About

www.noahkellman.com

I still remember it like it was 5 minutes ago… I ran downstairs in my footies and sped up to maximize the distance as I slid across the slick wood floor. Why was I in such a rush? My dad, a doctor, rarely had time play the piano. Every once in a while though, he would sit down and play through dozens of Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin piano pieces that he still knew from when he was a serious classical pianist. My dad is a really amazing man, and it’s largely because of him that I have been able to follow my passion and play jazz piano.

When my dad was in college, he came to a difficult cross roads in his life. His father (my grandfather) had worked his entire life to give my dad the opportunity to go to college and apply to medical school, but he had also given him the chance to study piano his whole life, first with my grandma and then with others. Nearing the end of college, he began studying with a very serious teacher. “Look, you have something very special here and I think you could make it as a pianist, but you have to practice for at least four hours a day. If you want to study with me, that’s what I’ll expect from you.” My dad told me how his heart sank after hearing these words. He knew that he would have to choose between taking lessons with this great teacher and going to medical school. In the end, he followed the path to become a doctor, and among other factors in his life, this led him to meet my mom and eventually led to yours truly.

But just like his father before him, my father gave me the opportunity to follow my dreams of becoming a jazz pianist. He first did this by teaching me Für Elise, the very first piano piece I ever learned. He went on to teach me other pieces by Beethoven and Chopin before I moved on to classical teachers. I’m not going to lie. I absolutely DESPISED my classical lessons. They wouldn’t let me play Beethoven. They wouldn’t let me play Mozart or Chopin. No. I had to play only what I could read… this was bad because I had learned everything by ear. After a few years of arguing with my teachers, I finally just gave up. It would be years until I discovered my true passion: jazz.

And then it happened. I was 10 years old, preparing to play the clarinet at a school band concert when a mysterious group of older high schoolers dressed in black walked into the room. Everyone was intrigued, but I never could have predicted my reaction as they began playing Duke Ellington.

I don’t remember this, but apparently I turned to my mom and said, “That’s what I want to play.” Sure enough, that did it. From then on, I began studying jazz piano voraciously, absorbing every piece of knowledge I could, attending every camp, event, masterclass, you name it. I lived, thought, and breathed jazz. I began as a jazz aholic, someone with an uncontrollable obsession. Then I progressed into a jazz nazi, someone who disliked all music except jazz. Then after after realizing how competitive the music was becoming I became a jazzophobe. I’ve finally just evolved an artist (at least I hope). I love jazz, and that will never change, and I wan’t the world to know and understand why jazz has so much to offer.

Jazz is a landscape of composition. It’s like free-writing in music. It can be a form of expression that is genuine and revealing, or it can be a combination of many different types of art, not just music. Me? I like to think of myself as a jazz storyteller. Every time I write a song, I picture the film that goes along with it. I see the characters and who they are, what they’re feeling. I love soundtracks in general, but my best soundtracks will always come from my original specialty: jazz piano.

Look… I’m going to be honest. I’ve seen some really TERRIBLE blogs out there about jazz piano. The ones I really can’t stand are the ones that pop up to advertise their product with a bunch of dumb lessons about jazz by someone who can’t even play himself! I have to admit I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to music, especially jazz these days.

I ask myself this fundamental question:

Was this music created for an honest and genuine reason? Some “honest and genuine” reasons might be to have a good time, to connect with the audience, to express your emotions, etc. If the answer to the question is no, than that probably means the music is being played for the wrong reasons. For example, to show off or impress people, to make money, to be regarded as a genius, you get what I mean.

There are just too many musicians out there (particularly in jazz) who play music for the wrong reasons (in my opinion, that is). It has become a vicious cycle— aspiring jazz musicians go to a club to be impressed, and performers show off on stage in order to impress their aspiring crowd. It really IS a sport when it’s played that way!

One thing’s for sure, most jazz musicians sure don’t play for wrong reason #2, which is to make money. That’s because many of them don’t care about their audience enough to grace them with honest music.

Now, these are strong opinions, I know. Don’t get me wrong, I love jazz and I love many great musicians who play today. It’s just time that jazz musicians start remembering that they play in public to ENTERTAIN PEOPLE, not to blow that other guy out of the water.

