Author: Randy Halberstadt
Copyright © 2005
Published by Sher Music Co
This is one of the great jazz books of our times.
I highly recommend this book not only to jazz pianists, but all jazz musicians who are looking for ways to expand how they think about the music. The book is a half technical discussion about theory, harmony, scales, and related material, and the other half ties it all together as Randy talks about these things in relation to being a jazz musician.
This is one of the top five jazz piano books that all jazz pianists should have on their shelf. Not only for the the musical ideas and insight, but the philosophy and thought processes behind playing great music.
I know Randy personally and not only is he a great player, but his thoughts on music are quite advanced. Randy is also one of the few pianists that the great Jerome Gray thinks/thought is good.
This book is a gold mine of insights into almost every aspect of jazz musicianship, including scale/chord theory, practice strategies, composing techniques, performance psychology and how to create the states of mind that produce the best improvisations. Designed for any level of player, on any instrument, the book provides numerous exercises throughout to help the reader turn these concepts into musical reality. Endorsed by Jessica Williams, Jerry Bergonzi and others.
Metaphors is subtitled as "Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist" which is appropriate because Randy Halberstadt is not only a good author, he's a fantastic jazz pianist. One of the few jazz pianists the legendary Jerome Gray thinks really has his stuff together.
I had expected to read through this book quickly and post a review after a few days, but as I read through it I couldn't help but stop and try out the ideas Randy put down. I found myself running back to the piano every few minutes to try something new, and eventually I just made myself comfortable at the piano.
The book has eight sections and 44 chapters ranging from ways of thinking about jazz, practicing, developing improvising, theory, comping, and ways of making it in the music world. This book can't be classified as a theory book or a piano book because it's not a method book, though it contains a huge amount of theory and methodology. It's a book of Randy Halberstadt's observations about jazz piano and jazz music in general from years of being a professional player and teacher.
One of the nice things about this book is that Randy demystifies complex jazz theory by relating it to our basic understanding of the world with examples and of course metaphors. There are a lot of theory books out there that explain theory in a very concise scientific manner, but leave it up to the reader to somehow manage all that information into useful chunks that can be incorporated into their playing. Randy on the other hand gives it to you in plain english and every time a new concept is introduced, a simple method of utilizing it is offered along with examples that make so much sense you'll find yourself repeating the phrase, "Oh, I get it now."
For example, the simple but sometimes enigmatic principle of fingering scales. Instead of working through scales and coming up with fingerings that work for each scale, or memorizing a set of fingerings for the dozens of different scales out there, Randy suggests a method that works for all scales with little reminders that help keep your fingers on the right notes. Sheet music examples and graphic images found on nearly every page provide even more clarity so that understanding and remembering these concepts is easier than one would think.
The book also has extensive sections on harmony including an ingenius way of looking at chord relationships, including all the most common (and some uncommon) ways of substituting chords in progressions, or substituting entire progressions themselves. And once again, Randy does it in a way that anyone can understand, simplifying the complex.
Another wonderful aspect of this book are the real-world examples. There are tunes that you and I play all the time that Randy uses to incorporate the ideas he is discussing. My Foolish Heart, Embraceable You, Everythingn I Love, My Funny Valentine, etc... Not only does he incorporate the concepts he is discussing into these tunes, he revisits the tunes when new ideas are discussed so you get a chance to utilize ideas from early in the book alongside brand new ideas and concepts. Reharmonizing, improvising, melodic ideas, it's refreshing to see these things incorporated into common every day tunes because it makes it that much easier to put them into other tunes that we play every day.
With all the examples to be found in Metaphors, Randy has a way of simplifying the complex that makes it much easier to start incorporating into your own playing.
Now what about the metaphors? Randy has included a lot of metaphors throughout the book. These metaphors are like stories or fables, ways of explaining ideas using real world experiences to give the reader another one of those, "Oh, I get it." feelings. When I first received the book, I flipped through and read all the metaphors which are easily found inside gray shaded boxes.
For example, in Chapter 16 the first thing on the page is a metaphor box that talks about improvising in eighth notes, imagining your eighth notes are a flock of seagulls flying over the ocean waves. Every so often they dip into the water and disappear, but they are still moving, then they reappear further on. As Randy says at the end of that metaphor, "... the eighth notes never stop: they just go underwater for a while and then come back up."
Another very nice aspect of the book is that just about every one of his ideas about music come with exercises to help the reader incorporate them into their playing. Technical exercises and jazz related exercises, if you follow his suggestions, your playing will grow, and though it's definitely from the persepective of a jazz pianist, your playing will grow no matter what instrument you play.
One of the strongest points of Randy's book is that because he is a professional player and teacher, he has a very good handle on not only what it takes to be a great player, but what it takes to help other people develop into great players. I knew someone who was a pupil of Randy's for several years and her playing changed from a confused mess into something beautiful.
Metaphors will help you become your own teacher, simplify the complex, and provide tools, ideas, and methods to help build your own jazz identity.
Randy also makes sure the reader knows that his book is not meant to be The Way, rather it is One of The Ways to achieve your musical goals.
I highly recommend this book to any jazz musician out there, and as a jazz pianist, I can't think of any reason why this book should not be near your piano at all times. I have little red sticky bookmarks poking out of dozens of pages in the book and have it sitting on my piano at all times so that when I feel like stretching my mind a bit more, I just pop the book open to one of the sections I marked and start digging into it again.
There are so many other aspects of the book I haven't even touched on. Scale/chord relationships, ways of thinking about music and being a professional, comping, blues, performance ideas, and much more.
The bottom line: Randy has written one of the great jazz books of our times for players today and we have Chuck Sher of Sher Music to thank for seeing it for the great resource that it is and publishing it. Don't hesitate to add this book to your library.
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