Reflections on Solo Piano (Part 1/8)
Performing solo piano has a number of challenges. Performing solo piano regularly means more challenges. I’d like to reflect on these in the next few posts, expand on my answers to Peter’s questions and pose a few of my own.
“What do I do with my left-hand!?”
It’s a common question that comes from pianists first getting acquainted with playing solo piano. A pianist’s answer will reveal much about his/her solo-piano concept and approach, and specifically, how he/she balances prepared music with improvised music.
Side note: I wish more pianists would ask this question when playing with a trio/ensemble!
In my opinion, the degree in which jazz pianists balance prepared music with improvised music is often miscalculated. This is particularity true with solo playing and to a lesser extent, trio playing. My transcriptions have shown that the balance often leans more toward prepared music than listeners may think. For example, take a look at my transcription of Bud Powell’s Parisian Thoroughfare; every A-section, head-in and head-out, is played virtually the same every time! What does this say about Powell’s concept and approach?
My interpretation is that we’re listening to something that’s a result of many hours of reading, studying, listening, transcribing, brainstorming, deconstructing, crafting, recording, practicing, practicing and practicing. Most excitingly: it’s also evolving! Most importantly, this performance is not completely ‘off-the-cuff.’ Powell had some things prepared and worked out.
Another example: Isn’t it ironic that YouTube’s most watched, solo-piano video by one of the world’s greatest improvisers is heavily prepared?
What is Keith’s left-hand doing? How do you think he worked that out?
There’s no magic formula, only practice.
Stay tuned for part 2!