In-Depth Post 6: As it Approaches
Another two weeks have passed, and I’m still working hard at my in-depth project. It’s been difficult finding time to practice, amid various performances for drama, preparation for a classical piano festival next week, overnight hikes on the weekends, and the never-ending demands of being a TALONS student, but I have found time to hunker down and jam out to some jazz piano. Here’s a recording of I Hear a Rhapsody, composed by George Fragos, Jack Baker, and Dick Gasparre:
Here is a recording by the legendary Bill Evans:
I’ve been experimenting a lot with different voicings, and when to use which voicings in relation to the situation. It’s definitely a challenge, since I have to think of what to play on the spot, and it has the possibility of not sounding good in the context of the piece. However, the more I try things out, the more I can understand which voicings will work and if they can be applied in other songs as well. The voicings definitely are able to add more colours to the piece, and can fill it out more.
I also had the chance to practice twice with the combo, and we worked on Holy Land (I was unable to get a recording, but will when we meet again). The leader of the combo, Ben (check out his blog here), has been passing on his advice during our rehearsals, and I’ve made sure to record it. It’s definitely come in handy when I’m playing in an ensemble.
In just a few days, I will be performing at Parkwood Manor (an old folk’s home) with Tori (check out her lovely blog here). We’re planning on playing a few jazz pieces, including Autumn Leaves (she’ll be singing while I play), and I’ll play a few other songs. It’s the first time I’ll be performing jazz piano, and it probably will be pretty nerve-wracking. We’ll see how it goes!
Due to my unavailability for most days after school, and possible lesson dates falling through, I wasn’t able to meet with my mentor this week. However, I looked at conversations I’ve had in past lesson with him, and found that there are several examples of what is to be explored this post with de Bono’s How to Have a Beautiful Mind: Concepts, and Alternatives.
- A major concept raised by my mentor in almost every session is about improvisation. It’s interwoven into basically every piece of jazz, and I’ve spent a lot of time working on it with him. Most recently, he spoke about various practical ideas related to improvisations: playing less frequently, using motives to create a more cohesive improvisation, while still keeping a strong rhythm in the non-improvising hand.
- Another concept has to do with voicings. It may seem like a “practical idea”, but the importance of voicings is so profound that it has various practical ideas within it. For example, a few practical ideas would include playing more than just the root, 3rd, and 5th of a chord, playing chords in inversion to give them a different sound, and playing exploring the best pitch combinations that would make up a “jazzy” chord.
- Finally, the last concept I’ve learned is about accompanying, or “comping”. A lot of wisdom has been passed down by my mentor, but also Ben (the leader of the combo). As seen in the photo above, I’ve kept track of what he’s told me. At my last mentor session, my mentor spoke a lot about “comping”. A main practical idea he gave me was to play less. Another was to thin out the texture by splitting notes between my two hands.
- Voicings in themselves are alternatives, since they are a different way to play chords. The first time I played a piece for my mentor, he already started to encourage me to use inversions and different ways to play chords. They definitely sounded better afterwards, and these are alternatives that I still explore every time I play jazz piano.
- A major alternative during this project has been about the direction my project is going. At the start, I thought that it was a lot more linear, with me focusing on scales, then rhythms, then improvisation. But my mentor gave me an alternative, by showing me that those three elements of jazz (along with countless of others) were interwoven together, and could be learned at the same time.
- One more detailed alternative came a few months(!) ago, when I had just finished playing a piece for my mentor. At the end of most jazz pieces, the pianist ends off with a decoration of sorts, mostly an arpeggio, or some random melody. However, my mentor offered me an alternative that I could use for the endings of that piece: a rolled chord. It made a lot more sense in the context of the piece, and I’ve been exploring different kinds of endings to jazz pieces every since.
A little over a month to go!
You never master the instrument. You always just strive to get better.