December-26th-2003, 01:48 PM
Tips for playing solo jazz piano?
Many jazz pianists are adept at playing in combos and using rootless voicings in the mid range and above. Mark Levine's book focuses mostly on such combo voicings and scales.
Who has the tips on playing solo jazz piano with chord voicing systems and rhythmic textures that utilize the full range of the keyboard?
January-13th-2004, 01:38 PM
I'd like to hear some thoughts from more experienced jazz piano players as well --
technical questions and answers are one area where JazzCorner folks can be really helpful, but for some wierd reason too many of these threads don't seem to go anywhere at all.
I'm not a really skilled jazz pianist, and only play out as part of rock and roll and blues groups, but the question is really interesting.
The only thing that seems to work for me on up-tempo tunes, in a solo context, are shells (not adhering to the jazz-instructor fantasy of some made-up system of rules for moving between 3rds and 7ths according to chromatic motion or whatever but more in the Bud Powell style: one is free to employ fifths, add [carefully] extensions and inversions where desirable).
Rootless voicings with ad hoc bass notes added can work well -- work on intuition, and *not* on some ridiculous pattern you'll see spelled in some jazz piano books, for example. And make up your own rootless voicings -- or at least copy some great ones preferably by studying Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, et al., and not by "learning" some irrelevant systematization.
You should know the basic technique for constructing a stride-style LH, including tenths, octaves, and the obligatory chord downbeats. It worked for Monk, Jaki Byard, and the master Fats Waller -- no reason to avoid learning the technique, even if you don't master it completely.
Tenths for ballads is obviously going to work well. Also for triplet-meter slow to medium tempos, a classic R&B-esque sound. See Junior Mance's solo record on Sackville, but also lots of the New Orleans blues/jazz (as opposed to jazz/blues) pianists for examples. Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Powell, Peterson, Waller, are all masters of the tenths -- walking and in stride patterns.
But my favorite technique -- even though it's often less successful, at least when I try it -- are walking bass lines. A relatively uncelebrated pianist, Steve Cristoffersen, is a master of this.
Dave McKenna, "No Bass Hit"
Hampton Hawes, "The Challenge" (I don't know why it's not been reissued for CD)
Gene Harris, -Blues for Rhonda- on his "Maybeck" concert series.
Bill Evans, alt. tk. -My Funny Valentine- (CD reissue of "Undercurrent" w/ Jim Hall)
Study the classic jazz organists, who invariably play LH bass with pedal accents, ranging from simple tapping to full-on doubling of the LH line with pedals, to Bob Jones's amazing pedals-heavy style. Often repetive, easy-to-play lines can be transcribed that may work for really fast tunes, like on Don Patterson's version of "Donna Lee," the one with that really cracked sounding trumpet player who can't play the head.
** I'm not slamming the Mark Levine book at all -- which one? -- I don't have any idea what advice he offers, but I'm going on what books I've seen that try to offer a cookie-cutter approach to LH comping.
Obviously, every tune is different, and every improv is different, so you'll have to go by feel as to what textures you need and how fully you need the base harmony outlined at whatever points in your tune.
What do the experts say?
Last edited by J Lee; January-13th-2004 at 01:45 PM.
January-14th-2004, 07:11 PM
Im not much of a pianist at all, but I know a few thingts about soloing. The number 1 thing you can possibly do is LISTEN. I just started really listening to Count Basie and he knows how to kam hard on the piano. He jumps all around on that thing(not just talkin bout stride piano) and really knows how to excite the audience. I suggest get a few recording and maybe even a video of him and possibly guys like Keith Jarrett. Listening is so essential, it's ridiculous.
January-24th-2004, 12:32 AM
I am mostly a novice myself, but I have spent a fair amount of time trying to play solo piano, and I've noticed a few things. Walking a bassline is always a straightforward way of handling up-tempo tunes, but it does get old after a while unless you've spent some time checking out real bassists. Staccato, rhythmic comping in the left hand works well during solos (though it doesn't provide enough sound to merit extensive use) and I've heard some people give themselves breaks during solos, which can be pretty exciting.
You should, of course, check out introes and solo stuff by people like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, who keep a lot of counter-melodies and throw in a lot of suspensions to keep things moving.
February-7th-2004, 01:28 PM
Keith Jarrett claims that he only practices classical, and I believe that. Want to keep your left hand chops up for solo jazz piano? Practice Chopin Etudes.
