all too often, the left hand in jazz piano becomes relegated to a "claw"  that only plays chords.

how do you personally incorporate left hand counterpoint in elements of melody, harmony, or rhythm?

some players that illustrate this very well:  brad mehldau in his introduction to countdown best exemplified on "aot vol 2" or "live."  

bill evans in the third chorus of danny boy (10 minute version) on complete riverside recordings disc 7.  

bill evans' performance of letter to evan on "the paris concert edition 2."

keith jarrett's intro and outro to i hear a rhapsody on "standards in norway."

herbie hancock playing someday my prince will come (take 1) on the album "the piano."

thanks in advance for all responses.

There are 18 comments, leave a comment.
well many would differ that it is "only' playing chords in the left hand seeing as very few can properly play "only" chords in the left hand.  also many believe that the left should be an accompaniement and therefore do not want the left hand part to be so busy as to take away from the right hand part.  i like to hear "only" chords or walking bass in the left hand otherwise to my ear the left hand is no longer playing within the idiom for the most part.  if i want more than that i'll take out some bach fugues or some chopin and go to work on that instead of jazz piano.
lol i love the "claw" analogy.
to develop the ability to even begin to play contrapuntal things between the hands, it's import to practice the same skills with the lh as you do with the rh, and vice versa.
learn the melodies with the lh, and the chords with the rh.  learn to improvise lines with the lh too.  actually practice this stuff.  come up with some contrapuntal ideas, and actually practice them.

and if you have time, practice some bach just to get the mental and physical aspects of it down.
yeh "claw" was funny, made me laugh too!
i incorporate a lot of counterpoint in my playing, solo or with a group.  i'm a huge bach fan and my left hand is almost as strong as my right, so it's a lot of fun.  if i can get my guys to play straight when in a trio situation, we can get some counter point improv going amongst the band as well.  all i do is set up a double time straight feel and in songs like autumn leaves or anything that has some good 2-5s in it, it's a breeze.

brad mehldau has a counter point style that's amazing.

however if you want to be blown away, and i mean really blown away like you  haven't in a while, you gotta check out walter norris maybeck recital hall concert.  that guy is a monster when it comes to this stuff. in fact his melodies in the "middle" are the work of genius at times.  obviously, this is something he practiced for a long time, but regardless of that it sounds just incredible.
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.
re; the" claw" technique, i think in the correct hand of the clawer it fits perfectly and does not interfere with the soloist and of course enhances the solo. it is a very good  device and i love to play the left hand chord alone and sing the melody. sounds gtreat
yes, but remember that in most everybody's hands the claw is just that - something unrefined and without character. "the claw" refers to just hitting chords down there without giving much thought to it, as if the left hand was just this thing that mindlessly shits out rootless chords, without that much thought to rhythm or the melodic line - i feel like most players don't really think about the left hand in the same way as the right, and that keeps it from being supportive.  bill evans, wynton kelly, and herbie hancock did not use "thc claw" - herbie's constantly jumping down to hit bass notes, even in in trio settings, and there are passages of counterpoint in his and miles' groups- ditto with evans, and there is nothing mindless sounding about the lh rhythms that evans uses. and wynton kelly's use of the left hand is so musical and tied into his melodies it sounds like they were conceived as one.

something i've been putting a lot of thought into lately - we focus so much on improvising melodic lines, and we put a huge amount of energy about playing a bunch of great rhythms, textures, and complex voicins behind other soloists - why don't we practice hard do ourselves the same courtesy?

the topic here is counterpoint between the hands.  the claw is not really useful for that.
monk was a master at using the left hand - he often began phrases with the left and and passed them over to the right in mid-flow. maybe not counterpoint but not so many pianists do that.  

he also liked to throw in the odd left-hand note amongst a flow of right hand 8s, in the same register...
here are two examples of quintessential contrapuntal jazz piano by brad mehldau.  the first link is a video of him playing  "alone together" from 2000..  the second video is of him playing  "airegin" from 2008.

while both performances illustrate gorgeous multi-layered textures, polyrhythms, and polyphony, notice the considerable development in the complexity, density, and ferocity from 2000 to 2008.  in airegin we see a very sophisticated cross-hand technique as well.

alone together -

airegin -

this is the kind of counterpoint i was referring to in my original post, for those who couldn't find the recordings i suggested.

any ideas regarding the practice of jazz counterpoint are greatly appreciated!
here are two videos of keith jarrett playing "all the things you are" in 1982 and 1989, respectively.  they have never been released on cd to my knowledge.  

