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Transitioning from Rock to Jazz


Jason Stanfield

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Thanks in advance for any advice here.

 

I've been playing in a couple of rock/jam bands for a few years, and I've taken my leave of one of them (because drama). Having not played consistently for several years before, being in these bands has given me the opportunity to "work out" and develop some technique.

 

Now that I've got some more time on my hands, I want to get into jazz piano, namely accompanying a female singer first with just piano, then with a small combo. I imagine we'll do some torch songs, a few lightweight standards, perhaps some pop or R&B ballads, trip hop EP stuff, etc., but all that remains to be worked out.

 

I know, though, I can't approach playing this material with "Billy Joel chops," so I'll need a lot of workout to at least be passable in a few months. I plan on doing a lot of listening, transcribing, and am getting back into lessons to develop some fundamentals I left behind while punching the keyboard for 3 years.

 

Has anyone done this? If so, what can you recommend I focus on to get where I'm going?

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I kinda did the same thing some 20 years ago.

Seems you have your head on straight about what you're going to undertake, so that's a big help. Given what you want to achieve, I would recommend listening to as many fairly straight-ahead players as you can. For vocal accompaniment I found Tony Bennett's pianist Ralph Sharon very helpful. He always keeps the melody in sight and he has a light swing touch that is very cool. Other great players to check out include Red Garland, Wynton Kelly and Barry Harris, just for starters.

 

Mark Levine's Jazz Piano Book is good too, especially for harmony. Beware too much chord-scale theory, as while it does work, it's a bit of a fudge at times. Hal Galper's Forward Motion is good for correcting the evils of this, but maybe a little advanced for right now.

 

One thing that REALLY helps is playing tunes in multiple keys, or doing all your drills in multiple keys. You're going to need this. It will open your ears and build your ability to get around the keyboard.

 

Good luck!

 

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What's your background with Improvisation? In the end that's what Jazz is all about.

 

How familiar are you with Jazz voicings? That requires such a different thought process from Rock as well (e.g. Rootless voicings, extensions, etc.).

 

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1

 

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I kinda did the same thing some 20 years ago.

 

...

 

Good luck!

Thanks for all the names and books to check out. There are several to choose from that I've seen, but I'm glad you've offered some specific ones based on your similar experience.

 

What's your background with Improvisation? In the end that's what Jazz is all about.

I've taken a handful of solos during rock songs, which essentially center around pentatonics (with passing tones), blues scales, etc. On slower tunes, I've worked to be a lot more melodic, however I've been "stuck" to the vamp and not yet been able to play those kinds of lines that sail over the rhythm without fumbling the dismount. :D

 

This is where transcribing will come in handy. Even though a piano solo is different from a sax solo, there's always something to be learned and adapted.

 

How familiar are you with Jazz voicings?

Enough to know they exist, and the necessity to avoid the power-chord approach. :)

 

Seriously, I'm aware that the standard rock voicings won't work, and that I'll need to work inversions more. Rootless kind of scares me right now; I can devise some circle-of-5ths exercises that focus on inversions and extensions, but I may need to sequence a bass track as a reference for a while.

 

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Yeah, listening, getting a good teacher and practicing a lot are the keys. Don't expect to get instant result, as jazz is a complex language. You could fake a swing feel perhaps, but there's just too much going on behind any competent player's sound to be able to grasp at once. Be patient - and don't forget to start with the blues. :)

 

About piano touch and phrasing (assuming you have your voicings together): The nature of jazz harmony will lead you to play with a different taste for dynamics. The rhythm will be less "explained to the people" and more implied. If you are used to rock playing, you'll have to resist the temptation to make the rhythm too obvious. This doesn't mean that there will be no groove - just a different kind.

 

Beware too much chord-scale theory, as while it does work, it's a bit of a fudge at times.

This can be true sometimes, but you have to have your scales and chords together nonetheless. Familiarizing with 4- and 5-note chords, extensions, etc. is just your vocabulary. Perhaps a more correct suggestion (in my view) would be to avoid too much theory at once - that could be confusing. But there's nothing "theoretical" about music "theory", especially in jazz, where it's applied directly to improvisation. I would think about it simply as music *knowledge*. :)

 

Just some random thoughts. Have a good journey!

