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Thread: How to begin playing Jazz piano?

  1. #1
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    Default How to begin playing Jazz piano?

    Hi, I am a flutist and a self taught classical pianist.
    I really like piano Jazz (I like Bill Evans a lot), And I really want to start, but I don't know from where.
    Where to begin? I really want to know how to improvise with Jazz harmony, but I am too classical.
    By the way I can improvise quite well from my hearing, but I need to learn more.
    Thanks!
    Last edited by Gustav Mahler; Oct-27-2015 at 22:12.

  2. #2
    Victor Redseal
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    If you're adept at sight reading then this book will be a great help. Gives you all the scales and how certain common riffs, runs and chords are played in jazz and covers most of the sub-genres. Kind of expensive but worth it. It's thick for one thing.


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    Thanks!
    I will check if my music academy has it in their library, It could save some money.
    Are there other recommended books?
    And how do professional Jazz pianists progress, are they given (by their teachers) the same kind of exercises as in those theory books?

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    Yes! The internet library search of my music academy's library shows that this book is available their, now I can borrow it for free!
    Is there another good book you could think of? Is it really the absolute best? What about The Jazz Piano Book by the same author?
    By the way, my sight reading is very good, so that fortunately is not a problem.
    Last edited by Gustav Mahler; Oct-28-2015 at 00:37.

  6. #5
    Victor Redseal
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    The piano book by the same author is good too. I would say that that will do you for right now. Work with those and see it how it feels. There's one another book you MUST have:



    This book to jazz musicians is like a bible is to a fundie Christian. You MUST have one to play jazz. It's chock full of standards and it IS what jazz musicians use when they want to learn a standard. This is not the sheet music but rather a chart or lead sheet. It gives you the chords per bar, the basic melody (which you'll use for soloing), the key, the time and that's about it. Very stripped down because you're going to use it to build your own version. It's giving you something to work from but you have to fill it out with improv. That's how jazz works. If you play it straight off the chart, it won't sound like much. So know your ii-V, ii-V-I, I-IV-V and I-vi-ii-V because you'll make extensive use of those progressions and you need to recognize them right off the bat. Whenever you talk shop with jazz musicians the Real Book will be liberally mentioned because everybody uses it. They'll talk like they hate it but they use it. It's universal among jazz musicians. I recommend the 6th edition but other musicians use other editions and will tell you the 6th edition sucks but my teacher recommended it to me and so I recommend it to others--it works.

    Once you get the hang of it, try to find other musicians to play with so you can experiment in real time and hear how it works against bass, drums, guitar or what have you. That's the hard part because you'll want to find guys that are at your level. As a newbie, a fully developed jazz combo will be too overwhelming. But if you're good musically, you'll catch up fairly quickly. So there you have it and good luck! Jazz is hugely rewarding music to play. I love it! Wait until you improvise your first solo in front of people! That's a high you can't get any other way. Have fun! If you're not having fun then you're not doing it right.

  7. #6
    Victor Redseal
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    I just realized that that Real Book says Bb on it. Don't get that! Just get the regular 6th edition Hal Leonard Real Book.

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    Victor Redseal
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    Here is a Real Book chart for "Misty". See how stripped down it is? That's it! That's the whole piece right there. You'll have to arrange it to make it work--it can last 2 minutes or 2 hours depending on what you do. As you can see, it's I-vi-ii-V. See the chord progression over each bar? That's what you key in on. Your left hand will be tapping that out. The notes on the staff is the melody. As I said, it's very basic, so you'll need to flesh it out. You shouldn't be playing it twice the same way.

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    Thanks!
    I'll get to that after I learn some theory

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    +1 on the real book.

    That is the trick, being able to read the chord progression in parallel with the actual melody. Takes some getting used to.

    Is your plan to play solo or as part of a rythm section? Requirements are quite different.

    If you play solo, you need to be able to focus much more on the melody, whereas if you're just the rythm section it's your job to focus on the chords and harmonics.
    Last edited by Musicophile; Oct-28-2015 at 13:29.
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    I am planning on playing Jazz by myself, solo, so I will indeed need to focus on the melody.
    As I am a classical musician, harmony is not a problem, but I just need to know how to "obscure" it "Jazzly".
    The jazz theory book seems to assume that you are accustomed to jazz harmony. But I guess that If I will play the examples I will get the hang of it (of course I know about the kinds of jazz chords, it is just that I don't play it "automatically" and naturally.
    Is there a book which is not theory, but rather a book full of pieces which are harmonized and with correct voice leading?

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    I'll ask around. I'm not personally aware of anything like that. I was trained by playing charts. The only time anything was every fully written out was when I was assigned to do it as an exercise in notating. I'm sure there's something though and I know enough people who would be knowledgeable about that stuff so let me ask around. But if you listen to a lot of Bill Evans that's a pretty good tutorial right there. McCoy Tyner, Bud Powell, Monk, Earl Hines, Lennie Tristano--any of those guys are great teachers. Tatum maybe but he's so damned complicated. Then again, stride piano technique might be a good base to work off of--James P. Johnson, Willie the Lion Smith, Fats Waller. If you want to be a jazz badass, then you listen to Cecil Taylor, he'll show you how. Mary Lou Williams was always a favorite because she played EVERYTHING--dixie, stride, swing, bop, cool, third-stream, free. She was amazing. She was opposite of Tatum who played only in the stride idiom albeit with tremendous ability; Mary Lou, otoh, was never satisfied with any one style.


    Mary Lou, 1930


    Mary Lou, 1944


    Mary Lou, 1964. When other swing era musicians were playing their old stuff for a new audience, Mary Lou had long left swing behind and was still innovating.

    Amazingly, Mary Lou was entirely self-taught but taught herself to read music and play classical music as a child. When teachers wanted to take her on, her mother said no because they'd only interfere with her daughter's learning. The reason I'm pushing Mary Lou is because she is responsible for a lot of the jazz piano theory today spanning several genres.

    Learn to arpeggiate that left hand if you're going to solo. In a combo, you wouldn't normally because the bass will do the arpeggiating--that's all walking bass really is, arpeggiated chords. Or you can play two-feel also with full chords. Usually you intro, go into two-feel and then break into a walk and then tag it. Takes a lot of imagination to be a one-man band. Tatum was the greatest one-man band of all.

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    Thanks for the advice!
    I know how to improvise classically like Beethoven and Mozart because I played their pieces and I know their harmonic language.
    But when I play jazz I must know how to harmonize it-playing written pieces first may be the easiest way.
    Now I am just adding 9ths, major 7th and such without any real knowledge-don't most professional jazz musicians have at least a teacher that tells them how to harmonize the chords? Because in the jazz theory book I see that the chord symbol may be major 7th, but he will add a 9th or another "obscuring" tone to the chord. Do you think I should just use trial and error and self teaching?

    I think that using charts may be my best option since there is nothing better than playing in order to learn. but I must know in what position I should place the chord, what notes to add etc., and I am afraid that listening may not be enough for that.
    Last edited by Gustav Mahler; Oct-29-2015 at 04:18.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gustav Mahler View Post
    Is there a book which is not theory, but rather a book full of pieces which are harmonized and with correct voice leading?
    Haven't seen that. But give it a try, if you know basic harmonics it is usually rather straightforward. The Real Book format really is the standard I've seen for spelled out Jazz music.
    Last edited by Musicophile; Oct-29-2015 at 11:46.
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