A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Dizzy Gillespie wrote this for Woody Herman’s big band, hence the title reference to the bandleader. It’s also a pun on the phrase “Wouldn’t you?”.

The tune has become a bebop classic and it’s one you should be prepared to play at jam sessions. I’ve included a link to the Sonny Rollins live performance of the tune from his famous Village Vanguard recording. Some jazz musicians consider the Rollin’s Vanguard recordings to be the pinnacle of modern jazz, and pianists as great as Keith Jarrett have cited Sonny’s phrasing as a big influence on their own playing. Since Sonny performed this with a piano-less trio, I’ve included a link to the recording so you can play along as if you’re the pianist in a “quartet.” Have fun!

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.)

Dizzy Gillespie: Newport Jazz Festival, 1966

Red Garland Quintet: Soul Junction

Sonny Rollins: A Night At The Village Vanguard

Since this is a trio performance with just tenor sax, bass, and drums, we pianists can play along with Sonny Rollins, as “part of the band!”

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Since “Woody’n You” features a descending series of iim7(b5)/V7 chord progressions, melodic sequences are pretty easy to use and sound very effective over these chords.

Start by playing a 2-bar phrase over the opening Gm7(b5)/C7 progression. Then, transpose the same phrase down a whole step in the next 2 measures, over the Fm7(b5)/Bb7. You can then take it further and play the phrase a 3rd time over the next 2 chords which are down another whole step: Ebm7(b5)/Bb7.

Once you become fluent at playing these melodic sequences, you can vary it a bit, such as by extending the 3rd phrase to continue into the following 2 measures. Or by slightly varying each sequence as you go along.

When I was baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s assistant in 1987-88, I was astounded at how easily he played these kinds of melodic sequences during his improvised solos. They sound wonderful and will help your solos develop in a natural-sounding way.

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

Further links and resources:
A transcription of Kenny Dorham’s “Woody’n You” trumpet solo

Swing To Bop (by Ira Gitler)
Includes Dizzy Gillespie’s account of how he composed “Woody’n You”

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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