 

 

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I think that it also helps to develop a sense of jazz vocabulary by playing bebop heads, etc. A friend of mine always had his students play stuff from the Omni Book. Of course, this would just be part of your balanced jazz diet.
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Yeah, listening, getting a good teacher and practicing a lot are the keys. Don't expect to get instant result, as jazz is a complex language. You could fake a swing feel perhaps, but there's just too much going on behind any competent player's sound to be able to grasp at once. Be patient - and don't forget to start with the blues. :)

 

About piano touch and phrasing (assuming you have your voicings together): The nature of jazz harmony will lead you to play with a different taste for dynamics. The rhythm will be less "explained to the people" and more implied. If you are used to rock playing, you'll have to resist the temptation to make the rhythm too obvious. This doesn't mean that there will be no groove - just a different kind.

 

Beware too much chord-scale theory, as while it does work, it's a bit of a fudge at times.

This can be true sometimes, but you have to have your scales and chords together nonetheless. Familiarizing with 4- and 5-note chords, extensions, etc. is just your vocabulary. Perhaps a more correct suggestion (in my view) would be to avoid too much theory at once - that could be confusing. But there's nothing "theoretical" about music "theory", especially in jazz, where it's applied directly to improvisation. I would think about it simply as music *knowledge*. :)

 

Just some random thoughts. Have a good journey!

 

 

That's very good advice. I have nothing to add to that.

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." 

Harry teaches jazz piano online using Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, or Google Meet.

 

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To further reiterate, you must have a good teacher. I strongly suggest that you find one who is willing to demonstrate what he is trying to convey, as well as talking about it. I had a renowned teacher who never demonstrated, and I'm sure that I would have progressed more rapidly had he actually showed me what it was supposed sound like. I often didn't know what the end point was to a lesson.
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A mini "lesson" follows.. The details can be picked up in the right book, I can recommend one later. No, I am not a teacher!

 

Ditto on Marino post 2 thumbs up

Why not take a simple 3 chord Blues, and take the very next step in terms of a slightly more advanced chord. But before I touch on that next step, let's start at the stage just before that!

Using C blues: can you play a Blues in C, yes? It is three chords. 1st stage of Improv is this : You can ignore all three chords, and just play the notes, language, riffs, licks of the blues. You know where that language is, right? Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, BB, Albert, and Freddy King , etc right? That is step one. If you cannot do that.. Learn that, forget jazz for a few months till Blues is getting a little more comfortable ( For all we know, you are a Blues bad boy, I am just laying out the first few stages of development - ok no insult if you can play the heck out the Blues ).

The first time, the first step into thinking about shall I call it pre- jazz, is easiest taken when you outline the Blues progressions' V7 chord, in some fashion- a teacher, a book on blues, your ear, or all the above will show you HOW to deal with the V7 chord.

 

There is a "natural" conflict between outlining chords (in various ways), and staying purely with the Blues. Obviously many Blues Players have learned HOW to do both, inside of one Blues solo. This is very important point. The second you attempt to make a chord clearer you run "risk" of losing some of the Blues feeling you created on your first 4 or more bars.

 

Next step, roughly follows history of jazz. I do not know historical dates, but eg In C Blues at some point the A7 or the VI7 , was introduced ( I am guessing the 1920's or early thirties. The point I am headed in, is this... as you add more chords to your Blues, you are going to have to take into account those new chords and the effect those chords have on your TONIC aka your "Blues mode".

To recap 1. Ignore all harmony in three chord Blues.

2. Make the V7 chord conspicuous without at the same time losing the Blues feeling.

3. Bring in the VI7 chord which usually includes the II7 as well.

4. Another chord you will deal with is the III7 chord. By this time your jazz playing will fit in with the likes of Count Basie music.

 

That V chord ( five chord ) is perhaps the first time you have a choice whether deal with the chord tones ( Key of C Blues ) of a G7 OR do as you have previously been doing, ignoring the V7 chord.

No one I ever met teaches jazz this way, YET this is the way it evolved in my opinion. Just listen to the older music from 1900 on. I may have my dates off. I mean in Europe there were amazing harmonies going on before this time, so a pianist of the 20's certainly used more sophisticated harmony than C F G7. Still, I feel my theory here will be the easiest path to jazz playing.

Earliest Blues where you ignore harmony

Blues where you take into account that V chord

Blues where the II7 V 7 VI7 and III7 are still apart of a nice blend of Blues and early jazz.

