Learn to improvise. 2003-2004. Lesson 16: how you can learn to play jazz.

My advice is to follow the history of the jazz. It started with the ragtime and the blues. If you feel the ragtime, you can understand that the wind bands in the street made the New Orleans (and Dixieland) style out of it. When you try to play that indoors with other instruments, like the vibraphone, you will automatically come to the swing style. A piano in a train or a boat was played to the rhythm of the machine, speeding up the blues to the boogie-woogie. During World War II big bands took care of the morale of the troops (also in the planes via the radio). After the war the air of the jazz became quite different. I will not go into that.

To learn playing jazz, firstly you'll have to love it and to listen to it much!

(Unless otherwise specified I will suppose the initial key to be C)

Blues: the primeval blues has a fixed chord scheme of 12 measures:
C C C C7 F F7 C C G7 F7 C C.
Click to hear a primeval blues
Click to hear a blues I played on the beat of the measures (see footnote).

The first 4 measures often are played as a break. During the first 4 chords (C) the seventh note (b-flat) is often used in the melody. During the whole blues the blue note (fooling around in the neighborhood of e-flat ) is most important. It can't be played on the piano, but has to be approached artificially with combination of notes, riffs, etc. Characteristic is the mixture of major and minor chords with the same root, e.g. the left hand plays the chord C- major and the right hand makes the melody with notes of the chord C-minor.
Click to hear what I mean

The original blues has developed into many forms with extra chords and temporary keys. They will be sensed easily once the original blues is understood.
Click to hear a blues with extra temporary modulations

Boogie-woogie: a fast piano blues with many riffs (short melodies repeated over and over again, preferably during changing of chords). The left hand is a walking bass. Think of a machine during playing! Keep the rhythm driving and steady (not necessarily loud). Don't learn too many walking basses. Choose one and stick to it. Play it endlessly. Only then you will be able to give it the drive, which is the soul of the boogie-woogie. Use often the note e-flat (in combination with notes and riffs to make up for the missing real blue note on the piano).
Click to hear a boogie-woogie I played on the beat of the measures (see footnote)

Ragtime: most characteristic is the way the melody repeats the rhythm of three notes. Many seventh chords are used and common modulations (steps of fifths).
Click to hear a ragtime (in G) I played on the beat of the measures (see footnote)
Click to hear a ragtime (in C) I played on the beat of the measures (see footnote).

New Orleans en Dixieland: these styles are typically polyphonic: every wind musician plays his own melody, but as everyone keeps to the same chord scheme, it is possible to get a good harmony. It contains many elements of the ragtime and blues.

Swing: suppose you like the previous style and have only the availability of a piano, a vibraphone, clarinet and drum, you automatically will come to the swing style.
Click to hear swing (scheme of I got rhythm) (in Eb)
Click to hear swing in Eb I played on the beat of the measures (see footnote)
Click to hear swing in C I played on the beat of the measures (see footnote)

Rule of thumb to play jazz:
Play a normal song in a rhythmic 4/4 measure with ragtime syncopes and put many times the blue note (e-flat in C) in it! You will be embarrassed by the effect. Get along with it by solving it to something acceptable.
Click to hear Happy Birthday to You as jazz
Click to hear Happy Birthday to You I played as jazz on the beat of the measures (see footnote).
-play a blues,
-play a song you know and make jazz out of it, among others by using the note e-flat in it and solving the result to something normal.
Sometimes people ask for sheet music. This time I have used my computer for that. I followed the metronome to get the measure bars correctly. You need a sequencer program to see the score. Even then I don't expect it to be very helpful as my inaccuracy is also written in the score.
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