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Ron's Blog on piano improv and the role of music in our lives

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Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour

After touring the world extensively since the early 1970s, Sir Elton John is hanging up his piano keys. Well… sort of. He’s actually embarking on a long, 3-year, world tour before officially retiring from the travelling stage for good. (He’s actually said he’s retiring before, but this time it seems like it’s “for real.”) A 3-year tour that traverses the world is in fact “ample warning” that if you’ve never before seen his live show, this is your last chance. Elton’s career has been long and varied, with more than its fair share of ups and downs. He began his [...]

By |September 17th, 2018|general|0 Comments

The Jazz Pianist’s Ultimate Guide To The Real Book

I’m excited to announce that after almost 2 years of hard work, my Jazz Pianist’s Ultimate Guide To The Real Book is complete!!! The whole thing started when I got the 6th edition of the Real Book. It’s an excellent edition, but it leaves out one of my favorite features of the original versions from the 1970s: the recommended recording at the bottom of each tune. In those archaic, pre-internet days, those brief recommendations were my connection with the lineage of each tune. I’d open the book to Autumn Leaves, and see the words “Bill Evans: Portrait In Jazz” scribbled [...]

By |September 16th, 2018|general|2 Comments

Should you practice piano slowly or fast?

Generally, I emphasize slow practice a lot. Chick Corea says that the way to play piano fast is to practice slowly, a lot, and classical pianists know this to be true. (The pianists Van Cliburn and Rachmaninoff are famous examples of this approach.) I tend to emphasize slow practice for the simple reason that not many pianists embrace slow practicing enough. Or, if they do begin to practice something slowly, they soon become impatient and speed up way too soon and the music doesn't become part of their physicality in the way that they yearn for. And then they wonder [...]

By |September 15th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Playing piano from the heart

What would happen if you let go of playing "note-perfectly" and played from your heart instead? One thing's for sure: you'll never know until you try it. PS - Vladimir Horowitz, Bud Powell, and Keith Jarrett are all pianists who have taken this approach. So you'll be in good company :) Enter your email here to get your free copy of my ebook, Pop and Rock Accompaniment for Piano * indicates required Email Address *

By |September 13th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Practicing slowly to play at fast tempos

Jazz ballads came naturally to me. In fact, when I was still a teenager, the great jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan heard me accompany a vocalist and told me that I played ballads with the maturity of a 60-year old person. This was a big compliment, but the flip side of it was that I couldn't play uptempo tunes as well. Bebop didn't come as naturally to me as ballads did. I still love playing jazz ballads, and I've worked hard at playing the faster tempos too. Ironically, I've found that the slower I practice, the better I play at faster [...]

By |September 8th, 2018|general|0 Comments

How to absorb musical greatness

When I was learning jazz piano in college, I used to go hear the older jazz greats perform in concert. In liked the younger musicians too, of course, but I intentionally sought out the jazzers from the previous generations because I knew they wouldn’t be around forever (this was in the mid-1980s). I remember going to concerts by Clark Terry, Betty Carter, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Jay McShann, Dorothy Donegan, and others. In addition to hearing them play, I had another goal: I wanted to absorb their music in a way that would stay inside me forever. I [...]

By |September 7th, 2018|general|0 Comments

How The Real Book can inspire you to learn jazz piano styles

One great thing about The Real Book is that, like most fake books, it’s organized alphabetically. This means that as you flip through its pages, you’ll encounter tunes from all eras of jazz and in all styles. We can use this as a learning tool, to inspire us to learn how to play all these styles. While it’s true that leadsheets in The Real Book don’t give you the whole musical arrangement to play, this is precisely the point. The goal is to learn how to play all of these styles yourself, and I’ve found that flipping through The Real [...]

By |September 4th, 2018|general|0 Comments

What music do you most want to learn?

What music do you most want to learn? Close your eyes think of the piece you're thinking of, and then go to the piano and begin learning it. You'll be glad you did. (There's no "downside" to this, as long as you have 5 minutes available.)

By |September 2nd, 2018|general|0 Comments

Stevie Wonder’s remarkable tribute to Aretha Franklin

Stevie Wonder’s performance at Aretha Franklin’s memorial service on September 1, 2018 was remarkable in many ways. First of all, Wonder isn‘t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. Even among other mourners and people who were paying tribute to the “Queen of Soul,” there was something direct and emotional about the way Wonder spoke that stood out. He doesn’t hold back anything, and speaks with an intimacy that can sometimes be disarming. Then there was his music. Stevie began by playing “The Lord’s Prayer” on harmonica, as only he can. Wonder has a unique and very special way [...]

By |September 1st, 2018|general|0 Comments

Listening to the flow of ideas in Art Tatum’s music

Imagine that you’re sitting right next to a piano, about a few feet away. At the keyboard is a master jazz pianist who is eager to share the wondrous possibilities of jazz piano with you. You’ve explained to this pianist that while you’re pretty good at playing a song’s chords and melody and taking a decent solo, you often don’t know else to do. You want to know what’s truly possible so that when you play a jazz standard, your musical imagination can soar. The pianist smiles and asks you to choose a song you know well. You name a [...]

By |August 29th, 2018|general|0 Comments