-listen to 3:06 to 3:13 for extraordinary re-harmonization

-jarrett's piano introduction goes until 2:40.  it is marked by its increased rhythmic fragmentation, and latin syncopation techniques.

both versions represent the apotheosis of contrapuntal improvisation, and should be studied as the holy grail of modern jazz piano.

again, any and all comments welcome.

here is another video of brad mehldau playing "all the things you are" in a fantastically complex contrapuntal style.  
the video is in two parts

part 1:

part 2:

brad's version is notable for its germanic harmonic influence, layered dissonance, and clean, intelligent interplay between the left and right hand.  

brad exemplifies the ideal of modern jazz piano as well.
to achieve good fluent counterpoint, i'd suggest spending a lot of time practicing tunes with the left hand only, melody and all.
seriously, left hand practice is all it takes.  once your left is as fluid as your right, then you've got the "one hand" thing going on where you can pass melody around, play two or more melodies at the same time, etc...  

several years ago i started taking arpeggios seriously.  i do several different styles of arpeggios, two or three octaves, my hands two octaves apart.  after a while of that, just the arpeggios, my left hand really picked up steam.  i'd been doing scales my whole life, but the arpeggios really seemed to push my left hand over the edge.
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.
expanding on "contrapuntal improvisation", is it true that many jazz musicians listen to the music of js bach for inspiration???
i personally don't listen to much bach, never have in my life, but i play a lot of bach, even these days.  easy inventions and fugues, two or three voices of fun.
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.
re: but i play a lot of bach,

as a rabid bach fan and a novice jazz pianist i'm attempting to establish a comfort zone of learning between these two styles.

i've read that j.s. bach, as a career church organist, had ample opportunities to improvise and i detect that creative aspect in his music.  just surprise other jazz musicians have not engaged in greater exploration of his music.  i know dave brubeck and the modern jazz quartet wrote some things based on bach's fugue structure. also herbie hancock and keith jarrett played a few pieces. did bill evans attempt anything?

btw...i believe the word "contrapuntal" first appeared in reference to bach's music.  please correct me if my information is incorrect.

keith jarrett has recorded the goldberg variations. on bill evans trio with symphony orchestra, there's a song inspired by bach's music as well.

i am not sure, but i do not believe the word contrapuntal first appeared in reference to bach's music just because there was counterpoint before bach. much of the music of the renaissance incorporated counterpoint, although in a much more limited way than the baroque. although it is referred to as "polyphonic" by theorists instead of "contrapuntal" to distinguish it from the developed and sophisticated style of the baroque, one of the first texts about counterpoint, fux's gradus ad parnassum, looks at the music of palastrina.  

re: "reference to bach's music just because there was counterpoint before bach."

thanks for the correction.
my original statement on bach and "contrapuntal" was a bit too broad. a more narrow clarification is contained between quotes below:  

"counterpoint was used extensively in the renaissance period, but the baroque period brought counterpoint to a kind of culmination, and it may be said that, broadly speaking, harmony then took over as the predominant organizing principle in musical composition. the baroque composer johann sebastian bach wrote most of his music incorporating counterpoint, and explicitly and systematically explored the full range of "contrapuntal" possibilities in such works as the art of fugue." (wikipedia)

i've enjoyed glenn gould's interpretation of bach's goldberg variations and certainly will give garrett's version a play. knowing garrett's style, i'm guessing his version probably contains a lot of vocalization similar to gould's.

Please sign in to post.

Jazz Piano Notebook Series
Scot Ranney's Jazz Piano Notebook, Volume 1 - jazz piano tricks of the trade

Volume 1 of this educational jazz piano book contains 15 jazz piano exercises, tricks, and other interesting jazz piano techniques, voicings, grooves, and ideas Scot Ranney enjoys playing.

buy pdf version - buy coil binding version - videos

Scot Ranney's Jazz Piano Notebook, Volume 2 - jazz piano tricks of the trade you can use today

Volume 2 has 14 jazz piano exercises and tricks of the trade, and quite a bit of it is Calypso jazz piano related material, including some Monty Alexander and Michel Camilo style grooves. Jazz piano education is through the ears, but books like this can help.

buy pdf version - buy coil binding version

Tim Richards' Jazz Piano Notebook - jazz piano tricks of the trade

Volume 3 contains 12 jazz piano exercises and explorations by the acclaimed jazz piano educator, pianist, author, and recording artist Tim Richards.

Tim wrote the well known "Exploring Jazz Piano" and "Improvising Blues Piano" books and has several others to his name.

buy pdf version - buy coil binding version

Jeff Brent's Jazz Piano Notebook - jazz piano tricks of the trade

Volume 4 is by Jeff Brent, a jazz pianist, composer, teacher, and author of "Modalogy" and other acclaimed jazz theory and education books. In this book Jeff shares detailed analysis of transcriptions of live performances. He covers everything from the shape of the songs to the tricks and licks he uses in improvised lines to the ideas behind his lush chord voicings.

buy pdf version - buy coil binding version

Most Recent Discussions
Volume 5 of Scot Ranney's "Jazz Piano Notebook Series" is up and running!
How to Develop Your Improvisation from Beginner to Advanced
Big Chief
How to Play Bossa Nova
Best Pianos for Beginners
How to Reharmonise a song

Volume 5 of the "Jazz Piano Notebook Series" is Available! File Downloads News
One Hour of Relaxing Piano Music
Jeff Brent's Jazz Piano Notebook
Fundamentos Físicos del Sonido
Aprendiendo a tocar PIANO gratis con partitura

Top Sheetmusic Picks

Jazzy Christmas Arrangements
Cocktail Piano
Best Songs Ever, 6th Edition
Christmas Medley
Moana Songbook
Late Night Jazz Piano

Jazz piano education is cool.

be the main character in your own story

Rock on. Follow your passion.

Sign In

privacy policyterms of serviceabout • 50,656 messages 63,069 accounts 53,786 logins Copyright © 1995-2019 by Scot Ranney • website software and design by scot's scripts is For Sale - Serious Inquiries Only