What Time Is It?

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

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Learning 2-handed rootless jazz chord voicings

Learning jazz piano is like climbing a mountain: we can either go straight up the incline, or take a more winding, gradual path. The mistake that the majority of aspiring jazz pianists make is they take the path that’s wrong for them at a given time. We can understand this better if we look at rootless 2-handed chord voicings. There’s no question: these voicings are a big part of jazz piano. The challenge is that they’re fairly abstract, and for a beginner, it can be difficult to instantly relate them to the more basic 7th chords they’re derived from. So… [...]

By |May 23rd, 2020|general|0 Comments

5 ways jazz pianists can learn from Louis Armstrong’s “Hot Five” recordings

I’ve been listening to a lot of Louis Armstrong lately, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me how much we pianists can learn from his music. In a way, it’s ironic that we even have to remind ourselves of this, since Armstrong is universally acknowledged as a jazz giant like no other. He was there almost from the very beginnings of jazz, and was the catalyst for the development of the jazz solo. And every one of his recordings (almost!) is a masterpiece of musicality and sheer beauty of spirit. While recording my solo piano rendition of the jazz [...]

By |May 17th, 2020|general|0 Comments

3 techniques every jazz pianist can learn from Art Tatum

Art Tatum is such a giant in the jazz world that most jazz pianists despair of ever trying to play like him. I remember attempting to play a Tatum transcription when I was in college and giving up after an hour or so, unable to play even a single measure. It was painful! (By the way, if this is your introduction to Art Tatum’s playing, check out his recording of “Tiger Rag” HEREHERE.) If you feel this way too, rest assured that you and I are not alone. In fact, the stylistic development of every major jazz pianist of the [...]

By |May 12th, 2020|general|0 Comments

25 Ways to Play Steve Swallow’s Jazz Composition “Hullo Bolinas” on piano

Jazz is a marvelously flexible art form, and when combined with an instrument as versatile in nature as the piano, the musical possibilities are endless. Steve Swallow’s composition “Hullo Bolinas” is a great vehicle for exploring the musical and textural range of the piano, since it’s written in a way that doesn’t lock us into any particular genre or style. It’s a short piece, written in the kind of “circular form” that was popularized by Bill Evans in his tune “Blue In Green.” In fact, “Hullo Bolinas” in reminiscent of “Blue In Green” in several ways, including the opening phrase, [...]

By |May 2nd, 2020|general|0 Comments

What’s our goal as performers?

As musicians, we’re sometimes in the position of performing for an audience, whether in-person or through video, live streaming, or whatever. And when we’re performing we’re not alone: there’s an audience and this brings with it a very important question. What’s our goal as performers? I think we all have to make decisions as performers, and composers, as to what we're aiming for. If it's self-expression on our own terms, this is valid and we can simply write or perform what we want to. Our song is like it is now and if this is the goal, and we enjoy [...]

By |April 28th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Why did we stop?

All over the world today, people are getting back into playing piano on a daily basis. Why did we stop? So many people are baking bread nowadays that the yeast manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand. Why did we stop? Once a week, my neighbors and I bring chairs out into our hallway (6 feet apart), and spend an hour talking and simply being together. I haven’t done this since my family and neighbors sat together outside on summer evenings when I was a young child. Why did we stop? For the first time in decades, we’re seeing the [...]

By |April 19th, 2020|general|0 Comments

A Perspective on Practicing Piano as an Adult

We all have some ways in which we hold ourselves back with our development as pianists. For many of us, the idea of “I want to practice this piece of music because I’ll sound great once I master it!” can be a big boost of energy, but at the same, time, it often is the very thing that holds us back. This is because, as adults, we often don’t have 2-10 hours a day to practice piano. Speaking for myself, I usually don’t. The amazing thing I’ve found is that if I simply shift my perspective a bit, I play [...]

By |April 13th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Inspiration

Hey everyone! I’ve been posting on YouTube almost every day, and it’s been great to hear from all of you in the comments. Many of you have been especially supportive of what we may call my “healthy frame of mind” videos. Here’s one of these recent videos, which I call “Learning 102.” If we pretend that there’s a university class on how to learn, this could be considered the second-level class on this important subject: Learning 102 https://youtu.be/kcfgOUDLTWc On Friday, I sat down and played Antonio Carlos Jobim’s beautiful bossa nova, “How Insensitive.” Jobim was heavily influenced by classical music [...]

By |April 12th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Thoughts on playing Cole Porter on piano

Have you ever played Cole Porter’s music? When I started playing professionally, I never really thought about Cole Porter’s music. Oh yes, I played his songs in various situations. I accompanied cabaret singers who sang his songs “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and “The Physician.” I played keyboards for the show “Anything Goes.” Once I played the first 16 bars of “Let’s Do It” for 8 hours straight during dance auditions. I made a choral arrangement of “I Love Paris” for the Gregg Smith Singers. And as a jazz pianist, I dutifully learned “I Love You” and “What Is This [...]

By |April 7th, 2020|general|0 Comments

How to use motifs to personalize your piano playing

One of the unexpected effects of everyone staying inside their homes over the past few weeks is that pianists have been spending a lot of time playing their instruments. I hear the lady who lives upstairs from me playing her Bach and Schumann pieces for hours daily, and I hear about it via email from pianists all over the world. I have teenage piano students in Europe and Asia who are progressing faster than ever, and adult students everywhere who are turning to their music for comfort and to use their new-found spare time productively. It’s very inspiring to me [...]

By |April 5th, 2020|general|0 Comments