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Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139169
08/08/07 08:21 PM
08/08/07 08:21 PM
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swingal Offline OP
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jazzwee,

In one sense I see what you mean. Modern jazz like Bill Evans and Keith Jarret and many many others, I agree do use a lot of theory and this something they learn at a college.Or a suitable Teacher.

On the other hand more traditional jazz and swing stuff prior to about 1975 or so is not to technically composed. The fairly simple songs and dance music as Benny Goodman played would not need that much theory surely? Yet it was jazz provided it had that jazz beat,

Now please listen to Erroll Garner. If he used theory it was not his teaching or his knowledge of theory it was his brain and his feeling for rhythm and jazz beat. He could not read any music.

That was why I started this thread. To see how many pianists played without either any theory or reading ability. They played by their ability to know where to put their fingers to provide the required sounds and structure of the music. All from memory and/or mastery of the keyboard.

Erroll started very young,about age 4. A natural musician from the in-born ability to do what he did. Not a common thing to do from what we know.

Does that make any sense.?

Alan (swingal)

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Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139170
08/08/07 08:42 PM
08/08/07 08:42 PM
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swingal Offline OP
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P.S. It means some pianists can play without considering what theory they use or need to. They have the rhythm in their head, the notes on the keyboard all have a sound which can be formed into a melodic chord or a run or arpeggio whatever,by ear and practice in jazz music of the pre-bebop era backward.

I cannot understand much of the current style of jazz. Probably because I have not been taught the theory.
Am I getting closer to what you say Jazzwee?

But please don't ask me to try and learn theory, as I can play what I like with out it I know what notes to play and it suits my sense of my type of jazz which is not the current styles.

I still like ragtime and blues and boogie, now thats a challenge for the left hand.

I would not recommend my style of playing, the teaching of theory is basically correct,no doubt.

I'm too old to change now.

Kind regards,

Alan

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139171
08/09/07 03:30 AM
08/09/07 03:30 AM
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Tony V Offline
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At first glance, I thought this thread was about illiterate pianists.

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139172
08/09/07 04:31 AM
08/09/07 04:31 AM
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Ireland
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If it is of any value to the debate, I can play much better from sheet music than by ear despite having a very good ear. Melody and chord progression are no problem at all as I've played guitar for 30 years but I need the discipline of sheet music to get the song into the back of my brain. When I have it worked out I find I can then play it almost from memory with sufficient practice. If I try and tackle a song by ear I find that theres no end to the options available and styles you can tackle a song.

I have discovered recently that if you purchase any of the songbooks or sheets by Hal Leonard you have a better chance of playing the tune as it has been recorded. Some sheet music is awful.


"If your only tool is a hammer, every problem tends to look like a nail!"

Piano: Roland FP-7
Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139173
08/09/07 09:25 AM
08/09/07 09:25 AM
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I wonder if people like Erroll Garner and Alan have formed their own "theory" that may be very different (or not) from traditional theory or at least less formalized, but still some way to organize the sounds they are making? Even though they may not be able to consciously explain this "alternative theory", I wonder if it's still present in their heads somewhere.


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Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139174
08/09/07 05:25 PM
08/09/07 05:25 PM
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ktom Offline
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This continues to be an interesting thread.. how the devil do we all manage to do this "playing" thing? My own experience over the past 43 (jesus.. tempus fugit!!!) years has felt like a parallel progression of theory and instinct.. sometimes one ahead, sometimes the other, and the really interesting times (which still happen) are when one passes the other. I remember realising that those nice blues chords I invented for myself were actually 9ths.. I remember reading about "alt" chords in Mark Levine's book, and on playing some, realising they were the sound I couldnt always get when I wanted it. Theory is still not as well integrated into my playing as I would like.. but this sense of two parts uniting has kept me gripped for all this time. So what?? I guess one can have ones own model of how one gets the sound one wants, which for my 9ths was mostly about putting my thumb or little finger in the "wrong" place. I dont know about Errol Garner, but given all his combo playing, it is difficult to believe he didnt acquire some knowledge of conventional theory, despite his non reading. I have played with guitarists who couldnt read dots, but who knew far more than me about jazz harmonies and progressions. Maybe the parallel is learning a foreign language.. deep knowledge of syntax and grammar can make you a good translator, but true fluency means thinking in the language and you need immersion to achieve that, whether or not you have the theory. So what? I am not sure.. complicated stuff...:-)


Steinway K - Kurzweil PC 88(wrecked and sold for spares) - Yamaha S90 - rhodes 760 - korg wavestation- Hammond XK1 etc..
Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139175
08/09/07 06:02 PM
08/09/07 06:02 PM
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England
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swingal Offline OP
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ktom,

It is an interesting thread, I agree.

Erroll Garner played as though he had theory but I'm 100 % sure he never understood it. He simply played what he wanted to by ear, that included all the new inventions of his own and others that he just liked and played. That was his style he did not need knowledge other than his own ear and rare ability to play what he needed for the improvisation. Memory, pitch and talent.

Alan.

PS, there is an biography and I will give you details when I find them.

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139176
08/10/07 04:54 AM
08/10/07 04:54 AM
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swingal Offline OP
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The Biography of Erroll Garner.

Titled:-" Erroll Garner.The Most Happy Piano "

By; James M Doran.

Copyright date. 1984. 481 pages.
ISBN 0-8108-1745-4

The Scarecrow Press and the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University


I hope all you doubting folk can read this book. You will become very emotional by the comments made by his contemporaries and fellow musicians. You will never doubt his rare ability again.

His early demise in 1977 age 56 is tragic. He started playing on the family upright at age 2.

I have seen him 3 times here in England and once to meet him after the concert in his Dressing Room. A shy man but always cheerful.

