Friday, May 25, 2012


As Louis Armstrong sang...
"When you're smilin', when you're on smilin'
The whole world smiles with you
I've decided that I'm done with being "the pianist with furrowed brows".  I've seen pictures of myself playing where I'm hunched over and angry looking.  Life is too short.  Even though I'm playing music that requires a lot of concentrating, I want to emit joy when I play.

I used to think Papa Jo Jones' perpetual smile was silly.  Now, I'm starting to think that he was "on to something".  That he "got it".   Music is and should be fun.

I use a smiley face post-it note on my music stand to remind myself to smile and not frown when playing the piano --- even when deep concentration is necessary..This may sound insane, but I have started to practice smiling while in my studio, working through piano exercises.  Like everything else I practice, I want smiling to become second nature/habit.  Any time I working through some form of physical impediment to my playing, I use post-it notes on the piano music stand with little reminders for myself.  In the past these have included "shoulders" (when I had the bad habit of raising my shoulders and retaining tension), and "tapping" (when I was a relentless foot tapper).  I currently have a smiley post-it staring back at me.

A wise, older musician friend of mine once told me that music "will never leave or forsake you".  (Sounds biblical doesn't it?)  "In all of life's ups and downs, music will be there when you need it most."  He went on to tell me about some of his life challenges and sorrows, when picking up his horn was the best form of therapy available.  His words are resonating with me these days.  I am thankful for the outlet music provides.

On day 11 of my Giant Steps challenge I felt the need to increase the time I designated to the patterns.  Some of them I played for up to 15 minutes, before feeling I had made enough progress to move on.  I often practice "double fisted" with the left hand mirroring the right hand.  My left hand is starting to feel more comfortable.  I am also experimenting with comping in different ways with my left hand.  As I start to play through the Coltrane changes at faster tempos, I am realizing that I will need a plan for my left hand so that it doesn't get in the way, or lead.  As I listen to recordings of "Giant Steps" this week, my focus will shift to the left hand at least some of the time.

Speaking of recordings, I have started transcribing a Kenny Drew Jr. solo on "Giant Steps" which I plan to post in the next few days.  I also have my eyes (and ears!) on solos by Walt Weiskopf and Dave Kikoski, which I hope to transcribe and post before the end of this 30 day journey

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