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

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A new Journey Through The Real Book video

I’ve just posted a video of me playing the tune “Israel,” which was made famous on Miles Davis “Birth Of The Cool” recording. The “Birth Of The Cool” sessions have a special place in my heart because I was Gerry Mulligan’s assistant from 1987-88. Gerry, along with his fellow arrangers Gil Evans, John Lewis, and John Carisi (who composed “Israel), had the vision for a small jazz group whose sound was based on that of the Claude Thornhill big band. Miles Davis loved the Thornhill band too and the rest, as they say, “is history.” “Israel” is a beautiful harmonic [...]

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

Getting started

I get a lot of questions about all styles of piano improv, from jazz to pop to blues to classical, and they usually follow a general theme: “How do I get started?” This is key: The question “How do I get started” is paramount for we improvisers, and it’s not just at the very beginning stages. “How do I get started” playing left hand bass lines with varied rhythms? “How do I get started” applying diminished voicings to chord progressions? “How do I get started” playing bebop over a rhythmically vibrant left hand? “How do I get started” improvising on [...]

By |May 21st, 2021|general|0 Comments

Post-Covid Piano

Hey Improvisers, Going back a few decades, before the internet, we all had busy lives. We worked fulltime jobs, pulled all-nighters as students, shuttled our kids to their music lessons and sports games every day, and generally kept as busy as possible. Then the internet arrived. At first it was like a tiny trickle of water. We’d visit an occasional website, maybe join a chat room, and check our emails about once a week. But this trickle of water gradually turned into a slow flood, as more and more people began using the world wide web. I vividly remember a [...]

By |May 7th, 2021|general|0 Comments

What’s the “Before and After” with your piano playing?

Hey Improvisers, Have you ever seen those “Before and After” photos in magazines? The ones where they show someone before and after they get a new hair style or makeover? I was listening to someone play piano yesterday and noticed how they’re at an entirely new level of playing than they were a few months ago, and I smiled since they’re music reminded me of these makeover photos. Maybe we can call it a “musical makeover.” Here are some pianistic “before and after” scenarios I see all the time: Before: “Everything I play sounds the same.” After: “I’ve learned how [...]

By |April 30th, 2021|general|0 Comments

The musical intersection of blues, jazz, and R&B

Hey Improvisers! I love the musical intersection where the neighborhoods of blues, jazz, and R&B join together. Many of the great pianists grew up at this intersection, including Wynton Kelly, Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Leavell, Herbie Hancock, and Ray Manzarek. Other instrumentalists too, such as Miles Davis, Keith Richards, and Duane Allman to name just a few. The music we hear on this street corner dis varied, yet all under the same umbrella. It reflects the styles that are being developed in each individual neighborhood, and emphasizes one musical element now, and another one a while later. A slinky swing groove [...]

By |April 23rd, 2021|general|0 Comments

Ignore rules, but embrace principles

Hey Improvisers, It seems like everywhere we look these days, someone is telling us rules we need to follow: “You need to use 9th voicings to sound good playing jazz piano.” “Start with the blues before you play rock or jazz.” “You have to practice everything in all 12 keys.” Rules. And more rules. But are they true? Let’s look at it another way: In a group of 10 pianists, how could any of these statements possibly be true for all of them? Can they even be true for 5 of them? 3? Of course not. It all depends on [...]

By |April 17th, 2021|general|0 Comments

Playing piano with the joy of a child

Wouldn’t it be great to play piano with the joy of a child again? Just imagine… we can sit down at our piano and simply delight in the process of making sounds, exploring chord progressions, creating melody after melody. And we can do it without self-criticism, with a sense of wonder, and with true joy. Yes, this is possible for us and groups like The Beatles can show us the way. Check out this video from director Peter Jackson, who gives us a “sneak peak” of his upcoming Beatles documentary Get Back (the bit at 1:51 is priceless!). The Beatles [...]

By |April 10th, 2021|general|0 Comments

How to become a happy (and successful) pianist

Here’s how to become a happy and successful pianist: Ignore rules, but embrace principles Don’t say “sorry” when you make a mistake (smile instead) Practice because it’s fun, not merely to improve (you’ll improve anyway, I promise) Trust your talent Ride the groove Find a teacher who can take you where you want to go, musically Study music, not just the piano Notice the connections between musical genres Don’t let your way of thinking about music limit you Be opinionated Don’t be opinionated Immerse yourself deeply in the music of your favorite musician (then let it go) Love what you [...]

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

Getting past The Myth of Musical Perfection

When Herbie Hancock was asked the difference between how he learned to improvise and the way the younger generations learn it, he said something that surprised me. He answered that the younger generations learn primarily from listening to note-perfect recordings, while he, in the late 1950s, learned primarily by hearing his musical idols play live in clubs, several times per week. People didn’t have access to as many recordings back then, and this was before canned music took over dining establishments and bars. Yet the part of his answer that surprised me the most was when he pointed out that [...]

By |March 27th, 2021|general|0 Comments

How to get past Practice Paralysis with your piano playing

Hey Improvisers, When pianists tell me they have Practice Paralysis, they are usually referring to the feeling of being so overwhelmed by all the stuff they’re told they have to learn that they become emotionally frozen and end up doing nothing at all. This is a very common phenomenon and is understandable, due to the huge amount of info out there nowadays and also because it seems like everyone’s telling us “learn this,” “practice this,” etc. But I’ve also realized that Practice Paralysis can happen in relation to learning a single tune, especially a complex composition. Compositions like Billy Joel’s [...]

By |March 12th, 2021|general|0 Comments