeat of the tune’s opening phrase, which is harmonized by yet another series of chords; Abmaj7 to Dbmaj7.

As you explore Wayne Shorter’s compositional techniques, remember to always enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
Speak No Evil (album): Wikipedia

Conversations with Wayne Shorter
A video interview with Shorter, by Dr. David Schroeder

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