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This has been an important session.
We’ve covered a lot of ground: left hand voicings, scale theory and its application to II-V-I in a minor key and it’s application, then, to the tune “Autumn Leaves”. So in terms of exercises for the left hand voicings, I’d like you to choose a tune - it could be a blues if you want to, but it could be one of the other tunes - and play whole choruses of left hand voicings in particular parts of the bar.
For example, a whole chorus of playing legato on beat 1, then a whole chorus of playing legato on beat 2, then on beat 3, then on beat 4, then on the and of 1, then on the and of 2, then on the and of 3, and the and of 4. Then moving up to 2 chords to the bar, say, on 1 and 3, and 2 and 4, or on the ands of 1 and 3, and the ands of 2 and 4. Not only would I like you to do it legato, I like you to do the same exercises stabbed.
As I said earlier, it’s important that the left hand is right. The left hand can’t drop a beat because obviously it will affect the right hand and will affect your playing with other musicians. If it’s possible, try and record yourself doing these exercises so that you can check that the left hand is playing the chords in the right part of the bar.
Remember, we always think in terms of bottom up: the bass notes first, the chords and where they are played, and then you add your right hand over the top of that. Then we looked at Amen - the other mechanism for playing
the left hand - its two variants: Amen both legato, “A” legato and “men” stabbed. Again, I suggested that you got the Amen going - say on a blues for a whole chorus - and then you add the right hand so that the Amen stays correct. Then we had a third look at hot licks - this time using the minor seventh. The idea about that is it’s partly ear training, it’s partly a question of thinking of playing phrases which are typical of the jazz language so that you could, maybe, take some of these phrases and employ them in your improvisation on a tune.
Then we did some scale theory on the half diminished chord, the seventh with a flattened ninth and the minor chord with a natural seventh. We saw when it came to the half diminished - a very important chord, it’s the minor seventh with a flattened fifth - that there are 2 variants of it, depending on whether you want to keep the ninth naturalised, or you flatten it in which case the chord then becomes a minor seventh with a flattened fifth and a flattened ninth. We looked at the chords and the scales that go with them. We did the same thing for the seventh with a flattened ninth and saw that you got a mode of the diminished scale.
Finally we had a look at this minor major seventh and the scale that goes with it. By the way, apologies if at some stage I called it “major minor”. I must confess it’s newish terminology for me. When I discovered it myself on my own, I thought of it as a minor seventh with a “sharpened seventh”, as I called it - meaning a natural seventh - and the scale that went with it. I hope it was clear from the context what I was referring to.
Then we applied it to II-V-I, where the II is a half diminished chord - either with just a flattened fifth or the flattened fifth and the flattened ninth - the V is a seventh chord with a flattened ninth, and the I comes in 3 flavours. You can have just an ordinary triadic minor - maybe adding the ninth for colour and when you’re improvising perhaps keep away from the sixth and seventh - although you don’t have to. Then you can have a minor seventh where we use the Dorian scale. Then you can have this minor chord with a natural seventh where we use the minor major seventh scale.
All this really was a prelude to “Autumn Leaves”. I gave you, first of all, a rooted version of how you could play “Autumn Leaves” - what I call a two-fisted version - and we only looked at that at playing it in time. But you could look at playing that, or some variant of it, out of time, or as we say in jazz (and other musics) “colla”, or “colla voce” - “with the voice”. It means playing it out of time. Let me just give you a little idea. I’m going to vary both the tune and the responses, but it’s going to not be played in time.
It’s really just playing, pretty much, the same sort of notes that I’ve got in my transcription, but playing it out of time. That’s often a good way of introducing a tune. You play that and then you go “pur durt durt dur” and it’s in time.
Then we looked at playing our root position with a playalong - which is a new idea - and we saw that worked quite well - at least I hope you think it did. Then finally I had a go at playing “Autumn Leaves” in voiced position with a playalong and giving myself a bit freer rein on what I played, but hoping that it served as some motivation for you to work at your jazz piano and enjoy working with a playalong.
In it I used all the left hand devices - the 3 devices I’ve discussed. In addition, I hope I played most of the notes belonging to the appropriate scales. But the main motivation was really to show you improvisation which is more thematically directed - which is more motivic in character - where, essentially, you are playing a tune in the right hand. As we saw, that’s what the object of the exercise is in our branch of modern jazz. Good luck.
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Learn jazz piano: Improvising on Jazz Standards

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