Jazz Piano Book Reviews on LearnJazzPiano.com

Review: Improvising Blues Piano by Tim Richards

The basic principles of blues piano explained for the intermediate-level pianist in an easy-to-grasp fashion.
Improvising Blues Piano by Tim Richards - review and discussion

Author: Tim Richards
264 pages
Copyright © 1997
Published by Schott Educational Publications


Even though this book is called "Improvising Blues Piano" it's really a jazz piano primer. Blues is the root of jazz and knowing the beginnings of blues piano is an important step in becoming a jazz pianist. This book covers everything from basic harmony and blues forms to more advanced jazz harmony and improvisation ideas. Tim has a couple "Exploring Jazz Piano" books that follow up what this book begins. I highly recommend this book and it is one of the top five jazz piano books I recommend to students.

Full Book Review and Other Notes:

Tim contacted me a while back and sent me this book which sat in my review pile for months. Why has it been sitting in that pile instead of getting reviewed?

Why indeed! Improvising Blues Piano blew me away.

For starters, even the cover of the book is impressive. A picture of the great Roosevelt Sykes at the piano invites you to take a look inside, and as soon as you do the quality of Tim's book stands out. Sometimes it's hard to review a work of art because you don't want to miss anything, especially in a book as detailed as this.

The bottom line: if you have any interest in learning about blues piano, from the roots to modern playing, I have never, and I mean it, never seen a book as complete, as professional, and as well put together as this one. A perfect mix of discussion and music examples, solo piano arrangements, exercises, history and more. This book would work well in an academic situation in a jazz studies, theory, or improv class as well.

The book also comes with a CD Tim recorded that has all the tunes in the book on it. Not only can Tim put together a great book, he's also a monster piano player.

Improvising Blues Piano is divided into five chapters - Triads, Sixth chords, Seventh chords, Ninth and thirteenth chords, Minor and diminished chords, and several appendixes. Each chapter is divided into a dozen or so well thought out sections complete with tunes ranging from Boogie Woogie such as Pine-Top's BW and Honky Tonk Train Blues, to blues standards such as St Louis Blues, See See Rider, and Got My Mojo Workin', into jazz blues like Blue Monk, Bag's Groove, and C-Jam Blues. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Don't let the title fool you: it says Blues Piano but as we all know, the blues is the roots of jazz, and everything in this book is as applicable to jazz as it is to blues.

The CD: The CD is not limited to listening to the tunes in the book. Some of the tracks are meant to be jammed along with, but really, you can play along with any of the tracks. Imitating what Tim does and playing it exactly the way you hear it is one of the best ways to develop that blues feel. All the jazz cats out there learned by imitation and playing along with recordings.

The Book: As I mentioned before, each chapter has a dozen or so sections which are basically tunes and discussions that relate to those tunes, discussions covering theory, exercises, practical uses, and other information.

The beginning of the book starts at the beginning- you learn what the blues is all about, what rhythmic and harmonic factors make the blues what it is. Historical references, assignments, exercises, everything a player needs to get on the blues train.

For example, in the first chapter there are twelve areas that Tim discusses. Areas such as Beginner's Boogie, New Orleans Triplets Workout, Five Finger Blues, and Blues for Booker.

The Beginners Boogie is simple boogie with fingerings, chord symbols, clear notation, a discussion about the important aspects of the piece, and an assignment to help you internalize it all.

At the end of chapter one, there is a tune called "Blues for Booker", a more syncopated bass line Tim wrote out based on the playing styles of James Booker. It starts with a discussion of some technique and theory, then a nice photo and a bit of history about James Booker, sheet music that pulls it all together, and then discussion of what was in the sheet music. It's all there for you to drink up.

As the book progresses, so does the level of information. Each chapter progresses onward towards more modern blues piano playing until the line between jazz piano and blues piano blurs into a universe of great music and instruction.

The appendixes contain useful information set up to be easy to reference and study. Pentatonic scales, left hand patterns, a page of useful blues licks, suggested listening that covers all the blues eras, and tips and tunes to help you develop your blues vocabulary.

This book has got to be the most thorough and organized books on blues piano that I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot. I was a classical player for almost 15 years before I understood the 12 bar blues. I bought a lot of books... but I'll get into that later.

Not only is this book thorough, but fun and immediately applicable to your own blues and jazz piano playing.

Here's a tip for anyone who purchases this book: don't get discouraged by the sheer amount of information!

If you get stuck on something, move on. This is the kind of book I recommend pushing through as fast as possible the first time. Then once you know what you're in for, go through it in detail and get deeper into the areas that you really feel strongly about.

With so many books on the market and so many people claiming their book is the next best thing since a diminished fifth, it's hard to figure out which books to spend your money and time on. Well, Tim's book is a no-brainer if you are looking for a blues/jazz piano book.

Tim did something in this book really struck me as ground breaking. He sifted through the vast amount of blues piano information out there, decades of music and history, and distilled it into it's basic ideas.

Then Tim put those ideas into a format where the reader, you, can explore them, grow into them, and start using them in your own playing. If you're not familiar with the blues, you'll begin to see the big picture, and if you already know what you're doing, this book can expand your music into new and unexplored areas.

Classical pianists looking for ways to get into jazz and blues will also be happy with this book.

One of the nicest balances Tim found here was a way to organize the information so that people who want to get an overview of what's going on with blues piano can do so without getting bogged down by the details.

At the same time, pianists who savor the details can dig as deep as they want and not feel like Tim has left anything out.

If it sounds like I'm pushing this book, well, I am. I spent many years trying to learn jazz through books and if something like Tim Richard's "Improvising Blues Piano" were around, I would have saved a lot of money looking for the right book.

Tim also has a few other books, and if his other books are anything like "Improvising Blues Piano", what we've got here is a library of jazz and blues piano material to keep a player busy for a long, long, time.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but if you're looking for that one book to put you in the driver's seat of Blues Piano, this is a good choice.

Check out Tim's website at, http://www.timrichards.ndo.co.uk where you'll find information on more books as well as his recordings.

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