A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Yes and No” is an uptempo “burner” written by Wayne Shorter for his 1964 Blue Note album Juju. I particularly like this album because it’s one of the few that features Shorter performing in a quartet setting, without another horn player. McCoy Tyner is on piano and one listen to “Yes And No” will tell you how exciting it is to play!
(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: Juju
Branford Marsalis Quartet: Newport Jazz Festival, 1987 (video)
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
There are two ways to practice soloing at extremely fast tempos, and I suggest that you practice both ways. The first approach is to slow the tempo way down and learn to navigate the chord changes at that tempo (begin at about 40-60 bpm). Once you are comfortable playing 8th note lines at this tempo, then you can gradually increase the metronome marking, becoming comfortable with each tempo as the speed increases.
The second approach is to start with the fast tempo, but play less notes. A lot less notes. For instance, you can play the chords to “Yes and No” with your left hand while your right hand simply plays whole notes. Believe me; this will be difficult enough for a while! The basic idea here is to become accustomed to “thinking” at that fast tempo. It doesn’t matter if your improv is extremely simple. You’ll be preparing yourself for when you can play more notes. After whole notes, move on to half notes and quarters. Or, you can play whole and half notes and throw in an occasional 8th note as you’re able to. Although less common than the first practice method, this approach is extremely important and effective.
Over time, these two ways of practicing will come closer and closer together, and you’ll be able to improvise coherent, expressive 8th note melodic lines over the very fast tempo. It will happen for you - if you’re persistent!
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
Juju (album): Wikipedia
Wayne Shorter interview
A great interview by Ethan Iverson, of the group The Bad Plus
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively
Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
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