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"the jazz theory book" takes the student from the most basic techniques such as chord construction and the ii-v-i progression through scale theory, the blues, "i've got rhythm" changes, slash chords, the bebop and pentatonic scales, how to read a lead sheet and memorize tunes and a study of reharmonization that is almost a book in itself. satisfaction guaranteed or money will be refunded.
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There are 22 comments, leave a comment.
any opinion on which one of the levine books should be studied first?
thanks.
i would definitely start with the jazz piano book since it contains invaluable information about voicings, and some basic chord/scale theory as well.
here is a review i found online from the jazz piano study letter at https://www.humboldt1.com/~jazz/index.html

in most respects, this is a definitive work. it's a felicitous example of the right book, at the right time, by the right person. mark levine is not just some college professor, but a respected professional with extensive experience in night clubs, concerts and festivals, playing with many of the top artists in jazz. but on top of that he is an educator with an extremely precise mind, who has carefully thought out how to present complex material with both accuracy and understanding of the way music students study and learn. i'm sure this book will immediately take its place as the standard work in the field and be  a must-have for thousands of jazz students.

one benefit of levine's real-world credentials is that the material is based on the actual practice of present-day mainstream players; he eschews any mere book-learning that's not directly applicable to what people do on the bandstand. at the same time, his analysis is intellectually rigorous and does not gloss over difficulties. (these two qualities are also what i aim for in the studyletter.)

though perhaps a touch expensive at $35, this is a big book. the layout does have a great deal of white space, which seems to be a new convention for instructional books. there are an enormous number of musical examples, including, as a nice bonus, a number of complete charts for some great hard-to-find tunes. since these aren't listed in the table of contents, i'll give them here for your reference: wingspan (miller), 163; black narcissus (henderson), 216; spring is here (rodgers), 372; body and soul (green), 377; i hear a rhapsody (fragos, etc.), 385; my little brown book (strayhorn), 397; beatrice (rivers), 398; what's new? (haggart, etc.), 412.

so what's in the book? (i've picked up levine's writer's trick of asking a question and answering it.) for long-time readers of the studyletter, there is not much unfamiliar material, though of course it's well-organized. also, there's a lot of content duplication with levine's earlier the jazz piano book, sometimes in the same words. the bulk of the book consists of a painstaking, clear and detailed exposition of the different types of chords used in modern jazz and the scales associated with them. this includes all the  modes of major and "harmonic minor"; diminished; whole-tone; pentatonic; 8-note bebop; blues; and a few others.

there are extensive discussions of "rhythm" changes, coltrane changes, "slash chords" (such as b/c), and all the familiar concepts of reharmonization like tritone substitution; all these are discussed mainly in terms of chord progressions alone, without reference to melodic lines or piano voicings; but those topics are not theory, strictly speaking.

harmonic function doesn't seem to be one of levine's strong points. he lumps together all secondary dominants as "v of v"; and puts very little emphasis on the subdominant (iv). in other words, he tends to take the chord progression as a given and does not comment much on its inner dynamics.

a section about lead sheets, heads and other practical matters that jazz musicians must know will be very informative to the student. this is stuff that everyone with actual bandstand experience quickly learns anyway. there's an amusing glossary of jazz terms and a repertoire list of 965 of the "best or most commonly played" tunes--silly, to my mind; a list of 100 essential standards would  have been more useful. another long list of recommended recordings is probably also a bit too subjective to be valuable.

levine does discuss melodic improvisation in several chapters in the middle of the book. he focuses on sequences, triadic figures, contrary motion and common tones, and gives many extensive examples from the masters. there are many more melodic concepts that he might have included, though.

throughout the book, levine emphasizes his idea that the improviser should always think in terms of what some other writers (but not he) call "parent scales" (he puts it "think key, not chord"). in other words, when confronted with c(altered), you should think of c# melodic minor. i'm not sure i agree with this. for me, altered scales or half-diminished scales, for instance, each have a subtle identity that is not quite the same as their "alter ego" melodic minor scales-a matter of touch or emphasis on  different notes of the scale, perhaps. in my teaching approach, you learn a(altered) and at another time eb lydian dominant, and then are pleasantly surprised to realize they use the same scale.

above all, levine deserves enormous credit for establishing a definitive system for jazz theory that (1) adequately covers most present-day styles, (2) is genuinely based on practice and not theoretical preconceptions, and (3) is well suited for use by students and educators. (george russell's interesting "lydian chromatic" system fails on all three counts.) it's a bonus that he is such an entertaining and encouraging writer.
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i found levine's book to be mostly great, and use it with my advanced students.  i do have, however, some reservations about his pages on the diminished scales -- and quite often, his printed musical examples, which can be esoteric, may be unfamilar to some jazz listeners.
i bought the book some time ago and i must say i am not finding it very useful.  maybe i don't know how to use it?  i have a strange background...i am an excellent sight-reader...and i'm very good at humming tunes once i hear...not very good at piecing together chords based on what i hear in music or in my head.

