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

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10,000 Steps or 5 Miles?

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By |December 1st, 2019|general|0 Comments

Creating jazz piano interpretations of Billie Holiday’s God Bless The Child

One of the joys of playing jazz piano is that we can bring so many “flavors” to a tune. Whether we’re improvising on something from The Great American Songbook or an original composition, the material is so versatile that we can play it with a blues flavor one day, a lyrical sweetness the next, and with a harmonic richness the day after that. We can also blend these flavors together in a myriad of combinations, often within a single interpretation. Billie Holiday’s iconic standard “God Bless The Child” is a prime example of this versatility. Over the years I’ve played [...]

By |November 26th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Is Kanye West a genius?

Is Kanye West a genius? If you believe what he himself says about this, then the answer is … yes. If you can’t stand his egotistic swagger and his crazy lyrics, then you’ll probably say… no. And if you actually listen to his music, you might reply… maybe. I asked myself this question the other day while I was driving my son to an outlet mall about 45 minutes north of New York City. We began the ride by listening to the classic King Crimson album In The Court Of The Crimson King. I wanted my son to hear this [...]

By |November 20th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Personalizing bebop melodies

One of the grandest traditions in jazz is that of melodic variation, or personalizing melodies according to the taste of the performer. And it pre-dates jazz, too. I once read that Louis Armstrong was inspired to create the jazz solo as we know it by listening to operatic tenors embellish the arias they sang. When we listen to Armstrong, Lester Young, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, Ahmad Jamal, Chick Corea, and today’s jazzers play jazz versions of The Great American Songbook, they each phrase the melodies in their own personal way. After all, this is a big part of the fun, [...]

By |November 17th, 2019|general|0 Comments

What makes a musician “great?”

What makes a “great” musician? In other words, what characteristic do they have that the rest of the field doesn’t have? Is it talent? No – I’ve met unbelievably talented musicians who have never fully developed their talent? Is it ability? No – We’ve all heard virtuosos whose playing is lifeless. Is it their depth and passion? Maybe – and at last we’re getting a little closer to zeroing in on musical “greatness.” So what IS it? What characteristic do Mitsuko Uchida, Bruce Springsteen, Ravi Shankar, Adele, and Duke Ellington have in common? While it may be counterproductive to our [...]

By |November 9th, 2019|general|0 Comments

How to sound twice as good when playing The Girl From Ipanema

The Girl From Ipanema is one of the most frequently-played bossa nova tunes of all time. Jazz musicians play it at wedding receptions and cocktail parties all around the world, and it’s still one of Brazil’s most popular songs. After playing it about 1,000 times over the years, I stumbled upon a way to instantly make our performances of this great song about twice as good. Since you’ll benefit most from hearing it for yourself, rather than simply reading about it, I’ve made this video to demonstrate this for you. The Girl From Ipanema: Journey Through The Real Book #134 [...]

By |November 8th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Perspectives on playing John Coltrane’s Giant Steps

Well, it’s taken 133 weeks, but our journey through the Real Book has finally brought us to John Coltrane’s seminal composition “Giant Steps!” In keeping with the hugely influential nature of this tune, I went deep on this one, producing a video I’m very proud of and one which I think will help you get a good overall perspective on playing the tune (whether you’ve been playing it for decades or are just now discovering it.) On the video: 1. I discuss both the compositional and historical aspects of the tune. 2. I’m delighted to share valuable insight about Coltrane [...]

By |November 4th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Elton John, Rock Wakeman, and The Who

Although we may not realize it, every decade brings with it the end of another era of musicians. For instance, when I was in college, during the 1980s, many of the 1940s-50s jazz musicians of the bebop era were still around. I could speak with Max Roach after concerts, take lessons from Billy Taylor, and perform with Charlie Persip and many lesser-known players from that era. Now, that era is gone and I would do anything to be able to ask a few well-chosen questions of Dizzy Gillespie, for example. A few decades later, history is repeating itself with the [...]

By |October 30th, 2019|general|1 Comment

Playing Jimmy Heath’s “Gemini” with a sense of “flow”

Here’s a fun video one of my students, Ralph, shared with me this week. It’s been out for a while, but I just saw it and thought it may make you smile: Tupractis https://youtu.be/Yv8AmiIF4C4 Even though the video makes a good point about practicing, we all know that practicing alone won’t get us to where we want to get with our music. After all, countless aspiring pianists practice for years and never reach even the minimum level where they can sit down and simply play tunes the way they’d like. Even more important than “what” to practice, is “how” to [...]

By |October 27th, 2019|general|0 Comments

Is it OK to look at your hands while playing piano?

This week, someone asked me on the KeyboardImprov YouTube channel about looking at the keys while they played piano. They said they had trouble playing ragtime and music with an active left hand part without looking at their hands and they keys, and they asked for my advice. Here’s what I replied: It's OK to look at the keys when you're playing. Piano teachers tell their students, particularly beginning students, not to look at the notes so they become able to read music without constantly looking down. But when playing without sheet music, the truth is that everyone looks at [...]

By |October 19th, 2019|general|0 Comments