My classical piano studies taught me a lot about technique and reading music, but in jazz and pop styles, you improvise over chord changes. That terrified me. How do you just… improvise? I didn’t know how to make the transition.
So I went to the best expert I could find: a well-known pianist living in Victoria, B.C. whose bio stated she’d studied with Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein and Oscar Peterson. Surely she could teach me, I thought. I saved up for months just to take one lesson with her, which cost me $150.00 at the time, over 20 years ago. I was determined, and got so excited when I finally had the chance to sit at the piano with her. I nervously waited for her to answer my question: ‘how do I accompany myself? Where do I start?’
She played and sang for me: beautiful versions of Body and Soul, This Can’t Be Love.
I waited eagerly, then asked again, ‘so what should I work on? How do you voice those chords? What are those left hand patterns?’
No response. She played another song, a bluesy version of Black Coffee. I asked again, ‘how….?’
She gazed at me for the longest time with her penetrating brown eyes before finally opening her mouth. She said, plainly and slowly: ‘just play what you want to hear.’
Just play what you want to hear. Just play what you want to hear??
That was it. I left feeling stumped.
It took me many years and several other teachers to develop the skills necessary to attempt to ‘play what I want to hear,’ but looking back, the advice was sound. I’d never really thought about making music from that deceptively simple point of view.
Now when I sit at the piano, I ask myself, ‘what do I want to hear?’ I’m still working on it.
Photos by David Ruiz – All Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Nancy Ruth is a Canadian-born singer, songwriter, and recording artist. A world traveller with a powerful stage presence, she comes alive as she cooks up a very tasty brew of jazz, Latin, and flamenco. Her Spanish roots led her to Málaga, Spain, where she now resides and finds creative inspiration for her songwriting, weaving her influences in the Mediterranean breeze.
Visit her website: Nancy Ruth