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Hugh John

Hugh John recommends three books introducing jazz piano, from Fats Waller to Ahmad Jamal

Exploring Jazz Piano

By Tim Richards

Exploring Jazz Piano book and CD Volume 1 pound;25

Exploring Jazz Piano book and CD Volume 2 pound;25

Improvising Blues Piano

book and CD pound;20

Online Resources

Tim Richards' website

Music Publisher's website


All books are available online from

the release of Exploring Jazz Piano couldn't have been timelier. With jazz firmly established in schools and colleges, and jazz piano included in exam board syllabuses there's a real need for challenging and comprehensive support material that is also accessible to young students.

Author Tim Richards is a working jazz musician, composer, arranger and teacher, both privately and at Goldsmiths and Morley colleges in London. He leads a nine-piece band, Great Spirit, and a piano trio and his compositions are included in the jazz piano syllabus of the Associated Board, for which he also works as an examiner.

All of which goes some way to explaining why Exploring Jazz Piano is such a meticulously researched, well structured and stimulating resource. With more than 800 musical examples, detailed analysis of major jazz piano styles, and a wide selection of standards, the two volumes delineate the development of jazz piano, from Fats Waller to one of today's great pianists, Ahmad Jamal (pictured) who at 75 is still enthralling audiences.

You also get a glossary of jazz terms and chord symbols and a comprehensive suggested listening section. Volume one covers jazz pianists, and other instrumentalists appear in volume two.

Each spiral bound book is accompanied by a CD with performances from Tim and his trio. There's a variety of instrumental combinations; solo piano, piano and drums, and piano, bass and drums. The pianodrums sections are particularly useful for pianists wanting to develop a good left-hand technique. Stereo separation means that any aspiring soloist need only mute the right-hand channel. The musicians create a genuinely supportive and collaborative environment, with Dominic Howles on bass and Matt Home (drums) laying down clear rhythmic and harmonic markers.

One of the great strengths of this package is its inclusiveness. Volume 1 starts with a simple five-finger exercise based on that most elemental harmonic device, the major triad. From there, Tim works through minor triads and seventh and ninth chords. Readers will also discover the fascinating rhythms of the Caribbean, Brazil and Cuba. Volume two introduces us to "slightly more exotic" material - modal jazz, quartal harmony, postbop, and chords such as the sus4, sharp 11th and 13th.

For an understanding of many of the musical devices that underpin jazz, check out Tim's earlier publication, Improvising Blues Piano, described by Jools Holland as "the essential book for all aspiring blues pianists". Laid out in similar fashion, the book and CD lead the reader through the history and techniques of blues piano. Improvising Blues Piano has some excellent left-hand exercises that are good preparation for the more complex syncopations and hand co-ordination demands of Exploring Jazz Piano.

All three books are tremendous teaching resources and can be used in a variety of contexts. The sheet music, for instance, could be displayed in whole-class teaching on a whiteboard, while the sound files, could be transferred to, say, an iPod and arranged to suit the needs of individual students. The books also contain exercises to develop listening skills, quizzes and helpful advice on improvisation and rhythm, two areas that are often difficult for inexperienced jazz players.

One would hope that future editions of the trilogy - and there surely will be - will include sound tracks in digital as well as audio format. Software such as Band in a Box and Smart Music already offer this facility which gives the user the opportunity to change the pitch or tempo of any piece of music.

This, however, is a minor detail. These three books demand to be in the library of every music department that teaches jazz and will be invaluable for any student wanting to understand and develop playing skills in what is now often described as the first original art form to emerge from the US.

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Hugh John

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