February-8th-2004, 01:18 AM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by T~AndrewB~Bone
[B] The number 1 thing you can possibly do is LISTEN. [QUOTE]
Ellis Larkins AT MAYBECK RECITAL HALL (Concord)
Kenny Drew, Jr. THIS ONE'S FOR BILL (TCB)
Art Tatum THE COMPLETE SOLO MASTERPIECES (Pablo)
Keith Jarrett THE MELODY AT NIGHT, WITH YOU (ECM)
February-15th-2004, 01:40 AM
swing like crazy!
Stride is a useful skill in playing solo. It doesn't even need to be a heavy stride like you find in ragtime and boogie styles. Boogie piano playing is another way to learn about solo piano and the study of ragtime is as important as the study of any classical technique (it's all good). I was listening to Mead Lux Lewis and I'm convinced this is how I'm going to learn to play the blues.
Also, think about where you want to play the melody: you can play it in the middle of the keyboard and drop in comp chords above it, or harmonize accents in the melodic line OR you could play the melody in a higher octave, and drop in comp chords below as well as harmonizing melodic aspects. You could put part of the melody in one register, part in another. You could even play a melody (written or improvised) in a lower register as though it were a bass solo.
In many ways, playing piano is like being an arranger with the orchestra speaking through your ten fingers. I'd go all the way back to Jelly Roll Morton. He claimed to have "invented jazz." What he probably can claim some credit for is figuring out how to play the piano to suggest an entire band!
So anyway, yeah, you can use different textures: sometimes walk a line, sometimes use stride techniques so that you're forming a bass line AND dropping in harmony with the left, you can use passages that do not have a bass line (either comping rootless voicings with the left while soloing with the right or by playing some sort of interlocked harmonization of a melody---ala George Shearing), you can play lines in two hand unison. I think the possibilities are endless. I think the trick is mix it up and figure out what works best in each situation (and FOR you---I can't play tenths with my left hand. I can barely reach an octave. I sometimes make 10ths with two hands. It's a good bass texture even if there isn't a big solo going on over the top of it. What I CAN reach are 7ths and this has become an integral part of my left hand---grab root/7th with the left and pile the third and any number of color tones on top of it).
I'm not a great piano player but I'm a competent one. I find that these are things I work on daily and with every single piece I play solo. I think the orchestral idea of the piano really opened me up to the fact that I was sticking too close to the middle of the board and not varying the texture of my playing enough.
Can you tell I'm an insomniac tonight? Oh well. For what it's worth, those are my observations about some of the many things you can do while playing solo piano.
Last edited by cookie; February-15th-2004 at 01:48 AM.
February-20th-2004, 09:39 PM
Just to add to what Cookie was saying...
I'm a pianist who does a lot of solo piano gigs, and the rootless thing can get a little touchy for me. First off, when practicing rootless voicings, I'll usually add the root with my free hand just so I that can hear them in context.
To answer the question about rootless voicings, though, I think they do stand surprisingly well on their own in a solo piano setting. Personally, I've dealt with what you're talking about, and there really is no set answer, other than what J Lee was saying about also using root-7 and root-3rd shells. If the rootless thing doesn't sound right to you, start mixing in some shell voicings that will reference the root motion a little more, and that should help the overall sound, but of course there is no set system.
It's also a good exercise to write out some tunes, and write out your own voicings, and even notate where the comping should occur rhythmically. This will really help to get you using all of the possibilities of the instrument, and it's a good way to figure out what sounds good to you.
One major pitfall to avoid is inadvertent doubling of notes. Doubling isn't always a bad thing, but your voicings will sound 100 percent more clear when notes aren't doubled between the hands as the default method- this even includes the note in the melody.
As for listening, I'dd add Fred Hersch's "Live at Jordan Hall" to the list, it's probably my favorite solo piano record.
Another random drill to try out is to cycle an 8 bar melody with the r.h., like the A section to Darn That Dream or something like that, and to improvise a counter melody with the l.h. that ignores the chord changes, and just repeat the same 8 measures for 15 minutes or so. Then start trying to add more voices. It just helps to make things happen more horizontally, and if you're into meditative practicing it's kind of in that vein.
I hope this stuff was helpful, if not coherently organized. Good luck.
March-10th-2012, 06:48 AM
If I had to Choose I would go with Kenny Barron. He is a great accompanist and he is a fantastic soloist. Even my piano lessons teacher is impressed with him..
Last edited by kurtdaniel; March-12th-2012 at 02:34 AM.