Getting started with the Real Book

If you're just beginning to enter the world of jazz piano, you may find that it's exciting and a bit overwhelming at the same time. Exciting, because the music sounds great and offers us so much freedom, and a bit overwhelming because there's so much to learn! Let's start by taking a deep breath.... First of all, remember that no one learns it all at once. Simply take step at a time and enjoy it. Then you'll enjoy the next step, and the one after that. (This is key.) Now.. with that in mind, let's get started with The Real [...]

By |October 20th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Learning Jazz Piano: Then and Now

There are many ironies in this wide world, and the world of jazz piano is no exception. For one thing, we want to play like all the great jazz pianists of the past played, but we learn to play jazz in a way that's almost completely opposite of how they learned. "Back in the day," there was little or no jazz piano instruction. Many legendary jazz pianists, such as Duke Ellington, learned their first jazz arrangements by slowing down the mechanism on a player piano to see which keys went down to correspond with the sounds it produced. But at [...]

By |September 18th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Who can benefit from learning piano improv?

Who can benefit from learning piano improv? Here are just a few of the people who are experiencing the joy that comes from improvising fluently. Where are you on the list? All pianists who feel limited by being tied to sheet music, and want to experience the freedom that comes with improvising. Adults who want to recapture the excitement they felt when they first began playing the piano (and lost somewhere along the way). Adults who felt something was “missing” from their childhood piano experience. Retirees who want to stay creative. Classically-trained pianists who have always secretly envied those who [...]

By |September 17th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Getting to know more jazz tunes

How long have you been playing the same 1 or 2 songs? If it feels like you’ve been playing them “forever,” then you need to move laterally and start playing a wider selection of tunes. While it’s necessary to practice and play a tune until we know it well, most aspiring pianists tend to get bogged down and stuck on one or two songs. Do you ever feel like you’ve been working on “Autumn Leaves” or “Blue Bossa” to the exclusion of everything else? If so, it’s just a matter of opening The Real Book to another page starting to [...]

By |September 11th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Re-energizing your piano improv

Well, it’s the beginning of September and after traveling to Alaska during July and taking a little time off in August, I definitely feel energized and “ready to go” with my teaching and performing! Changes of season are always a good time to re-focus ourselves and see what our musical priorities and goals really are, and I’m finding that I’ve been practicing with my left hand lately. My goal is to improve my left hand technique and, even more importantly, incorporate it conceptually with what my right hand is playing. In this regard, I’ve probably been inspired by Keith Jarrett [...]

By |September 5th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Listening to Stevie Wonder

I spent an hour or so listening to Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life in my car today. Do you know the album? If you do, have you heard it recently? Unbelievable!!! For jazz pianists, this 1976 recording features Wonder playing a variety of keyboards, including acoustic piano, with a sophisticated harmonic vocabulary that comes directly from jazz. He even includes an instrumental track, “Contusion,” which was inspired by Chick Corea’s jazz fusion group Return To Forever. The cool thing is that if you’ve been practicing a lot of jazz piano since you’ve last heard this music, you’ll [...]

By |August 19th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Developing “rhythmic flexibility” in your jazz piano playing

I’ve been thinking a lot about “rhythmic flexibility” lately, since it’s really the biggest thing that will improve your piano playing. You can learn the most complex licks and voicings in the world and still sound amateurish playing them. But on the other hand, you can play a simple ballad and sound world-class. The difference? Rhythmic flexibility. Vocalists know this. Open the Real Book and look at the first measure of “All Of Me.” Now, listen to about 5 vocalists sing it on Youtube (starting with Billie Holiday.) You’ll notice that they all sing those opening 3 notes with different [...]

By |August 18th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Blues and jazz piano ballads on “Black Coffee”

Have you ever played the tune "Black Coffee?" It's in The Real Book, vol. 1, but long before that it was performed by just about every jazz singer from the late 40s onwards. If you want to hear the definitive version, listen to Sarah Vaughan sing it: This is Sarah at her best, and we jazz pianists can learn a lot from her approach. First of all, she's into the lyric. Now... any jazz pianist from "back in the day" would have known at least some of the lyrics to the song, because they would have heard it on [...]

By |August 11th, 2017|general|0 Comments

A 10-Week Skype Jazz Piano course

One thing I’ve seen is that a lot of people who’ve begun to learn jazz piano unintentionally hold themselves back. They want to get to a certain level of ability and perhaps play with other musicians but they never seem to learn the core repertoire of tunes well enough to feel confident playing solo or at jam sessions. Or, they’re stuck at a certain level and can’t seem to integrate new techniques into their playing in a natural way. To help everyone with this, I’m offering a 10-week course called Mastering The Real Book! A 10-Week Skype Intensive for Jazz [...]

By |August 9th, 2017|general|0 Comments

Lessons from my Piano Improv Class

Hey everyone! I’m writing from Seward, Alaska, where I’m “resting” after spending 2 wonderful weeks teaching and performing at The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. I say “resting” in quotation marks, because even though I was pretty tired the day after my end-of-festival concert, I woke up early the next morning, drove 12 hours south to the coast, and went halibut fishing in the Gulf of Alaska yesterday. (2 halibut, 1 silver salmon!) I always have a lot of fun teaching my Piano Improv classes at the festival, and it seems like each year, the class goes in a slightly different [...]

By |August 1st, 2017|general|0 Comments