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Screen shot 2015-01-19 at 7.20.06 PMI’m posting this lesson from Keyboard Magazine last Spring–for no other reason than I began a draft of this post (which involves pretty much simply copying and pasting from their website), and never posted it. So here goes…the only thing harder than writing out right hand blues licks is playing them back as written. I attempt it in the soundcloud audio examples below.

How to play traditional slow blues piano

May 12, 2015

Playing a traditional, slow, Chicago-style, 12-bar blues tune can be a real challenge for a pianist. Doing so involves many duties: laying down a groove, establishing proper harmony, and creating excitement, all while restraining yourself to a simple chord progression and a five or six-note scale. With traditional blues, the only strict rule is there are no rules, only traditions. So let’s look at some of them.

1. Starting from the Five

Ex. 1 demonstrates how sometimes you’ll be starting the blues with a loud guitar or drum pickup into the last four bars of the progression, a la “Key of C, from the five! . . . two, three, four…” At that point, you start right on the V chord, so come in strong with both hands. In this scenario, the entire rhythm section is setting up the time, the groove and the harmony with the “walk-down” chords (V7-IV7-I7) and the subsequent turnaround (V7#5-I7).

2. Slower Than Slow

A traditional slow blues can be really slow, as illustrated in Ex. 2. In this scenario, the singer might cut the band on the downbeat, and break things down to a really soft first chorus of solo or vocals. Now the band’s suddenly playing very softly and your part is exposed. In this situation, open chords work great. Spice them up with a few fills, tremolos, slip notes, or hammers, which are basically on-the-beat grace notes. If you’ve grown up listening to rock and blues, these licks might already be in your DNA; it’s just a matter of activating them and playing them tastily. In this example, I’m moving to a “quick four,” which is a IV chord on the second measure. Then I’m back to the I7 chord in the third, and then to a V7#5 to a I7 in the third to fourth bar. Whatever you do, you must watch the singer, listen to the drummer, and listen to the vocal phrasing. You can play a tasty fill in the space between lines. So too might the guitarist. In my experience, some of the authentic stone-cold blues players want you to fill and solo with them at the same time.

3. Triplets and Shell Voicings

You might want to build on a 12/8 feel by playing triplets in the right hand, as seen in Ex. 3. For the left hand, you can choose to play nothing at all, roots by themselves, third and seventh “shell” voicings, or even tenth voicings if you can reach. It’s also cool to open the voicings up, spreading the notes between both hands. Whatever voicings you use, remember to listen to the drummer and put everything right “in the pocket.”

4. Tremolos and Slippery Licks

When you want to kick things up a notch, try playing close voicings or even triplets in the left hand, and tremolo riffs and cool slippery licks in the right hand, as in Ex. 4. Full rhythmic coordination of both hands will take a while to get used to, because so many blues licks are out of time. But no matter what you do in your left hand, don’t comp like you’re playing jazz. Play strong, because you might be the only rhythm instrument playing the chords.

5. Rocking Solo Riffs

During the last chorus of a solo, the whole band should open up and really rock, as illustrated in Ex. 5. This is your time to hook up with the bass player, drummer, and hopefully the guitarist, too. Play the boogie/rock left-hand pattern, and in the right hand you can riff loudly and frenetically in a high register. Out-of-time, four-finger repeated riffs work great, as do traditional rock and New Orleans-style riffs.

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The Return of the E.S.G.

…as opposed to MSG, MDA, MMA or ESL…

Announcing the THIRD meeting of the newly-reformed Ellington Study Group LA, now officially underwritten (thank you very much!) by the Academy of Scoring Arts.

The first two last fall were very well-attended;  we rebooted a bunch of material from past (pre 2015) classes, added some stuff, and got into it even deeper…Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue”, Gil Evans’ “Blues for Pablo” and “St. Louis Blues”… with more to come, including works by Bob Brookmeyer, George Russell, and of course my main man, Sun Ra.

