What Time Is It?

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

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The benefits of playing “Up A Lazy River” on piano

Hey Improvisers! Have you ever wondered how some rock, pop, and jazz musicians play with such a relaxed, natural-sounding rhythm? With many of them, especially those who developed their sound in the 1960s, it’s because they grew up listening to and playing the classic songs of the 1930s and 1940s. These songs had catchy melodies, beautiful chord progressions that sometimes hinted at the blues, and a compelling swing rhythm underneath it all. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Up A Lazy River” is one such song. We don’t hear about “Lazy River” much anymore, but from the early 1930s until the early 1970s it [...]

By |October 16th, 2021|general|0 Comments

We’re transitioning to a new era

Hey Improvisers, I received the most inspiring comment today on my KeyboardImprov YouTube channel. Nyssa wrote: “I love this! I am working on this tune for an arranging class, and we didn't understand why a Monk tune was labeled bebop. Thanks for the historical context!” First of all, good luck to Nyssa and the other arranging students! Secondly, this comment keys in on the exact reason I’m making these videos. We’re at the end of an era and are transitioning to another one. We’ve left behind the era when jazz musicians remembered the time when the music was created. Although [...]

By |October 11th, 2021|general|0 Comments

Going beyond modal harmony with Gil Evans’ “Las Vegas Tango”

Hey Improvisers, As revered as the composer arranger Gil Evans is in some ways, his true role in the development of modal jazz is usually unrecognized. Let’s put it another way: when we hear someone credit Miles Davis with inventing or developing modal jazz, we could easily substitute Gil’s name for Miles’s. (Or, at the very least, give them co-credit.) Yes, it’s true that Davis popularized modal jazz, mainly through his amazing 1959 album Kind Of Blue. There were examples of modal jazz going back to Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall performance of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” which I personally heard [...]

By |October 3rd, 2021|general|0 Comments

The #1 key to learning to improvise on piano

Hey Improvisers! Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what holds people back from learning to improvise. And every week, with all types of pianists, I’ve noticed that it’s not due to a lack of talent, or a lack of time, or any of that. In fact, the number one thing that holds most people back is that they can’t imagine themselves every actually “getting it.” They can’t picture themselves in their minds eye improvising on piano. They can’t emotionally feel themselves doing it. Form decades of experience, I’ve learned how to ignore these feelings when they come [...]

By |September 26th, 2021|general|0 Comments

Using a technique from Stravinsky on J.J. Johnson’s “Lament”

Hey Improvisers, After I make each of my Journey Through The Real Book videos, I enjoy watching them and writing all the annotations for the timestamps. Since I don’t usually plan the musical arrangements, it’s fun to go back and see what I actually played! Today, I was a little surprised to hear that I played something on the jazz ballad “Lament,” that reminded me of Stravinsky. Well… yes and no. I was surprised because I made the video a few days ago and didn’t recall playing anything Stravinsky-like on it. But at the same time I wasn’t really surprised, [...]

By |September 19th, 2021|general|0 Comments

Deep immersion in the music we love

Hey Improvisers! Even though there’s more music available to us nowadays than ever before, I’ve noticed that we generally don’t tend to listen as deeply as we once did. While it’s great to listen to music in the car, or while at work, it’s also vital to listen while doing nothing else, so we can immerse ourselves in the music. Deep listening. Immersion. Letting the sounds wash over us. Absorbing the music. When I was a teenager, I only had a handful of albums. But one thing I did do was lie down on my bed almost every day at [...]

By |September 5th, 2021|general|0 Comments

Charlie Watts (A jazz drummer trapped in a rock band)

Hey Improvisers, The great Charlie Watts passed away this week. Watts was (is) one of my musical heroes, and in a very real sense was a jazz drummer trapped in one of the most popular rock bands on the planet. (Please excuse the “trapped” pun!) Charlie discovered jazz as a youth when he heard Gerry Mulligan’s tune “Walking Shoes,” and initially turned down the gig with the Rolling Stones because he didn’t like most rock and roll music. Of course, he grew to love playing rock but in his heart, he retained the jazz sensibility and would open up to [...]

By |August 29th, 2021|general|0 Comments

2 tips to help you avoid feeling overwhelmed when practicing piano

Hey Improvisers! It’s very common these days to feel overwhelmed when we sit down at the piano. And yes, this is understandable because there’s so much we could practice. If we feel all of this at once, then we’ll usually feel overwhelmed. We pianists, however, deserve better. Much better. The piano is such an amazing instrument, we want to feel excited each time we sit down to play. Let’s begin by reminding ourselves that it’s called “PLAYing the piano!” If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by everything you’re being told you have to learn, then let’s reverse the situation. First [...]

By |August 22nd, 2021|general|0 Comments

September’s schedule

Hey everyone, I’m looking ahead to September, when I tend to get a lot of inquiries about Zoom piano lessons. If you’ve been thinking that you’d like to start studying with me, just let me know and we’ll put something on our schedules. I take as many students as possible but there were about 2 months last year when I had to start a waiting list for the first time. With adult piano students, I feel that the main priority is that the study of piano fits in with the person’s lifestyle as much as possible. For instance, if someone [...]

By |August 8th, 2021|general|0 Comments

Joyful Persistence

Hey Improvisers! We’ve all heard about the need for persistence. Perseverance. Slow and steady wins the race. Yes, we know it’s true. But sometimes we associate the idea of persistence with a kind of weary uphill slog. As pianists, we’re lucky because music is so joyful. If we can remind ourselves of this at each step of the way, each day, then our musical journey becomes one of joyful persistence. Yes - Joyful Persistence. That’s the “ticket!” My annual stint in Alaska at The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival ended yesterday and I was reminded of joyful persistence many times during [...]

By |August 1st, 2021|general|2 Comments