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

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How jazz musicians can learn from Bon Jovi’s David Bryan

If you're a jazz musician, you probably took one look at the headline "How jazz musicians can learn from Bon Jovi" and rolled your eyes. The rock group Bon Jovi is probably one of the least jazzy bands in the world, although there is a common influence of the blues in both genres. If you're rolling your eyes right now, stay with me for a minute, because it's worth it. A while ago, I read an interview with David Bryan, the keyboard player in Bon Jovi. Bryan was doing an instrumental duo tour with (I think) a sax player, which [...]

By |July 21st, 2018|general|0 Comments

Playing Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” on piano

Each jazz standard we play gives us the opportunity to experience a unique set of harmonies, rhythms, and melodic relationships. That's one of the fun things about playing jazz piano. We all have our own way of improvising, and it can be challenging yet exciting to navigate through the winding roads of a jazz tune. Dizzy Gillespie's great tune "Con Alma" presents us jazz pianists with a formidable obstacle course, requiring us to improvise in unusual keys like E major, shift from key to key with each phrase, and somehow internalize it's hymn-like harmonic path well enough to express ourselves [...]

By |July 20th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Playing Steve Swallow’s “Como En Vietnam” on piano

One thing about Steve Swallow’s jazz tunes is that they never go where we think they’re going to go. And this is a good thing, because he takes us on a journey through unexpected harmonic landscapes, full of exciting twists and turns that will both challenge and delight us. “Come En Vietnam” is a good example of this. Swallow begins the tune with an exciting and somewhat typical Latin montuno over a Bbm chord. Then the melody comes in. But as soon as we start to feel really comfortable with this groove, he surprises us with by going to unexpected [...]

By |July 17th, 2018|general|2 Comments

Relaxation is the starting point for piano improv

I enjoyed teaching the 1st day of my Piano Improv class today, up here in Alaska at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. Most of the students in the class had never improvised before, and were classically trained. And by the end of class, all of them were improvising as if they'd been doing it for years! The secret? Relaxation. Yes, relaxation. I don't mean that we all did yoga and got massages to relax in that way. Rather, we spent about an hour playing fun musical games that gradually relaxed their self-criticism and enabled them to freely improvise, even if [...]

By |July 16th, 2018|general|0 Comments

Creating a musically immersive environment

Well, I arrived in Alaska last night where I’ll be spending the next 2 weeks teaching and performing at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. This is my 20th year at FSAF, and my 23rd time up here if you include 3 winter visits. It’s very warm and sunny during the summer and very cold and dark in the winter. (“How cold?”, you ask? The coldest I’ve experienced was 53 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. And in case you were wondering, 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 Celsius are the same. Either way, it’s c-c-c-c—cold!) The summer is warm and sunny, though, and [...]

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

Teaching Piano Improv at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival

For the 20th July in a row, I’m excited to be teaching and performing in Alaska at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. As I write this, I’m sitting in an Alaska Airlines airplane on my way to a 2-hour layover in Seattle en route to Fairbanks. It’s amazing how the 15-hour door-to-door trip, which back in 1999 seemed like an eternity, now feels like “just another commute to the office!” As usual, I’ll be teaching classes in piano improv and vocal performance, and performing in a few concerts. I also get to go to Denali National Park again, when I [...]

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

The value of immersive listening

While I think it's great that we can listen to music in our car, or with headphones while jogging, or as background music around the house, there's no replacement for immersive listening. Be sure to set aside at least a few minutes each day or so to listen without doing anything else. Sit or lie down, and totally, completely listen to some music. Listen to the details, and let the sounds go deep into you. Over time, you may be surprised at how much this helps your piano playing! Enter your email here to get your free copy of my [...]

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

Recharging our musical batteries

I just got back from a week-long camping trip and it feels good to be in the musical mode again. It’s very important to take some time for ourselves; to change our usual pace, reflect, see different scenery, and recharge our batteries. In a sense, music can be like this for us too. And the good thing is that we don’t have to go anywhere or take a long vacation to do this. All we need to do is immerse ourselves in our music, for a few minutes or a few hours, and we can come away fresh and invigorated. [...]

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

What’s the path of your musical development?

What's the path of your musical development? I ask this question because too many pianists feel that there is a "correct" path, and that they need to follow it. The truth is that there is no one path for everyone. Yes, there is a destination, and there are many paths that will take you there. Each of us needs to take a path that takes into account our individual talents and musical inclinations, and at the same time challenges us to expand our abilities. As an example, I myself took my own path when learning to play jazz piano. While [...]

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

Ideas for playing Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” on piano

Have you ever played Duke Ellington's tune "Come Sunday?" It's in The Real Book, so you can easily find a leadsheet, but that's only the beginning of a wonderful musical exploration. The song was originally written for Ellington's extended piece "Black, Brown, and Beige," and was intended to represent a church service and perhaps also the religious or spiritual element of people's lives. This is probably why it sounds like the combination of a jazz ballad and a hymn or spiritual. We can bring all of these elements into our piano interpretations. "Come Sunday" can be played as a straight [...]

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