What Time Is It?

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


Two jazz piano students “review”Ahmad Jamal at The Kennedy Center: 2-8-20

A funny thing happened on the way to The Kennedy Center… One of my Skype piano students, Phil, had been studying transcriptions of the great jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, and for months now has been excitedly looking forward to hearing the master play a concert at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (Phil lives in the D.C area. Coincidentally, the day before the concert, I was giving a Skype lesson to another student of mine, Bill, who lives in Pennsylvania, and he casually mentioned “I’ll be going to see Ahmad Jamal tomorrow night in D.C.” Wow – small world! I [...]

By |February 10th, 2020|general|0 Comments

What’s your next step?

What’s your next step? This is perhaps the most important question for each of us, at any given moment. It’s also one of the most difficult to answer, simply because of what we don’t know. After all, it’s usually easier for someone “who’s been there” to see our true potential, and also for them to know how we can practice piano in order to get there. “More of the same” is fine for a while, but it’s usually not what will enable us to play exponentially better. (And yes, we all have the potential to play exponentially better – often [...]

By |February 9th, 2020|general|0 Comments

What do you really wish for yourself?

Hey everyone! I was going to title this newsletter “A fresh take on New Year’s Resolutions,” and then I realized that January 1st already feels like ancient history! So I dug a little deeper and discovered that the question “behind” our New Year’s Resolutions is actually: “What do we really wish for ourselves?” The main problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that even though the New Year is a powerful time of renewal, most of us all-of-a-sudden decide to change something in a our lives, like “I’m going to exercise for 60 minutes every day.” Yes, sometimes this works, but [...]

By |February 8th, 2020|general|0 Comments

5 Ways to Personalize Your Jazz Piano Playing

As we move through time, further and further away from the historical source of jazz, things tend to become codified. Everyone learns the same A and B chord voicings, everyone develops the same rhythmic feel because everyone jams with the same playalong recordings, and everyone follows the same method books. Part of this is perhaps inevitable, and it happens in other art forms too, such as classical piano. But, for us, it doesn’t have to be the whole story. Here are 5 ways you can personalize your jazz piano playing, to reflect who you are individually, as a real person. [...]

By |February 3rd, 2020|general|1 Comment

Ideas for practicing piano

How do you practice piano? I’m asking this because most people don’t practice piano correctly. And I’m using the term “correctly” in the best sense of the term. Not in the sense of having one set “correct” way to practice, but simply in the sense of enjoying ourselves, feeding our musical souls, and becoming better pianists. So.. the question remains… how do you practice? Do you try to continually learn more and more difficult things? If so, you’re probably feeling frustrated most of the time because it’s impossible to get better each and every day, especially as adults. And, counter-intuitively, [...]

By |February 2nd, 2020|general|0 Comments

Generosity in the music scene

I used to read a lot of biographies, of all kinds of people. In a biography of the British actor Sir Laurence Olivier, there was one thing that made a big impression on me: While filming a movie or rehearsing for a play, Olivier would always take the time to help another actor learn their lines or practice their part. He’d stay late after rehearsal and read lines with an actor who needed the extra practice. And this was when he was the big star! Lady Gaga is another performer who is extremely generous. In her case, I see it [...]

By |January 29th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Piano at the 2020 Grammys

Did you see the Grammy Awards on TV? There was a lot of piano this year! For starters, the pianist Alicia Keys hosted again and she didn’t waste any time getting to the keyboard, improvising some nice underscoring music beneath her opening monologue. She effortlessly “noodled” around using what I call the “Adele” chord progression, and reminded us all, beginners and pros alike, how music has the power to relax and soothe us. Here’s the clip: Alicia Keys: 2020 Grammys Opening https://www.vulture.com/amp/2020/01/alicia-keys-grammys-opening-2020.html Another piano highlight was Camila Cabello’s performance of “First Man,” her tribute to her father, which she sang [...]

By |January 28th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Should jazz instrumentalists learn the lyrics to the songs they play?

I once heard a story about the song “Old Man River,” which was written for the Broadway musical Showboat by the composer Jerome Kern and the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. (Quick quiz – what famous “Real Book” tune did they also write together? The answer is at the bottom of this post.) As the story goes, their widows were once at a social event, and Mrs. Kern was bragging that “Well… MY husband wrote Old Man River. Upon hearing this, Mrs. Hammerstein interjected, “No… YOUR husband wrote Dum-dum-dum-dum!” I don’t know if this story is true or not, but the point [...]

By |January 26th, 2020|general|0 Comments

How having varied musical experiences can enrich us as musicians

I hope you‘re having a great weekend! (And to quote the old saying – “It’s ain’t over till it’s over!) This morning, I woke up, taught a Skype lesson to a student who lives in Australia (not near the wild fires), responded to a few emails, and then drove into Manhattan to play organ at a church. I gave up my steady church organ/choir director position over a decade ago in order to keep my schedule flexible on weekends, and now I enjoy playing at various churches when I get the occasional call to sub for someone. In this case, [...]

By |January 19th, 2020|general|0 Comments

Exploring Elton John and Classical music

I’ve been fascinated with Elton John’s piano playing ever since I bought his Greatest Hits (on cassette!) when I was about 14 years old. I still love his music, and I learn something new every time I listen to one of his recordings. Lately, I’m becoming more and more interested in the influence of classical music on Sir Elton, and I’ve made a video to share a fun pianistic exercise with you that explores this musical connection. First, have a quick look at this video, where rock and roll DJ Jim Kerr asks Elton specifically about this classical influence, and [...]

By |January 13th, 2020|general|0 Comments