it's frustrating...i can listen to charlie parker, thelonious monk recordings and somewhere up in my head these chords are going by...i can whistle or hum a tune that fits flawlessly with the melody...i can even poke out a melody on the piano that sort of fits.  but i find it hard to construct chords.

the stuff in mark levine's book seems much too...i don't know...structured and theoretical for me?  i feel like knowing the music theory doesn't help me connect the theory to the chords i hear in my head or in a live performance or on a record.  i can see a chord symbol...and i can voice all sorts of chords...thanks to the book.

however...what the book hasn't helped me to do is to connect those chord voicings with an idea in my head of what those chords sound like...and being able to go from the sound in my head to being able to play the chord...how do i do this???
makes theory make sence.  worth every penny of $35 and then some
cazort-  
i'd suggest taking a lead sheet and writing down chords, substutions, and jazz lines to it. you'll start understanding and associating the theory once you hear it in your head and playing it.  
mind you, this takes time.
it's a great book! theory-wise, it's very clear, teaches you many different voicings; does not talk much about creating improvised lines, but otherwise great in all respects - not too wordy, with just enough information, and examples. highly recommended for jazz beginners!
i'm an intermediate player.  i read this book.  i thought that he explained things very clearly, much more so than most books.  his explanations are sufficient and not overly complicated.  however, in the end, i didn't think the book was that helpful.  i'm not into bebop jazz too much and this doesn't help explain the theory of the 40's-50's jazz of earlier times.  my question is, how did the guys the days before miles davis, charlie parker, etc. learn jazz?  was it theory?  or was it just an insane amount of practice?
they listened and copied what they heard, simple as that.  if you spend a year in a practice room with a hundred of your favorite recordings and learn all the songs and solos off each one of them, you'll be a musical monster by the time you're done.

of course, most people don't have the focus to learn things as thoroughly as they should so books are written as short cuts.  if a person doesn't want to take the time to do it, they can read about it. if that doesn't work, they can log on to youtube and watch it.

the mark levine book is a book of possibilities.  it gives you some tools to use.

the way to use the book is to rush through it as fast as possible, marking pages where you find interesting stuff.  then go back over the interesting stuff and figure out why you like it.  is it the voicing, the chord movement, what?  once you understand the formula for what makes it cool (and that's all music theory is, math, science, and forumlas) then adapt it to your music.  don't play autumn leaves the same way more than once, always play it differently, growing, expanding, and using the new stuff you learn from recordings and books.

as for theory of the 40's and 50's, theory is theory.  major and minor chords, 7th chords, and all the stuff in between hasn't changed since the well tempered clavier came out in the 1700's (or so).

charlie parker transcribe every single lester young (or what is coleman hawkins?) solo that existed, learned what was currently possible on the sax then took it to another level.

miles did similar things.

however, the bottom line is this.  those cats were really good for a reason- they played music all the time. every single night they either jammed or were on the road or were at a gig.  when you play music 4 hours a night, six nights a week, in a club or rehearsal, you're going to get good, period.  you'll have guys screaming at you, "don't do it that way, do it like this!"  

really, it's all about hours on stage.  having the mark levine book simply helps you figure out what some of that "do it like this" is supposed to sound like for a pianist.

there are no short cuts, there never were, getting good is a result of time spend intelligently on your instrument.
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.
thanks for the response, scot.  i didn't realize you had written here (i love this group here, but the forum design is very unique).

anyway, i'm becoming more and more convinced that what you're saying is true.  there is no shortcut for this stuff no matter what.  for a while, i was thrown off track and confused because most of the books out there (as well as most of the players/teachers, etc.) are concerned with modal jazz and more of the modern stuff.  i just got randy halberstandt (sp?) book metaphors for the musician, and it seems to be a very differently written book and i like what little i've seen so far.

it's gotta be practice, though.  no matter how smart i am, i can't replace hours of practice and playing with just mental knowledge.  and that's kind of the problem we all have.  i only have a couple hours at most per day to play piano when it's all said and done with work and everything else.  so i can't expect to be at the level of the pros from the 40's-50's or even now.  so, i just have to be disciplined and maximize my time and effort and let my progress be what it is.

i tell you this much, though.  i'm going to be obsessed by gene harris for a long time, and i'm pretty much going to clone his style until i've got it so down that i'll move on to other things (which will probably never be).  i'm going to listen to him, transcribe him, play like him, and if all people ever say to me is "that's nothing new, you sound like gene harris", then i'll be perfectly satisfied.
i'd recommend the next level up from gene harris, monty alexander.  the only problem i see with gene's playing is that he tends to follow a formula, but monty, who swings just as hard (and arguably harder much of the time) isn't so transparent in what he's going to do.  