 

I will hold my head, expecting to be pelted. Regardless of naysayers, check out history of jazz development it is the most natural way to start playing with chords OUTSIDE the pure realm of the Blues. If you do it clumsily, you will temporarily lose the thread of the Blues feeling. Yu will have two goals at that point create a Blues feeling with pure blue notes etc, AND delineate those new dominant Seventh chords, and do both simultaneously. In the hands of a Master like my favorite James Moody or Gene Harris, these giants could do it all.. Play a pure Blues vibe, or add the vibe of the thirties swing blues, or go to Bebop ( esp Moody ) . And go beyond Be bop as well.

Later on your teacher will introduce ii V or 2- 5 but it is not necessary to deal with that right off. Let Blues be your basis for the ear, technique ( fingers ) and knowledge to get comfortable with one another.

 

You don't have ideas, ideas have you

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are. "One mans food is another mans poison". I defend your right to speak hate. Tolerance to a point, not agreement

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I did the classical to jazz road, and can say a good teacher is much better than trying to learn from reading books.

 

I tried the Levine Piano book and it did more harm than good at first.

 

Also, accompanying a singer is a different style of jazz altogether than instrumental. Because if your harmony clashes with their melody its noticeable.

 

I'd say listen to some jazz records, find some players you like and try to imitate them. Herbie is great, as he excels playing with singers and instrumentals.

 

I'd suggest his River album, it's pop/jazz with many well known singers, Norah Jones, Joni Mitchell, Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen.

 

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Some great advice above. All I'd suggest:

 

1) Immerse your ears in great jazz. Listen to great examples of jazz piano so that your inner ear, heart and soul get familiar with the language. Many of us can suggest iconic recordings, maybe you can PM members here for recommendations. Listen for rhythm - how they deal with bar lines, accents, swing, phrasing. Listen for harmony, even though at this point you may not be able to identify everything. Listen for the construction of the improvised line. And listen to the amount of space, and give and take, that great players provide each other.

 

2) Sing the improvised line back to yourself. Maybe by yourself in the car, or in the middle of Walmart if you want people to give you a little space. Sing back Miles' solo on Straight No Chaser back to yourself. Make up your own.

 

3) There are other ways to learn jazz other than teachers and mentors. I just don't know any of them myself. I am the product of first-rate, world-class instructors and giving, gracious mentors. I've had two great jazz piano teachers, but have also learned priceless things from sax instructors, drum instructors, vocal instructors.

 

4) I don't know how you learn some of the crucial things you need to play well with others in any other way than, well, playing with others. If you can find a workshop or ensemble class situation geared to your skill level, struggling together through standards will teach you things about big ears, interaction and everything else that can't be taught in books.

 

5) All that stuff you hear about jazz requiring hours of daily practice and learning stuff in all 12 keys? Yes, it's actually true. There's no shortcut. If you have a wooden piano bench, I've found a fluffy bath towel helps.

 

 

So much more that could be said, but no sense boring you with a novel. This was a journey I started on not so long ago, so I wish you the very, very best, Jason. It's a demanding path, but so, so worthwhile.

..
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Marino, (eta: Timwat - we posted at the same time) and The Wind have it covered. As someone who teaches a fair amount of students who are moving into jazz from either classical or rock, the hardest thing to grasp, I find, is the swing feel and phrasing. Listening to particular players is incredibly important, as is going through their family tree (who they listened to, who their predecessors were in certain bands, etc).

 

Another thing that's really different is that, unlike rock or jazz, there are very few ürtext recordings of standards. Sure, there's very important versions of tunes - e.g. Miles doing "Bye Bye Blackbird" - but so many other people have recorded it too. For me, the key to getting inside jazz phrasing is to listen to multiple artists tackle the same standard, and see how they differ and how they are similar. That process provided a lot of "eureka" moments along the way for me.

 

Listen to who you like, and not just piano players - horn players, guitar players, drummers, singers. Charlie Parker is important, 'Trane is important, but so are Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Rouse, Johnny Griffin, Lester Young, etc. The first solo I ever lifted was a Milt Jackson solo on his record with Cannonball. After that, I did Wynton on "Freddie Freeloader."

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Seriously, I'm aware that the standard rock voicings won't work, and that I'll need to work inversions more. Rootless kind of scares me right now; I can devise some circle-of-5ths exercises that focus on inversions and extensions, but I may need to sequence a bass track as a reference for a while.

