What Time Is It?

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


Thoughts on playing Cole Porter on piano

Have you ever played Cole Porter’s music? When I started playing professionally, I never really thought about Cole Porter’s music. Oh yes, I played his songs in various situations. I accompanied cabaret singers who sang his songs “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and “The Physician.” I played keyboards for the show “Anything Goes.” Once I played the first 16 bars of “Let’s Do It” for 8 hours straight during dance auditions. I made a choral arrangement of “I Love Paris” for the Gregg Smith Singers. And as a jazz pianist, I dutifully learned “I Love You” and “What Is This [...]

By |April 7th, 2020|general|0 Comments

How to use motifs to personalize your piano playing

One of the unexpected effects of everyone staying inside their homes over the past few weeks is that pianists have been spending a lot of time playing their instruments. I hear the lady who lives upstairs from me playing her Bach and Schumann pieces for hours daily, and I hear about it via email from pianists all over the world. I have teenage piano students in Europe and Asia who are progressing faster than ever, and adult students everywhere who are turning to their music for comfort and to use their new-found spare time productively. It’s very inspiring to me [...]

By |April 5th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Essential Training for Jazz Pianists

During my college days at The University of Connecticut, I was fortunate to study composition and jazz piano with a wonderful musician and human being named Hale Smith. Hale was “the real deal,” and was well-known in both the classical and jazz worlds. In his youth he had won the very first BMI Composer’s Award, and I went to hear Gunther Schuller conduct Hale’s compositions with the NY Philharmonic. He was also “old friends” with many jazz luminaries, including Dizzy Gillespie and Ahmad Jamal, who had recorded one of Smith’s tunes. It was exciting to learn one of Hale’s tunes [...]

By |March 30th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Drawing upon a wide range of musical influences when playing Wayne Shorter’s “House Of Jade.”

Have you ever heard Wayne Shorter’s album Juju? If not, check it out – you’re in for a treat! The whole album is great, and one tune that stands out is “House Of Jade.” It a ballad, and the tempo is just fast enough that a walking bass line can sustain the groove. Not many jazzers play this style of groove anymore, and it sounds wonderful! Juju is from 1965, and features McCoy Tyner on piano. Although I’ve played “House Of Jade” occasionally over the years, I decided to dive deep into it as part of my Journey Through The [...]

By |March 27th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Coming to a new way of thinking about our music

I once attended a workshop for teachers, and the instructor said something I had never thought about before: “If you want to get to a new level, you have to come to a new way of thinking.” Over the years, it’s gradually dawned on me that this is exactly what the greatest musicians do. They’ve come to a new way of thinking. Here are a few examples: Herbie Hancock: “Hmmm.... What if I leave the 3rd and 7th out of chord voicings?” Beethoven: “Hmmm… What if I have a choir sing during my symphony?” Mary Lou Williams: “Hmmm…. What if [...]

By |March 25th, 2020|general|0 Comments

What if Bill Evans wrote “Giant Steps?”

Have you ever noticed how in the jazz world, we tend to play each tune like the most famous player who's associated with that tune? So, if you play a Duke Ellington tune, you tend to play it like Duke Ellington, or a Parker tune, you tend to play it just like Charlie Parker. In one sense there's nothing wrong with that, because we learn by assimilating those styles and everything. But that's not what those people themselves did. Duke Ellington did not play Ellington tunes like Ellington himself did. They did an album together so you can hear it [...]

By |March 24th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Ideas for playing “Hot Toddy” as a jazz piano solo

The 1953 jazz standard “Hot Toddy” is a wonderful piece to play, but it’s not a typical jam session tune. Composed by Ralph Flanagan, the tune became popular in part because of its repetitive, riff-like melody, and as such it can be viewed historically as a predecessor of Rock and Roll. “Hot Toddy” can be played in many ways, and it’s fascinating to explore various interpretations and see how they relate to how the tune’s been played before. The English bandleader Ted Heath’s recording of “Hot Toddy” features a catchy bass riff, played by the baritone sax, that evokes both [...]

By |March 23rd, 2020|general|0 Comments

Finding similarities across musical genres

  Hey everyone, I hope you’re staying safe and sane during this time. One interesting aspect of this I’ve been seeing is that a lot of you are playing tons of piano lately. Many people are using their time at home to sit down and tap into their desire to become better pianists. We’re also finding that music can help calm us and make us feel better. It keeps us focused and ultimately better prepared to face the challenges around us. So many of you have written to me about this that It’s inspiring me to double-up my efforts to [...]

By |March 22nd, 2020|general|0 Comments

Improvising on Pachelbel’s Canon

Pachelbel’s Canon is perhaps the most widely-beloved piece of classical music in the world. I’ve often asked myself why this is so, because there are many pieces of classical music that are as beautiful as the Pachelbel, but aren’t as popular. I’ve come up with two reasons why I think the Pachelbel is so beloved: 1. It’s based on the same type of repeating chord progression that pop music is based on. And 2. The chord progression moves down the interval of a 4th three times in the eight-measure pattern. The movement down a 4th is very relaxing. To summarize: [...]

By |March 20th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Playing relaxing piano music

Hey everyone, I remember one night about 10 years ago, when I was playing piano in a restaurant. It was my friend Marc’s steady gig, and he had asked me to fill in for him because he was out of town playing a concert that evening. The restaurant was packed, and the waiters and waitresses were hustling and bustling back and forth through the dining room trying to keep everything in order. I played a variety of different types of music, ranging from jazz to pop and Latin styles. Incidentally, my approach to playing background music (commonly known as “cocktail [...]

By |March 18th, 2020|general|0 Comments