anyway, i highly recommend you check out the montreaux alexander recording from the 1977 montreaux jazz festival.  monty, jeff hamilton, and john clayton bring a new meaning to swing in that recording.
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cool scot, i'll check out monty alexander.  but i will say that i highly doubt i will like it better than gene harris.  formulas and repetition doesn't really bother me, because i love his formula.  but i've always wondered if i could like anything more, so i'll definitely check it out.  can't go wrong with that trio you mentioned, with hamilton and clayton, that's for sure!
as the great willie wonka said, "one should never ever doubt what one is not sure about." :)

let me know what you think when you get it, that recording changed my musical life.
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.
well, except for a download problem that i presume amazon will fix i've purchased this recording that i've seen you talk about so much, scot.  hooray for this new e-music service (if it works out of course).  looking forward to this.
oh sh--!!  scot, live montreux is a freakin amazing album.  i'm not even done with the first track yet, but if the rest is like, it's going to be amazing.  than you so much for directing me to it!  he definitely is inspired by gene...i mean, the group is basically the clone of the ray brown trio...john clayton is essentially ray's protege, jeff hamilton (same), and monty is another coming of gene.

i'll still say that live at loa is better, but that's only because that album had a huge impact on my musical life (kind of like this one for you).  man, this is great...probably going to go down as one of my top 3 jazz albums for me.
ok scot...i listened to the whole thing.  it's awesome, it could possibly be the best i've ever heard...up there with loa.  wow.  i wish it were longer.  i have to curse.  that recording kicked so much ass.
superboy- monty alexander was around long before gene harris got his stuff going and played with ray brown for decades before gene harris did with teh ray brown trio.  monty was around 19 when he first started playing with ray brown in the 50's, i think it was.  

gene harris was inspired by monty, nat king cole, oscar peterson, and others, and when monty went on his own, one of the pianists ray brown picked up was gene harris.

one of the things i learned from john clayton is to always research your favorite players, find out who they were inspired by, and then go and learn why those guys were so inspiring.
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wow, scot, that's great information.  it kind of sounds like you and i like the same type of jazz, which, if i may say so, is pretty rare from all the musicians that i've encountered over the years.  i never knew that about gene.  i've tried to research gene many times, and there is very, very little information about him.  it's pretty common knowledge that he was inspired by oscar peterson, but i never knew the monty part.  of course, it's pretty obvious because you can hear the similarities in their style.  are there any recordings of monty playing with ray brown (hopefully in a trio setting)?  that would be great!

so scot, am i correct that your preferred style of jazz is the bluesy, soulful, swinging jazz of monty, oscar, and gene?  i know we like to say that we appreciate all styles, but honestly, i lean very very heavily towards those guys, and i almost have (no) tolerance for the weird, contemporary, modal, noodley stuff that seems to be 90% of what's out there (miles davis, parker, wayne shorter, etc.).
how old are you superboy?  as you get older and your ear develops, it's likely you'll enjoy certain music that you don't enjoy now. that happened to me quite a bit.  plus i would rather not listen to certain things i listened to a lot earlier in life.

just like how someones taste in food develops over time, same with music i think.  there's this one sonny rollins recording i have that i couldn't stand for years.  fifteen years after i bought it i listened to it again and i loved it!

you might be interested in the in crowd and other recordings by ramsey lewis from the same time period. very bluesy, very gutsy, some of my very favorite recordings.

there are a lot of good recordings of monty with ray brown.  one of my favorites is called facets with ray and jeff hamilton i believe.  

a friend of mine (well, more of an acquaintance these days) named larry fuller was the pianist for the last ray brown trio. in fact, larry was the one that found ray after he had passed away before a gig.  anyway, he said that ray would rule trios with an iron fist.  that would be some of the reason that when gene and monty played with ray, the arrangements might be more tight and polished.

another guy i know named flynn from seattle - all the cats seem to know him - told me a story once where ray was getting his trio ready for a gig (monty was on the trio) and he said, "we're not playing any coconut jazz tonight!" referring of course to monty's calypso jazz that he does so well.
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that's great info scot, thanks!  i'm 28 by the way.

of course i know larry fuller, he's one of my favorites.  i saw him a few weeks ago here in la with the john pizzarelli group.  i had a brief chat with him.  it was a very small crowd (less than 20 people, my group was there right in the front) and he kept giving us these odd looks because we were enjoying the show so much.  i think he thought we were being pretentious and mocking them, but we were really having a great time.  we get reactions like that a lot from these guys because i don't think the musicians are used to seeing young guys like us so interested in their music.  usually, the crowd is pretty old and the younger guys don't really appreciate the straight-ahead jazz.  i felt bad about it, but i didn't say anything more to larry.  he is really great and i respect his playing so much.

i first saw larry with the pizzarellis a few months earlier at the newport beach jazz party.  that's where we met houston person and he played on a couple of tracks of ours.  after that, we saw houston with atsuko (who you also know, scot) at another venue, which was great.

anyway, i love learning more about ray brown and these guys, so keep it coming.
here's a tidbit about ray brown. a bass player friend of mine, the guy i played with in asia for so long and also in aspen, took a couple lessons from ray brown one time when he was playing at jazz alley in seattle for a week.  one of the things ray said to him with regards to how he was playing it, not what he was playing, was something to the effect of, "hey, gentle, treat that bass like a lady, hold her, caress her, you want her to sing to you, not squeal in pain."
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