 

Same thing with me about 25 years ago. The difference I think is I was in a show group so I did some jazzy stuff but nothing heavy. What happened with me is I was selling cars and one of the other salesmen was a jazz sax player and he invited me over to his house where he has an original wurlitzer piano and he handed me Real Book One. I had never even heard of it before much less seen one. I could grab a Maj7 in any key but all the 7b9's, +11's, 13's etc were mostly beyond me and certainly all the transitional voicings. I have enough basic music theory and sight reading from when I was a kid so I could take my time and slowly figure stuff out but if he were to take me to a gig and put the book in front of me and count something off? No way at that time. The thing that kept me going with him is he's an old school balladeer type of player not fast bebop so I had a chance to work out lots of slow easier to play things with him like Funny Valentine or Embraceable You.

 

The reason he hung in there with me is my experience in show groups. We all learned how to follow a vocalist. Lots of times during an intro the singer might go off track or start talking with someone or whatever. We had to follow her, let her do her thing and she would cue the start of the song. I automatically did the same thing with him playing sax. Sax is basically singing through a horn so he's a vocalist really. Even though I didn't know a lot of the more complex jazz voicings I knew how to follow a vocalist. Lots of players never learn that. They get too locked into the arrangement. The chart says an 8 bar intro and that's it, you start singing there, damn it! No, on ballads especially give the singer some space during the intros.

 

The books being recommended are all very good but I would also pick up Real Book One and start learning the easier tunes.

 

Bob

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Hey Tee, I just read your "mini lesson" above. I think I now understand the Theory of Relativity....as explained by Keith Jarrett. I know there's a point in there, and I'm going to ferret it out if it's the last thing I do. 'Write' on, bro.

 

chas

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As far as Real Books go, I prefer the ones with lyrics because the lyrics make it much easier (for me anyway) to remember the melody. That also gives you the phrasing and breathing, as well as the mood and meaning the original song may have had. A bonus feature is if the singer you work with doesn't know the real name of the song! If you know the words, you can probably figure out what tune she's talking about.

 

Lots of good advice above. Here's a quick tip - the most important tones in some of those crazy chords you'll encounter are the 3rd and 7th. You can almost always get away with just those despite when a chart shows all those other extensions (9, 11, 13). And, as my piano teacher once told me, "the difference between major and minor is the 3rd. If you miss the 7th no one dies, if you miss the third, everybody dies."

 

You can play a lot with just root, 3rd, 7th, and the melody note, though you'd likely skip the melody if the singer is singing at that point.

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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Tee basically said start with basic blues and then add the jazz changes. That's absolutely correct.

 

Jason, it's possible you know more than you know. What I mean by that is lots of rock has jazz in it but the heavy drums and guitars fool you into thinking it's all very basic. In my case I discovered I already was playing some of the jazz voicings but it was all by ear, I didn't know what those voicings were called so when my friend showed me Book One I couldn't read the chord changes. For example I had "found" by myself by ear the rootless minor 9 I to IV jazz chords. It's written for example as a Cm9 to a F13. Both chords are voiced with the Eb under your thumb in the right hand with the D on top so for the F13 you simply slide the Bb in the middle of the chord to the A and the bass is hitting the C and F. Very simple. It's in lots of ballads including classic 70's R&B stuff. I would see a Cm9 to an F7 in a book and not know from looking at it that it's really those two chords but I did know it by ear if that makes sense. Back in the day there were no computers with all this cool info on the internet. We wanted to learn a tune it was called get the record and just work it out by ear but the problem was with no jazz training I didn't know what those voicings we worked out were called.

 

The point here is you may "know" a lot of this already without knowing how to read it out of a fake book because you've worked it out by ear just like I did. One thing you can do is revisit some of the rock stuff you already know and take a close look at some of the chord voicings you're using.

 

Bob

Hammond SK1, Mojo 61, Kurzweil PC3, Korg Pa3x, Roland FA06, Band in a Box, Real Band, Studio One, too much stuff...
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Hey Tee, I just read your "mini lesson" above. I think I now understand the Theory of Relativity....as explained by Keith Jarrett. I know there's a point in there, and I'm going to ferret it out if it's the last thing I do. 'Write' on, bro.

 

chas

 

Was it that obtuse? -) Man, I tried. Tell me the first sentence that you found confusing, or misleading. I will respond. Then the next sentence, and so on.

My method, and I stand by it, is a very gradual approach to jazz improvisation.

 

You don't have ideas, ideas have you

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are. "One mans food is another mans poison". I defend your right to speak hate. Tolerance to a point, not agreement

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I agree with the advice to take lessons with a good teacher, and also the advice to listen, and listen a lot.

