to give you a little background to help you all help me, i've been playing piano for roughly 25 yrs (i'm 37).  i've played primarily gospel and r&b.  i was a music major in college, so i have a great knowledge of theory, although there seemed to be a disconnect between my theory knowledge and my piano playing, until about 4 yrs ago.  

i don't read music well, but i do read.  i can play from a lead sheet.  i play mostly by ear, having a good understanding of progressions and movements.  i'm learning, after deciding to tackle jazz, that my theory is quite rusty (i recently revisited chord substitutions using secondary dominants).  it is starting to quickly come back, though.  

okay enough about my background.  my goal is to 1) simply be a better pianist/keyboardist. 2)be a better pianist/keyboardist.  

recently i've starting working on basic blues and stride.  i've started trying to learn different scales to help with improve (blues, modal scales, diminished, etc.).  i've started learning different chord progressions as well as working on some of the old standards.  i know i'm probably doing too much right now, but i really do think i'm learning.  i try to work on something old and new everyday.

does anyone have any input that might aid my jazz education or speed up the process (i'm not discounting practice time).
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1.don't overcomplicate things. remember it is music sound and emotion first.
you can accomplish a lot with just really focused listening and imitation.
but you have to listen enough so that you can perceive and recognize
the idioms and vocabulary of the language.

2. if possible find a mentor that has "lived" the music so that you can
receive it in its truest form via apprenticeship. (this is where you will
learn things tha you will not find in any book)

3.balance your practice time with working the small ideas (you took from
records) out through tunes you want to learn. two or four measures at
a time is sometimes best. i've worked on just an a section for months

4.when your mind says its hopeless...ignore it and keep going!
as you say you play primarily by ear, use that as an advantage. listen, listen, listen to what ever grabs your attention. then emulate that. when you hear something that strikes that certain area within you then you can be completely enveloped with it. transcribe your effort, make it a part of you and then play along with the music but change it when and where you see fit, if it sounds good to you then it is good. repeat this often, as often as possible, but try and keep it from becoming "work", woodshed it but never let it be "work". i love music and this is the only way it has worked for me. everyone is a little different but immersion is usually a universal learning tool.
hi marksaysay, i must say that i was on the verge of asking a question about how to practice, most of my thoughts have been clarified by the answers given here. as a person trying to get my head around jazz piano, i can say that what fb000 and wdennissorrell said is very helpful.  i have struggled for years with trying to know where to begin and how to develop jazz skills, and have only recently started applying the ideas they have mentioned, such as taking a very small piece of music i have transcribed, only a couple of measures long, and really mastering it, and applying it to other other sections of the tune or tunes you're working on and taking it into different keys, changing it's rhythm etc... also, focussing on making 'music' and making it emotional; knowing the notes is useful, but the music must touch your heart as you work on it, this is 'more important' than knowing all the right notes.  i've also practiced the idea wdennissorrell gave about emulating something that 'grabs' you.    i'm saying all of this just in case you are wondering whether their suggestions really work; well take it from me, they definitely work. i have been struggling in the dark for several years and finally, i'm starting to feel some sort of progress, i'm starting to feel less confused about what to practice, and the practice is having small results.  so listen to this advice, it works.    fb000 i loved your 4th point, when your mind tries to sabotage you by saying it's hopless... this is my biggest obstacle at the moment, and i'm glad to know others deal with this and walk through the obstacle...
i also second fb000's thoughts about the tendency to over complicate things (a problem many of us greener students are afflicted with)...  if you focus on many different areas at the same time, it might be difficult for you to achieve what wdennissorrell advised i.e. "when you hear something that strikes that certain area within you then you can be completely enveloped with it. transcribe your effort, make it a part of you"  

this reminds me of a comment the pianist kenny werner made in his book 'effortless mastery'... he was talking about being at bill evan's 50th birthday party. the party was full of pianists, many of who played the piano for bill.  when bill sat down to play, there was a profound difference in the sound that came out of that piano, an intense beauty not heard previously that evening.  then a pianist went to ask bill how he practiced, here is what kenny says about this in his book (i recommend this book):

at the party, one of the pianists asked him what he practiced, and he gave
us a glimpse at his process. like one of his musical phrases, his answer was very
succinct. “i practice the minimum”. he meant the minimum amount of material, not
time. for me, this was a complete confirmation that focusing on a small amount of
material, getting inside it, investigating all its variations, running it through different
keys. in short, mastering it was what separated bill evans from so many others. it
was his pathway to mastery
now that is great, thanks for posting this..
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things that indirectly helped my playing recently were:

a. focusing on a much smaller range of material, similar to kenny's advice above. for me that meant giving up constantly working on the 20 or so styles that i wanted to master (all at once, of course) and focusing specifically on playing music that fits my unique musical personality and influences.  for jazz, that's mid-tempo to meditative arrangements with strong fusion/rock/jam flavored solos.

b. listening (or trying anyway) to every note of my solos and taking the time to hear/feel where i want it to go rather than playing on auto-pilot or second-guessing what i should be playing.

c. focusing on *learning* more music but not focusing constantly on improvement as a goal in itself.  

d. realizing my limitations as a player after 16 years of playing and making music based on the reality of how i play *right now* rather than where i should be or want to be as a player.
yeah with jazz you'll be learning to get in between the notes you're used to playing in gospel. it's a different ball game. while gospel and r&b are a lot of block chords (diatonic stuff), with jazz you'll be looking at leading tones, b9, etc.

reharmonization is key. you've started it with the secondary dominants, so take it farther by learning standard jazz reharm techniques. tritone substitution, other dominant chord approaches, altered tones on the dominant chords, etc
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