5 popular songs that “broke the mold”

Forget about “song form.” Here are 5 songs that broke the mold! 1. Stardust Way back in 1927, composer Hoagy Carmichael expanded the typical “introductory verse” and gave it new importance. This verse is so “equal” to the actual song that it can stand alone as a complete song by itself, as Frank Sinatra showed us in his 1961 recording. Nat King Cole: Stardust Frank Sinatra: Stardust (verse only) 2. Begin The Beguine Forget about the standard “32-bar” song form of the Great American Songbook era. This Cole Porter melody from 1935 takes a leisurely 109 bars to [...]

By |January 14th, 2018|general|0 Comments

How to beat Art Tatum in a piano contest

My jazz piano teacher, Billy Taylor, used to tell me about the “cutting contests” that the old time jazz pianists used to have back in the 1930s and 40s. A small group of pianists would gather around a piano and take turns playing, trying to outdo each other in a friendly (and sometimes not-so-friendly) manner. Sometimes they would pick up where the previous pianist had left off, with a continuous flow of music between each player. (In this case, Taylor told me, a pianist might decide to modulate to a difficult key right at the end of his turn, so [...]

By |January 12th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Who’s “pushing you” to reach your musical potential?

Some of the best moments in my musical life were when people whom I trusted cared enough about me to "push" me to play piano better than I thought I could play. These include: My jazz piano teacher, Billy Taylor, when he said, "You know, Ron, you start your phrases well but you don't end them clearly." My Broadway mentor, Barry Levitt, when he told me my "Intros were wishy washy and vague." He explained that I needed to focus more and improvise ballad intros that were as good as if they had been composed ahead of time. The virtuosic [...]

By |January 11th, 2018|general|0 Comments

The avant garde side of Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington, like Mozart before him and The Beatles during his later years, was always exploring the musical boundaries of his art form. And, like Mozart with his Gigue, and The Beatles with Revolution 9, he occasionally went way outside those boundaries. Check out his piece The Clothed Woman, from 1947: Ellington's avant garde piano playing on The Clothed Woman predates similar playing by Cecil Taylor and Lennie Tristano. Enter your email here to get your free copy of my ebook, Pop and Rock Accompaniment for Piano * indicates required Email Address *

By |January 10th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Analyzing pop and rock piano parts

You recognize the intro to Billy Joel's Piano Man, but what does he play behind his vocals? Your ears perk up when you hear Elton John play the opening GMaj7 chord that signals Bennie And The Jets, but do you keep listening to the piano once he starts singing? You love the gentle piano accompaniment that begins Adele's Someone Like You, but do you keep focused on it throughout the whole recording. Give it a try. Tune out the vocal sometimes and focus on the background piano part. It's a whole universe of piano music, just waiting for you to [...]

By |January 9th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Jazz + Cabaret + The Beatles = “Michelle”

I always chuckle to myself when I'm in the car and the NYC classic rock radio station plays Beatles like Yellow Submarine, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and Michelle. These aren't rock songs! They're marches, waltzes, and cabaret songs. If any other band had recorded them, there's no way this radio station would program these songs. (When's the last time they've played any Charles Aznavour?) However, I recognize the commercial benefit of categorizing music into rock, jazz, pop, cabaret, folk, etc. And yes, they can sell more music if they pick one category per artist. So be it: The [...]

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

Nurturing our creativity

As pianists who live in the modern age, we need to actively nurture our creativity. Everywhere we look we see people trying to pigeonhole us or tell us how we "should" be. "10 Ways to play jazz piano like Bill Evans." "Do what Steve Jobs did and you'll be successful." These are fine and good and yes, we can learn from them. But unless we're really careful, we can spend our whole lives trying to be like others. Wouldn't it be a shame to never find out who we are? Luckily, there is also a lot of inspiration around us [...]

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

Is it OK to play “guitar” songs on piano?

I remember once teaching a teenage piano student who loved both rock and jazz. He was equally happy playing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Bill Evan's "Waltz For Debby." He usually enjoyed the pieces I recommended he learn, with one exception. Whenever I suggested a song that he associated with the guitar, he'd say, "Nah, I don't want to play that. That's a guitar song." A guitar song! He was entitled to his opinion, of course, and there was so much great music we could work on that I didn't press the issue. But in the back of my mind, I [...]

By |January 6th, 2018|general|0 Comments

When you sit down and play piano, how do you evaluate how you’ve played?

When you sit down and play piano, how do you evaluate how you've played? Are you "never good enough?" Do you get frustrated when you play a wrong note? Do you like it if it "feels good?" Are you satisfied if you've expressed something emotionally? Does the audience's response matter to you? Do you try to play in a certain way, and feel like you've missed the mark if you don't succeed? Are you mostly aiming to have fun and enjoy the process of playing piano? Which of above responses, or others, matter to you the most? Choose wisely, because [...]

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

Jazz pianists: Have you ever played “Boplicity?”

Have you ever played "Boplicity?" Even though it's in The Real Book, it's one of those jazz standards that's not played as often as it deserves to be. Boplicity was composed by Miles Davis and arranger-extraordinaire Gil Evans for The Miles Davis Nonet, now better known as The Birth Of The Cool band. Gil's arrangement is a true high point of jazz. Listen to it and let his harmonies wash over you: Miles Davis: Boplicity Here's a solo piano version of Boplicity, as part of my Journey Through The Real Book series: Ron Drotos: Journey Through The Real Book [...]

By |January 3rd, 2018|general|0 Comments