Tim Richards had sent this book to me soon after it was published to have it reviewed here at LJP. The original review was posted in 2006 and lost in the reams of LJP information. The book is still as valid as ever and anyone interested in beginning jazz piano or filling in some blanks will thank themselves for getting this book.
I want to start with this: Improvising Blues Piano blew me away.
The bottom line: I have never, and I mean it, never seen a jazz piano book as complete, as professional, and as well put together as this one. The pacing is perfect and the mix of discussion and music examples, solo piano arrangements, exercises, history and other information helps make this book easy to go through. Improvising Blues Piano would work well in an academic situation, such as a jazz studies, theory, or improv class.
Included with the book is a CD with Tim Richards playing all the tunes in the book. This makes it easy to figure out timing and the feel of the music.
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.
The book is called Blues Piano but it's really an introduction to jazz piano. 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 includes all the tunes in the book but also offers tracks that are meant to be play alongs, tracks you can easily jam with. Imitating what Tim does and playing it exactly the way you hear it is one of the best ways to develop that blues feel. Every real jazz cat out there learned by imitation and playing along with recordings.
The Book: As I mentioned before, each chapter has a dozen or so sections, and each section is for the most part a song and it's accompanying discussion which could be about jazz theory, jazz piano exercises, practical uses, and other relevant information.
The book starts at the beginning and discusses what the blues is all about, what rhythmic and harmonic factors make the blues what it is, historical references, assignments, exercises, and everything else a player needs to get on the blues train.
For example, the first chapter tackles several different ideas relating to the origins of piano blues and includes things like Beginner's Boogie, New Orleans Triplets Workout, Five Finger Blues, and more jazzy blues called "Blues for Booker".
The Beginners Boogie is simple boogie woogie with fingerings, chord symbols, clear notation, a discussion about the important aspects of the piece, and an assignment to help you internalize it all.
Helping you internalize the study material is one of the things that makes Tim Richards' books so nice. He's a professional jazz pianist and educator and knows what it takes to link knowledge from a book to your fingers when you're playing.
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 towards more modern blues piano playing until the line between jazz piano and blues piano blurs to the point that you find yourself breaking into the realm of jazz piano without even realizing it at first.
The appendixes contain useful information and are set up in a way that makes them 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 is the most thorough and organized book 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!
The way I look at a new book is by going through it as fast as possible. I use those little plastic sticky bookmarks to mark the spots I find interesting and then when I'm done going through the book I'll know what parts I like and what parts I might not want to spend time on. If you try to go through the book and understand each page before moving on, it's likely that you'll never finish the book. So, always go through books from start to finish, as fast as possible, first thing.
Is this book worth it?
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 a great job at sifting through decades of blues piano information and successfully distilled it into it's basic ideas, and then put those ideas into a format where 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 will 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.
Tim balanced the information in this book so 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, while at the same time, pianists who savor the details can dig as deep as they want and not feel like they are missing anything.
If it sounds like I'm pushing this book, well, I am. I spent many years trying to learn jazz through books and if had access to a resource like Tim Richard's Improvising Blues Piano, I would have saved a lot of money looking for the right book and a lot of time in my jazz piano quest.
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.
Be sure to check out Tim's other books:
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.
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.