I was going to title this newsletter “A fresh take on New Year’s Resolutions,” and then I realized that January 1st already feels like ancient history!
So I dug a little deeper and discovered that the question “behind” our New Year’s Resolutions is actually: “What do we really wish for ourselves?”
The main problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that even though the New Year is a powerful time of renewal, most of us all-of-a-sudden decide to change something in a our lives, like “I’m going to exercise for 60 minutes every day.” Yes, sometimes this works, but far more often we don’t stick with it for very long.
This year I decided to do something different: I didn’t make any New Year’s Resolutions.
Recently, though, something fascinating happened… two New Year’s Resolutions began stirring in me, almost imperceptibly at first and then coming more and more to the surface:
1. To lose 10 pounds
2. To listen to a LOT of music this year. Varied and wide-ranging.
The first, to lose 10 pounds, is actually a continuation of the 15 pounds I dropped last year. And I’m doing it the same way: by putting up a chart on my refrigerator and losing 1 pound per week for 10 weeks. (I’m on week 5 right now and halfway to my goal. In 5 weeks, I’ll be set forever and at a good, healthy weight for me.)
The second goal, to listen to a lot of wide-ranging music this year, brings me back to my college days. While in the UCONN music department, I would rush to the music library whenever I could and do crazy things like listen to all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas in two days. Or as much Charlie Parker as I could find there. Or I’d turn on the radio to one of WKCR-FM’s week-long jazz celebrations and hear Count Basie recordings for 7 days at a time.
In recent years, however, my listening has been more focused on what I’m learning at any given moment and, as a result, a little more limited. Now, I’m going broad again with my listening, and I’m loving every moment!
Here’s what I’ve listened to this past week:
All 3 Bartok Piano Concertos (Bartok’s NYC house is a few blocks from me.)
Elton John’s debut album Empty Sky. (It’s a fascinating look at a talented artist searching to find his artistic voice.)
Charlie Parker’s Verve recordings and a couple of live sessions.
Last night, while driving to a gig, I heard some Eubie Blake stride piano on the radio. This led me to also check out some Willie The Lion Smith on Spotify when I got home. I hadn’t heard “The Lion” in a long time, and was intrigued by non-stereotypical his playing is. Very different from most of the other Harlem Stride pianists like James P. Johnson!
I’m also checking out some current pop music. Have you noticed how many recent pop songs use solo piano accompaniment, either completely or in certain sections?
I remember an interview with Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul where he said that listening to music was one of the best things we can do for our piano playing. He pointed out that it’s so much fun that we don’t notice how much is helps our playing!
All the stuff we listen to finds its way onto our piano playing, sooner or later. Here are my two latest Journey Through The Real Book videos, on the swing tune Gypsy In My Soul and the Miles Davis bebop classic Half Nelson. Check out how many different LH techniques I use in them. All of this comes from listening to many different styles of music and being open to it all while we’re playing.
Gypsy In My Soul: Journey Through The Real Book #146
Half Nelson: Journey Through The Real Book #145
Here’s the blog post I wrote about the Half Nelson video:
5 Ways To Personalize Your Jazz Piano Playing
Perhaps the funniest thing that happened to me this week was when I posted a quote from the blog post on Twitter:
“I’m always baffled when someone plays a chord and tells me it’s a “hip” voicing.” Why is a C13#9 “hipper” than, say, a triad? Isn’t it all about musical context and intention? If Art Tatum successfully begins his interpretation of “All The Things You Are” with a simple major triad, then that’s “hip” enough for me!”
Someone named @TobHasHair commented: “Someone finally said it, thank you Ron!”
Well, thank you, @TobHasHair, for your support and for making me smile!
Also this week, there was a gratifying response to my new ebook, Get Ready To Jam! Vol. 2, and I’m glad to hear how some of you are already using these 2-handed rootless chord voicings at jam sessions and even on gigs. Bravo!
If you don’t yet have the ebook, you can get your copy here:
Get Ready To Jam! Vol. 2
Thanks for being here, and if you like, ask yourself what you really wish for yourself. You may be surprised at what New Year’s Resolution bubbles up to the surface. If you let it happen organically, you’ll probably incorporate it into your daily life better and accomplish all your goals, musical and otherwise.
Have fun, and good luck!
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