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Review: Exploring Jazz Piano, Volume 1 by Tim Richards

Jazz Piano Harmony, Technique, and Improvisation
Exploring Jazz Piano, Volume 1 by Tim Richards - review and discussion

Author: Tim Richards
256 pages
Published by SCHOTT MUSIK


If you are just getting into Tim Richards' books, start with "Improvising Blues Piano" by Tim Richards because it's not just a book about the blues, it's about the roots of jazz and in Tim's "Exploring Jazz Piano" books he will expect you to understand concepts covered in the blues book.

Tim Richards' books are some of the world's best jazz piano books. You will be hard pressed to find books that are as well written, composed, thought out, and beautifully designed, from cover to cover.

His books take a spot in my top 5 list.

Description (book jacket or other publisher notes):

Volume 1 introduces the intermediate pianist to the basic chord-types used in jazz, from major and minor triads to seventh and ninth chords. Other topics include: Chord/scale relationships, modes, broken chord and scale patterns, pentatonic and blues scales, walking bass lines, Latin rhythms and bass lines, the diatonic cycle, secondary dominants, II V I sequences, horizontal and vertical improvisation, tritone substitution, two-handed voicings, rootless voicings, technical exercises and fingering, accompaniment styles, ear-training, discography (suggested listening).

28 pieces by the author appear alongside special arrangements of well-known jazz standards, including: Autumn Leaves • Fly Me to the Moon • In a Sentimental Mood • Mannenberg • On Green Dolphin St (Part 1) • Ornithology • Song for My Father • Straight No Chaser • Take the A Train. Also included are transcribed solos by Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver, an invaluable source of authentic jazz techniques.

Full Book Review and Other Notes:

Here's an unsolicited review on LJP: /post/2007/02/18/tim-richards-exploring-jazz-piano/ by "nomorbrass"

Volume 1 of this series contains chapters 1-5, and "Exploring Jazz Piano, Volume 2" by Tim Richards contains chapters 6-10.

Both volumes are from a professional jazz pianist's point of view, and not only is Tim Richards a great jazz pianist with several recordings to his name, he's a master educator and author.

I've always been a fan of transcription, so I was happy to see some nicely analyzed transcriptions by Monk, Horace Silver, Oscar Peterson, Wynton Kelly and Hampton Hawes.

At the end of each book are several appendixes, one of which is called Suggested Listening which is a fairly comprehensive history of jazz pianists, era by era. A biography for each jazz pianist includes things like recommended recordings, who they played with, and what influence their playing may have had jazz piano today.

Each of the chapters covers ten or so topics that are broken down into logical sections. You'll find as much music as text in the book, ranging from standard jazz tunes, exercises, improvisation patterns, chord progressions, or in many cases, Tim Richards original music.

The first two chapters of Volume 1 are devoted to major and minor triads. It's refreshing to see someone spend time with an important aspect of harmony that is often mistakenly brushed aside in other books and jazz texts.

Tim Richards obviously understands that jazz pianists today are into a lot of different styles. He's given his musical examples a variety of feels like bebop, calypso, 12/8 blues, altered times, latin feels, and others to give everyone a little of what they are looking for.

Important jazz concepts like improvisation, harmony, comping, theory, and technique are found throughout the books, in every topic of every chapter. In addition, there are tips and other suggestions on ways to incorporate those concepts into your playing, and this is one of the most powerful aspects of these books.

What puts these books ahead of the pack is that Tim Richards is able to touch on the important points of each topic and section as they relate to to a jazz musician, including the all important how to use and apply them in your own playing.

For example, in Volume 1, chapter 4, Functional Harmony and Modes, one of the sub topics is Autumn Leaves which is found just after a Bossa Nova comping section and a thorough investigation of Fly Me To The Moon.

In the Autumn Leaves section, Tim Richards goes over the key centers of the tune, lays down a discussion of melodic interpretation, reminds you about left handed voicings (with page numbers referenced for more detailed information), and even talks about using counterpoint melodic ideas in the inner voice. There's an entire page devoted to shell voicings. The next page is the Autumn Leaves assignment which includes memorizing the song (and methods of doing it), different ways of playing the tune, modal improvisation, ways of phrasing your improvisation, and tips for listening to various ground breaking recordings of this song.

There are too many topics to list here, but a small sample includes bebop scales, rhythm changes, stride piano, how to swing, quartals, walking bass lines, latin rhythms, ear-training, two handed voicings, minor blues, and tritone substitution. The information overlaps nicely and cross-references itself regularly so it's easy to get more information on ideas you want to check out more thoroughly.

When it comes to Tim Richards books, your plate is full and you don't go away hungry. There's a lot to digest in these books, but the nice thing is you can also open them up at random and find something useful to work on. These books are as good in bits and pieces as they are whole.

I'm happy to say that it looks like Tim Richards takes solo jazz piano seriously, which is nice because solo jazz piano is serious. I find that most books on jazz piano tend to skip over the most important part, being able to sit down and play a solo jazz piano performance. You are never far away from something relates to your solo piano playing in his books.

There are a lot of books with chords, theory, lines, and licks, but in order to hold a steady solo piano gig, you need to know how to put that stuff together into music, and not just comping and bebop lines. It took me a long time to figure out the solo piano thing, but I didn't have books like this to work with.

I wish these books had been around when I was pouring over everything I could find. Tim Richards Exploring Jazz Piano books would have made the journey less frustrating because the ideas and techniques in them are presented clearly and make perfect sense.

The books are also full of anecdotes, great photos and historical facts regarding musicians and jazz, and a plenty of tid-bits from the author such as when he met or played with someone that give it a nice personal touch.

What has put these books over the top is that the author is very good at supporting you as you get your mind around new material because he keeps it fun while being serious and helping you figure out how to use it in your playing.

The jazz piano material found in books like Exploring Jazz Piano can be difficult to put into writing and you'll find that in many books out there it's often presented poorly. Not here. Tim Richards has done a great job of presenting difficult material in a fun and focused way.

I recommend these books to anyone looking for a complete guide to playing jazz piano.

So, bottom line is that these are great books. If these had been around back in the late 80's when I was scavenging every book I could get my hands on, all I would have needed were Tim's books. He literally covers everything, and includes a CD with tracks of all the tunes and more.

Is there a jazz book you'd like to have reviewed? Contact us for submission guidelines.

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