I Learned to Play Jazz Piano and You Can Too
Larsen, Janeen, American Music Teacher
When I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, in the early 1970s, I had been fired from a lucrative musical theater accompanist job because I did not now how to improvise. I was in shock. Me? I was a hot-shot classical pianist, I could play Rachmaninoff concertos, I could sight read anything. I was a top music student with a master's degree in piano performance. What was wrong with the commercial music world? Didn't they recognize my extraordinary talent?
One day, I saw a sign on a bulletin board: "Will trade jazz piano lessons for classical piano lessons." I decided that perhaps jazz would be a practical skill to learn. Plus, I had some vague idea of playing sultry blues on a rainy Saturday night in a bar somewhere. Thus began a long 40-year odyssey, filled with both rewards and frustrations. I began to study with a private teacher. I listened to jazz solos and wrote out transcriptions. I played with jazz ensembles. I played with country, rock and polka bands. I provided workshops and classes in jazz piano. I completed a Ph.D. program and wrote a dissertation about teaching jazz piano to classical pianists. Eventually, I got to the point I could play with a trio or as a soloist with confidence. Some of my most important discoveries:
* Jazz improvisation can be learned, even if you can't play "by ear."
* Learning jazz is similar to learning a foreign language: it takes many years, and fluency requires dedication and tenacity.
* Playing jazz is the most challenging, interesting and enjoyable way to connect theory and performance at any level.
After many years of teaching piano, I firmly believe that any classical pianist can learn to play jazz. People are not born with innate jazz-playing abilities. Many famous jazz pianists have started out as classical pianists. Through my teaching experience, I have determined that if you can play Bach Inventions or Clementi Sonatinas, and if you know all 12 major and 12 natural minor scales, and all 12 major and minor triads, you are probably ready to begin jazz study. The more …
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Publication information: Article title: I Learned to Play Jazz Piano and You Can Too. Contributors: Larsen, Janeen - Author. Magazine title: American Music Teacher. Volume: 56. Issue: 3 Publication date: December 2006. Page number: 28+. © 2009 Music Teachers National Association, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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