How to learn jazz piano, part 2
In part 2 of how to learn jazz piano I am reflecting on how I started to learn and continue to learn to play and have an understanding of jazz piano.
In part 1 I looked at the path that I took and how it helped me. Here’s a quick recap.
Learn to read music, at least the treble clef.
If you can read, at least the treble clef, you will have access to thousands of tunes in ‘real books‘. These books of tunes just provide the melody and chords. I’m sure there are plenty of YouTube videos out there but learning to read isn’t such a big deal.
Play with other people
You will learn more from playing with other musicians, whatever their level of ability, than any book, or, dare I say it, teacher. For me, playing music of any kind, but particularly when it involves improvisation, is all about listening and responding.
Listen to the jazz masters
It’s all out there waiting for you, whether it’s Louis Armstrong or John Coltrane, it’s all available to you. And notice that I’m not necessarily quoting pianists. You can learn as much by listening to Miles Davis as Bill Evans. And you don’t even need to understand or analyse it. Just let it wash over you!
Know your chords
For us these are mostly 7th chords: dominant 7s, major 7s, minor 7s etc and in different keys. Then start to explore how they link up into chord sequences.
And so in part 1 I listed three ways that tried to answer the question ‘How to learn Jazz piano’ and in that article I gave you some indication of my personal journey. I will now continue.
Thirty years ago I struggled to find any books about learning jazz piano that were of practical use. Now they fill a bookshelf. Here is a short selection.
Exploring jazz piano, books 1 and 2 by Tim Richards.
I particularly like Tim’s books (and I call him Tim as he was one of my teachers) because they start at a basic level whereas some books assume you already have some understanding.
The Jazz Piano book by Mark Levine.
This will keep you engrossed for years but be warned: it already assumes some level of undersanding.
Find a jazz piano teacher
As some of you know, I live in London so my experience of teachers is local. And I realise how lucky I am to live in a big city with access to jazz piano teachers. I appreciate that many people will not be so fortunate.
I have learned from experience that great jazz pianists don’t necessarily make good teachers. I will add that one of my all time favourite teachers wasn’t a pianist so I’ll start with him.
Jeff Clyne was an amazing jazz bass player and a great inspiration to me. His extensive knowledge of jazz repertoire and how to approach tunes will always be with me.
Howard Riley is renowned for so called free improvisation but is equally at ease with Bebop. I attended his jazz workshops at Goldsmiths college as a student for 10 years.
Tim Richards. I have already recomnended his books but he has a vast practical and theoretical knowledge of various styles that include blues and Latin.
Nick Weldon. Although Nick has been exploring the bass in recent years he is an extraordinary jazz pianist and teacher. He has taught me privately and at jazz summer schools over the years.