A couple things about this blog:

I am going to be writing (and eventually making videos to go along) in order to demonstrate concepts in a concise and understandable way so that you can get straight to practicing and using them in your own music.

If you ever have any questions, feel free to ask and I’ll be happy to answer or possibly even create a post based on your question if it relates to everyone.

7 thoughts on “About

  1. Hey I really like your blog and the music on your website is refreshing. You must compose. I compose and play jazz piano in Florida. I’m trying to decide if I want to do it seriously and the 4 hour thing is hanging on me. I know I’m going to keep it up though. There’s not much good jazz around here. I think jazz needs more reinventors. For some, it’s becoming what it used to be not what it can be.

    • Hey Joe,

      Thanks so much for checking out the blog. Sorry for the late response, I took a short break from blogging at the beginning of the summer. I have to agree with you. Jazz definitely could use more reinventors. If we work hard, maybe we can be part of the reinventing. Where abouts are you in Florida? I’ve been to Orlando many times and have tried to find jazz stuff but you’re right, there isn’t all that much going on.

  2. Hi Noah, Thanks for taking the time to provide such valuable instruction. I am also a pianist and am currently getting my chops around Drop 2. I think I have a good understanding of it as far as its structure is concerned. However, in terms of arranging for a piano trio or quartet (which I am currently doing, I suddenly realised that I didn’t know what the double bass should be doing underneath. Two possible solutions I suppose are for the bass to play in unison with the piano top line and another for the bass to play along with the bottom line of the voicing. Both of these solutions avoid the possibility of clashes against the diminished seventh chords. I would be very interested to know your thoughts on this matter.

    Regards,

    Mal Fisher

    • Hi Mal, that’s a good question. From my experience, one would usually do as you said, using the bass to play the bottom note in the voicing. However, I wonder what type of composition you are referring to. If you are talking about a swing chart, I would say that the bass should simply walk a baseline like usual and leave the drop twos to the horn section.

  3. Thanks Noah. I am currently putting a quartet together comprising piano, bass, sax and vocals (no drums). This is quite an unusual combination and in order to fully integrate the sax I have been writing some Shearing style contrapuntal arrangements occasionally employing locked hands and drop two. I know that it’s rather old fashioned now but I love the way Shearing created contrapuntal lines that complemented the melody so well when working with such singers as Dakota Staton, Nancey Wilson and Peggy Lee and this is what I have been trying to write.
    As far as big band arrangements go, I play a little guitar and when I first played in such line-ups I remember being very surprised by the number of diminished sevenths that i was given. It would seem then that in a big band arrangement, the guitar part often follows the principles of locked hands/drop two in keeping with the horn writing.
    I once saw a cip on Youtube in which Shearing was talking about his arrangements and I remember him stating that the writing for bass had to take account of the principles in question. I suppose that the real anwser lies in carefully listening to the masters.

    Regards
    Mal

    PS I thoroughly enjoyed the Marion McPartland/ Sondheim broadcast that you flagged up on Facebook. Have you heard those she did with Bill Evans on Youtube – thoroughly recommended. Cheers.

  4. Thanks Noah,
    I am currently putting a quartet together comprising piano, Bass, vocals and tenor sax (- no drums). In order to create a full and vibrant sound I have written some arrangements incorporating elements of locked hands and drop two. I have always admired the way that George Shearing wrote brilliant contrapuntal lines when arranging for singers such as Nancy Wilson, Dakota Staton and Peggy Lee and I have attempted to write in a similar style for the quartet.
    In the past, when I have played guitar in big bands I have been surprised at how many diminished seventh passing chords that I have been asked to play. I can now see that these chords were essentially shadowing the horn lines using drop two and locked hands principles. As you say however, in the big band arrangements the double bass parts do not seem to have been governed by these constraints.
    I suppose that the answer to my question really lies in listening to what the masters such as Peterson et al have done. I do however remember watching a YouTube clip of Shearing stating that his bass parts had to take account of the techniques in question.
    Regards
    Mal
    PS
    I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Marian McPartland/ Sondheim broadcast that you flagged up on Facebook. Have you heard those that she did with Bill Evans – they’r e wonderful and can be accessed on You Tube. Cheers.

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