Mimic the melody, as interpreted by each recording below. Chords will come later.
I've used a simplified "lick" from a Wynton Kelly recording of Autumn Leaves. You may recognize it. Here is a method to integrate this, or any other "jazz lick" into your playing. First, play the lick as written, then write out the lick in the keys of C, Eb, F, G, Gb using the following steps.
Prerequisite knowledge required:
Learning tunes from a fake book is the hard way to go about things. Here is the Bill McBernie method of jazz practice in which you play by ear to multiple recordings.
I could recall the basic outline of the tune "A foggy day" from playing it years ago. That helped. (If you don't know the tune, you must listen until you can sing along.) Below are the recordings and the order in which I played them. Some were played numerous times as I recalled more of the melody and figured out the key. The song was played in the keys of F, C, Eb, and Bb. I played along on vibes, not piano. I focused only on the melody . As the practicing progressed, I began to recall and understand the chords.
Today I was playing it on the piano, from memory, with the chords.
Here is my top 10 list of skills to work on ahead of camp. You don't need to be an expert, but you will need some familiarity with the following skills and activities.
1. Comping and voice leading chords.
2. Practice sightreading simple chord charts like blues in Bb and F, Summertime, Killer Joe, etc. Click out the Aebersold picture for some suggestions. By clicking on the image, you will go to a product page. I don't take a commission.
3. Play along with recordings.
4. Record yourself and listen back.
5. Practice playing louder because drums are loud.
6. Practice your right-hand broken chords for every tune on the Aebersold list.
7. Use a metronome on everything you play and practice.
8. Learn to clap and count aloud eighth note jazz rhythms.
9. Listen to jazz daily.
10. Sign up early to camp because piano spots go quickly.
What tunes should you practice?
If I can help you, call me. I've attended a dozen jazz camps over the years as a pianist and drummer.
What do we gain by learning Jazz and Pop Standards by ear?
1. We acquire an intuitive understanding of jazz and pop rhythm.
2. We learn the feel of the music, which is something that can't be notated.
3. By playing along with recordings we learn to stay in place.
4. We learn how to solo by acquiring ideas (licks) that we can use in other pieces.
5. We learn how to play our instrument idiomatically by hearing it played in context.
6. We begin to appreciate the depth and scope of jazz and pop history and its eras and players.
7. We learn how to mess with a melody. A first step to soloing with finesse. "Learn the melody, mess with the melody, then mess with the mess" Louis Armstrong
If I can help you on your journey, call me.
Revised August 2022
Have fun. If I can help, call me.
revised August 2022
Here are my thoughts the acquisition of jazz chops.
1. Learn and memorize tunes by ear. Generations of Jazz musicians have taken this route. If playing by ear is difficult, call me for ear training lessons.
2. Join a band and play as much as possible. A young musician asked Art Blakey how he could improve. "Play every night" was his response.
3. Transcribe like crazy. If this is difficult, I teach music theory.
4. Record everything you do. Recording yourself is the best feedback you have between lessons.
5. Learn more tunes. "The musician with the largest repertoire wins".
6. Practice your technique, at various tempos, with a metronome. All great musicians have a deep sense of time.
7. Play Bach, Debussy, and Faure. Jazz piano is notoriously diminishing of our left-hand skills. I practice classical music to maintain my left-hand piano skills.
8. Keep up your lessons. I’ve been taking lessons for over 50 years.
9. Join a second band that plays only original music. Playing original music solidifies the skills and knowledge of composition, theory, history, leadership, notation, and more.
10. Write original music for solo piano.
Bonus. Read and explore the history of jazz prior to heading to jazz school.
If I can help you call me.
Revised August 2022
Jamey Aebersold gave an illuminating demonstration this past summer on the importance of being able to skillfully play your instrument.
He assembled students in the auditorium at University of Louisville. He then plucked one “lucky contestant/musician/newbie” to join him on stage. (The repeat campers knew what was coming and sat the back of the room). Jamey would then hand them a microphone and instruct them to sing/scat/hauler a jazz solo along with the jazz chords he would randomly play on the piano.
Everyone could scat. Some sang very well, others just so-so. But the consensus amongst the “singers” was that they could scat better than they could play. Hmmm. “So, the problem wasn’t in your head”, he said, “it’s in your hands”. He continued, “now go home, take lessons, practice like crazy and the jazz will be easier. You can hear the music; you just can’t execute.” (My paraphrasing)
Jamey's second reveal, a thin repertoire is symptomatic of larger issues.
One morning he asks the musicians, “How many of you can play 50 jazz standards from memory?” I enthusiastically raised my hand. Looking around the 250+ room there were very few hands joining me.
"How many can play 25, 10, any?" (The overwhelming answer was zero.)
Jamie’s 1st conclusion, it’s hard to play freely when your head is in a book.
Jamie’s 2nd conclusion, trust yourselves to play without a book/sheet/app in front of you by starting with simple tunes like:
I can help you get started playing by ear. Please call me,
Revised September 2022
So many students are seeking the "secret", the secret that sends them to the front of the line.
Alas, there is more than one secret. And they are all hiding in plain sight.
Here are a few of the secrets:
1. Practice technique with a metronome.
2. Master theory appropriate to your level, including harmony.
3. Read music history, knowing the repertoire and the historical context from whence it comes.
4. And most importantly, ear training. Connecting the ear with the hands.
Known by some students as the boring bits. Recognized by professionals as the exciting bits.
Below is a video of the Duke Ellington student staple, Satin doll. The video is cued for the B section or middle 8. Listen to the trombone "lick" played when the chord progression lands on F. Figure is out. It is in the key of F, starts on A. Now check out the video I've made on what to do with this lick.
If I can help, call me.
Found on pages 77 & 78
I highly recommend this book to all my Jazz students.
"Without a sound you have nothing?" Glen Hall
What does this mean? Playing simply with good tone and beautiful phrasing is more important that playing fast, playing loud, or trying to play above your level.
Artistry is possible for beginners who understand this.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.