While I was at the Brubeck Institute, in Stockton, CA, I had the priviledge of working with a great young pianist, Taylor Eigsti. Taylor is one of my favorite people to study with and I go back to him for lessons whenever I feel in need of some inspiration. Whenever I feel bored with a subject, he instantly finds a way to challenge me. I have lots of great ideas and exercises that I will eventually get around to posting about that I have learned from Taylor, but I wanted to take a look at this video of him playing “Like Someone In Love.” You’ll notice that throughout the video he uses lots of great runs in his left hand to fill up space, acting as exciting, modern-sounding fills.
Note that Kissin is not a jazz pianist. Rachmaninov is not a jazz composer. But check out the first piano arpeggio in this movement of the piece. I once asked my room mate, a classical pianist, to try to improvise for me. I noticed something very intriguing. He already sounded better than a lot of jazz pianists I know just because he had such a vast classical vocabulary. He took the riffs and arpegios, etc. that he knew from classical music and applied them over chords. What jazz musicians often don’t realize is that they can do this too! There’s an infinite world out there of beautiful material that can be used. This arpegio is a great example of such an instance. It is very different from the typical jazz arpegio which tends to just arpegiate a chord, but Rachmaninov adds in extra notes for color and effect. Why not do the same jazzers?
Brad Mehldau happens to be one of my favorite musicians. The biggest reason for this is that he is far from just a jazz pianist. This becomes apparent when reading the articles he has posted on his website. His ability to emote with his music is supplemented by his articulate use of words. Brad is a great example of an artist whose music comes from more than just exercises and practice. His music comes from his personality, stories, etc. His latest album, “Highway Rider,” actually features a story that he wrote to go along with the music. Here is a link to a great article he wrote on the wisdom that is often conveyed in music and where it comes from. (you can find links to many of his other articles here as well).
If you haven’t heard of Niccolai Kapustin, then you have to check this out RIGHT NOW. There are a few techniques in this piece that are extremely useful for jazz improvisation. In particular, two techniques that involve interaction between both hands. The first one is on the first page of the piece and involves the right hand playing chords while the left plays notes and using this rhythmically. Check this out at 0:15 in the video. The second technique involves simply starting a line in the left hand and finishing it in the right hand, a modern concept being used by many pianists today like Brad Mehldau and Taylor Eigsti. You will heard this being done throughout the piece, so follow along with the music and look out for this technique.