 

For self-study, I continue to be a fan of the Jazz Keyboard Toolbox book by Bill Cunliffe. He starts you off with the blues form and 3-7 chord voicings (you play only the 3rd and the 7th of each chord with the left hand - really simplifies the job). For the right hand, you get melodies that might be challenging for raw beginners but should be accessible for anyone with at least 1 year piano playing experience. You also get a CD to hear how the chords should sound, as well as the melody, in time with a rhythm section.

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I did the classical to jazz road, and can say a good teacher is much better than trying to learn from reading books.

 

I tried the Levine Piano book and it did more harm than good at first.

 

Also, accompanying a singer is a different style of jazz altogether than instrumental. Because if your harmony clashes with their melody its noticeable.

 

I'd say listen to some jazz records, find some players you like and try to imitate them. Herbie is great, as he excels playing with singers and instrumentals.

 

I'd suggest his River album, it's pop/jazz with many well known singers, Norah Jones, Joni Mitchell, Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen.

 

Hey The Wind... I am curious ( in a healthy way ) of what problems you encountered as a classically based player, switching over to jazz, with the Mark Levine Piano Book? Would you mind going into some detail please. I think it would be very helpful to follow your process at that early stage. Thank you.

You don't have ideas, ideas have you

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are. "One mans food is another mans poison". I defend your right to speak hate. Tolerance to a point, not agreement

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Was it that obtuse? -)

 

Nah, I was just sort of pulling your chain. Let's just say that your writing style is uh...unique. My wife talks like you write; the difference is that I feel compelled to read your posts; her, I just tune out :).

 

I just feel sure that we've met somewhere (back in the day....Philly/S. Jersey area). You ever play Peps or Showboat (philly) or Club Harlem or Gracie's Little Belmont (Atlantic City). I played there (B3) mostly during the summer months (either teaching or grad school at U of P the rest of the year). That's where I met all the 'guys'; McGriff, Johnny 'Hammond' Smith, Don Patterson, Stanley, McDuff, etc. There were some great players around town at that time (and lots of venues to showcase them). If you WERE around the area at that time, what were you playing, bass or B3? and who were you gigging with?

 

chas

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Shucks, basically, no, I only even heard of Club Harlem.. I first saw Willis Jackson there with my buddy Vinnie Corrao, he was friends with Pat Martino who was with Willis. Or maybe I am confusing this.. it might have been Chris Columbo band with Pat. I did most of my playing in Northern Jersey and NYC.

Maybe we continue in PM out of fairness to the OP!

Am I all wet with my theory of teaching jazz improv and it's approximate correlation with historical development of jazz.. with the gradual addition of Secondary Dominants, and their extensions, and of course II V which really just more Dominant based?

I was playing a steady with a pretty heavyweight teacher from UCLA and he said a song like SO What or Impressions, was taught as a basic kind of an introduction to jazz, since there were only two chords. That approach bothers me for an introduction to jazz... it is not historically how jazz evolved.

Penny for your thoughts.

I played mostly bass btw. B3 was more later on in Calif, though I played in Lancaster on a gig as a kid when session ace Gary Chester showed up as a visitor. But mainly elec bass.

You don't have ideas, ideas have you

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are. "One mans food is another mans poison". I defend your right to speak hate. Tolerance to a point, not agreement

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Hey The Wind... I am curious ( in a healthy way ) of what problems you encountered as a classically based player, switching over to jazz, with the Mark Levine Piano Book?

 

hey T- basically the Levine book is theory heavy but not in a practical way. Jazz is about rhythm, space, feel, inflection. All things that should be taught using your ears rather than reading from a book.

 

There is too much overload about chord extensions, scale theory.

 

If you are starting out you need to get the basics down solid first. 2-5-1 in standard voicings. How to embellish a melody.

 

The Levine book had all these examples that would confuse a newbie. Like Wayne Shorter songs which don't follow any typical chord progression.

 

What's your background? are you a rock player just getting into jazz now.

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My background... (chuckle)? Nice of you to take the time to ask. Well, it is long and varied. Briefly.. grew up with classical music. at around 14 jazz came in. So bias is to "serious" music. I do this full time, so I made too numerous concessions to the practical commercial side of music. I am versatile, respected ( if baffling ! ) solid sub, who excels at left hand bass. The start of 2014 sees me with about 70% of my income slashed, and I'm wondering what the next chapter in Tee's career will be! ;-)

You don't have ideas, ideas have you

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are. "One mans food is another mans poison". I defend your right to speak hate. Tolerance to a point, not agreement

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