This class is for pro’s: film composers, legit composers, jazz composers, jazz and classical instrumentalists, rockers, or any interested party with a bit of a background in theory and harmony. While some of these folks (mainly the composers) don’t do “music community” involvement very well, when they get together it’s pretty cool. As it turns out, lots of people know lots about writing, everyone has great ears and a love of music, and I end up learning just as much as the attendees.

More info, including materials from past classes is available at ellingtonstudygroup.com.
Join the E.S.G mailing list:

Here’s the agenda for the third meeting on Friday, December 18th, from 10 am to noon at Vitello’s in Studio City.

We’ll visit “Concerto for Cootie”, and revisit “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” by Ellington, glean some more scoring and comp techniques from a time when the only rule was there are no rules. We’ll move quickly to Gil Evans’ Miles Ahead, and continue our discussion of  “Blues or Pablo”, which will feature a detailed analysis of voicing, composition and orchestration techniques. This piece is a primer in Gil’s techniques–and there are a few choice passages where he moves the music forward through orchestration – this adds a third dimension to the music.

I also want to touch on a few pieces which we’ll listen to without the score…something from “The Individualism of Gil Evans” (by Gil Evans), or perhaps a record I just rediscovered, an early small big band session by Bob Brookmeyer. Or both. Or maybe something from George Russell. Or Sun Ra.

I’m expecting a good turnout like the last two sessions. There will be handouts as well as copies of analog scores to look at, in addition to the projection. See you there! Scott

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MyMusicMasterclass.com: Two-Part Roots Piano Instructional Video

Roots Piano Instructional Video

I had the honor of meeting bassist and producer Adam Small at NAMM last January. As it turns out, he’s also an entrepreneur, having built a website which features instructional videos from established pros like Bob Mintzer, Larry Goldings, and Kenny Werner to name a few. These informal and comprehensive videos cover a wide range of topics from instrumental instruction in a variety of modern and traditional styles, composition and arranging, to record producing, songwriting and career counseling. Adam asked me to do a lesson on what some call “Roots” piano styles – basically anything cool that isn’t jazz, such…

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Scott Healy Feature by Jon Regen- Keyboard Magazine, Feb. 2015

Scott Healy Keyboard Mag Feature

SCOTT HEALY IS EQUALLY AT HOME BEHIND A HAMMOND ORGAN OR THE CONDUCTOR’S PODIUM IN A CONCERT HALL. Best known for his quarter-century romp as the high-energy keyboardist in Conan O’Brien’s television band, Healy is also a Grammy- nominated, classically trained composer of serious sonic merit. (And to top it off, he’s a frequent contributor to Keyboard, Where does he find the time?) Healy took a break from his near nonstop rehearsal and performance schedule to talk about a musical journey that has spanned Bach to rock, and everything in between. CLICK TO DOWNLOAD HI RES PDF OF THIS ARTICLE…

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The Rhodes Less Traveled – Keyboard Mag Lesson Jan 2015

Click for original article on keyboardmag.com Getting the Most out of the your Fender Rhodes The Rhodes is an instrument with a practically unparalleled dynamic range, versatility, richness and playability. Just about anything that sounds good on a piano sounds good on a Rhodes as well. But unless you’ve known one intimately by toughing it out, carting it to gigs and getting to know it inside and out, the only contact you may have had with this ancient funk machine might be through “vintage keys” sample libraries and virtual instruments. In this lesson, let’s break things down and discover how…

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Hammond B3 Pros and No Cons – An Short Interview

What’s So Great About a Hammond B3? Really, if you have to ask about the Hammond B3 you’ve got a lot of catching up to do–like about 50 years of history. But it’s not an easy instrument to play, made even more difficult if you move, rent, maintain or borrow one. Fortunately these days there are many alternatives. I endorse Hammond digital organs, basically their new line of digital B3’s. In this interview, Hammond artist rep Emiko asks me why I like the B3 (and by extension my new SK-2), and what my favorite toothpaste is. It’s pretty hard not…

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