I have been working on a solo piano cd recently which should be released sometime later this year. The history of solo piano in jazz is rich and vast. From Fats Waller to McCoy Tyner…Art Tatum to Keith Jarrett there are many resources to draw upon.
There is also a great deal of information available in the classical realm. In fact, if you listen closely you will find many of the great solo jazz pianists derived their material from the great classical masters of centuries gone by.
Bill Evans, for example, was clearly and directly influenced by impressionistic composers such as Debussy and Ravel. If it’s not clear to you, go have a listen to Bill Evans with Symphony Orchestra. On this recording Evans pays homage to his primary harmonic influences. In pianists like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea one hears overwhelming evidence of Scriabin, Bartok and Stravinsky. Jarrett’s romanticism and as of late his atonal or pan-tonal (atonal with pockets of tonality) approach to solo piano are clear indications that he understood and relished the music of Brahms and Charles Ives and everyone in between. Cecil Taylor’s textural explorations should not go unnoticed as it reflected the textural explorations of many of the mid to late 20th century composers.
I want to share a few videos of a free improvisation I recorded last fall in the McGill studio where I teach. The first movement is a pan-tonal improv based on an intervallic motif, the minor 6th,and contrpuntal in nature. I am using harmonic and melodic material that may be heard in some of the early 20th century composers. The 2nd movement is more technical but again its source is early 20th century harmonic devices that I have applied to a modern free jazz improvisatory approach.
I’ll be talking more about the importance of playing “free” in later blogs.