What Time Is It?

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


Greetings from Fairbanks!

Hey Improvisers, Well, I’m midway through my 2-week stint here in Alaska, teaching and performing at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. It’s wonderful to be back here after missing last summer due to travel restrictions, and this is an important year for the festival in terms of continuity. Just like with music, an organization such as the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival needs to keep it’s momentum and I’m delighted to be helping this great festival continue into the future. On Wednesday, the vocal performance class I’m teaching gave a lunchtime concert at a local community center and it felt great [...]

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


Hey Improvisers! I’ve just arrived here in Fairbanks, Alaska, where I’ll be teaching and performing for the next two weeks at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. I’m excited to be here for at least two big reasons. Firstly, I’ve been coming here every year since 1999 but had to skip last summer due to Covid-related travel restrictions. Fairbanks has become a kind of “home away from home” for me so it’s great to be back! The second reason why I’m excited to be here is that it’s an opportunity for me to refresh and rejuvenate my music and piano teaching. [...]

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

Developing a positive frame of mind and a Max Roach story

Hey Improvisers, When I was a teenager, I became serious about learning piano. And although I didn’t know it at the time (in the late 1970s/early 80s), I enjoyed a huge advantage over many of you who are reading this: I didn’t see or hear many note-perfect performances. In fact, I didn’t see or hear many performances at all! As with anything else, there are two sides to this coin, so to speak. On the one hand, today’s aspiring pianists can hear more wonderful recordings that ever existed before, and watch countless hours of inspiring videos of pianists playing the [...]

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

The joy of playing our favorite songs on piano

Hey Improvisers! There are two sides to becoming a fluent piano improviser. One side involves practicing concepts and techniques. Learning the scales, modes, chord voicings, and bass lines that are associated with each genre of music. The other side of the coin is to play our favorite songs. Songs by George Gershwin, The Beatles, Charlie Parker, Adele, George Winston, Antonio Carlos Jobim, etc. Both sides are necessary, and the overall idea is to gradually bring them together. Here’s one of my all-time favorite songs. It’s the classic “It’s Easy To Remember” by the songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz [...]

By |June 12th, 2021|general|2 Comments

Playing It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) as a jazz piano solo

Have you ever noticed how each style of music has its own special “groove,” or rhythmic feeling? It’s like a unique frequency, and in a way, this groove is what distinguished one genre from another. A reggae song and a pop tune may have exactly the same chords, but they sound (and feel) totally different. Groove…. Feel….. Vibe…. Rhythm… Flow…. Swing!!! Yes, swing. The term “swing” is usually used when referring specifically to jazz, where the 8th notes are slightly (and deliciously) uneven. But “swing” can also be used in a looser sense, to mean a certain relaxation and flow [...]

By |June 4th, 2021|general|0 Comments

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