Good luck in finding the book!

Alan.

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139177
08/10/07 03:36 PM
08/10/07 03:36 PM
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Dave Brubeck was nearly expelled from college (University of the Pacific), when one of his professors discovered that he could not read sheet music.

Several of his professors came forward arguing for his ability with counterpoint and harmony, but the school was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and only agreed to let Brubeck graduate once he promised never to teach piano.

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139178
08/10/07 09:04 PM
08/10/07 09:04 PM
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swingal Offline OP
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Dr John,

That's interesting. I have never seen any recorded piano CDs or anything of his. Does anyone know of any please. I have a clip somewhere of Take Five. which is a marathon work, but not for me really.

I have read comment from other people who completely indulge in him so would like to hear more of him.

Swingal (Alan)

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139179
08/11/07 03:41 PM
08/11/07 03:41 PM
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So. California
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Swingal, I understand where you are coming from. I've come from the guitar world where I knew chords and the rest came from my ears. Without theory, what I played came from diatonic notes (notes in the major scale of the tune) and realized later that I was mostly playing the pentatonic patterns I often heard.

Playing primarily in chord tones, and sticking to diatonic chord patterns (i.e. usually one scale), yes, it is possible to survive without theory and simply focus on other aspects of music like Rhythm and phrasing. Yes, I have a lot of Erroll Garner music and appreciate his phrasing a lot and his ability to play with the beat.

In modern jazz though, theory has provided a way to enhance the contrast between the chords of tension and release. This is the point of the "jazzy"/crunchy chord sounds or sounding outside. Theory is the basis of this particular sound effect and although most often recognized in Bill Evans, Coltrane, etc. It has been implemented since early Bebop by Parker/Dizzy/Monk/Powell. Theory was discussed heavily by face to face trial and error between musicians. So the sound was there just not the written explanation. That came later.

Unfortuntately, we cannot relive the moment that these geniuses had discussing music among themselves so except for understanding theory, there isn't much of substitute to playing modern jazz with modern voicings and improvisation styles. I personally cannot play like that without this knowledge.

If one could listen to me play in my early jazz studies compared to today (technical development aside), it will be obvious that there's a different sound. I happen to love it. Knowing how to reharmonize on the fly, add a little tension, know exactly which note may work or not work instantaneously with each chord, knowing how to go outside at times -- it's all fascinating.

It just puts my appreciation of music at a much higher plane and is quite exciting to discover, frankly.


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Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139180
08/13/07 05:49 AM
08/13/07 05:49 AM
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England
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swingal Offline OP
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jazzwee,

Many thanks for that explicit answer. I can understand it. I agree with that analysis too. We are all brain-designed individually and we all hear and sense sounds likewise too. Just my viewpoint of course.

Glad you have heard Erroll too, he did venture into improvisation of Bebop,on some of his early recordings.

In my view he was a musical genius. He was taken from us at a very early age 56, one of a twin ( Ernest) He came from a very musical family and did have some lessons on fingering etc. at about 5.

He was once advised by a fellow musician (not piano) to have some theory taught, and soon told by others, not to try that as it would ruin his natural talent, so he didn't.

I like your choice of piano. I had a Hamburg Steinway for 40 years but it needed a new soundboard etc; so I bought the present Bosie. I did love the S & S though. Erroll had a Baldwin at home later in his career. We never see those in England, or M&H either.

Regards Alan

swingal

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139181
08/13/07 06:35 PM
08/13/07 06:35 PM
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So. California
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Speaking of Erroll Garner, Alan, I just love how he plays behind the beat. He's one of the masters of that swing style. That's why I have his recordings -- to specifically listen to his swing. Fortunately in jazz there's so many angles to focus on. Focusing on swing is often as important as note selection.


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Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139182
09/14/07 01:38 AM
09/14/07 01:38 AM
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Massapequa, NY
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Alan,

I started learning piano, and the first song by ear was Auld Lang Syne, followed by the Theme from Romeo and Juliet. I am working on two songs outside of lessons; one is "Crying in the Rain" by the Everly Brothers (later re-recorded by A-ha) and My Girl (gone,gone gone) by Chilliwack, a Canadian Band. Those are my favourites.

Mark


...The ultimate joy in music is the joy of playing the piano...
Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139183
09/16/07 02:42 PM
09/16/07 02:42 PM
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Indiana
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Matt H Offline
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This is an interesting discussion, and I've learned a lot from the exchange here. I just wanted to add my two cents about theory.

I don't think there is any playing--especially improvising at a high level--without theory. Some musicians might not study theory formally, but if they play "chords," "runs," "arpeggios," and whatnot (and if they can talk about what they are doing on some level), then they understand music theory. Errol Garner may not have known all the theory that Coltrane and Evans knew, but he knew what he was doing surely. To say he didn't makes him sound like some kind of idiot savant.

I just think we have to be careful of buying into the stereotype of the unschooled musician as a natural-born, intuitive (or nonthinking) musician. This stereotype has haunted jazz musicians in particular. A lot of it has to do with race, I think, but also this romantic notion we have that music just pours out of the genius's soul.

Matt

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139184
09/16/07 05:25 PM
09/16/07 05:25 PM
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swingal Offline OP
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Matt,

May I suggest you read Erroll's Biography by James M Doran. I think it is mentioned somewhere in this topic.

I agree that musicians play "chords," "runs," "arpeggios," and so forth but they cannot talk about it in technical terms. This was quite apparent in the early days surely. This is not to say they may well have benefited (US spelling)with teaching. The fact is, some jazz players were not taught any theory.

Erroll most certainly knew what he was doing and he astounded all who came across him.

Erroll played what inspired him at the moment. He had full control of the piano. He never played the same piece the same way twice. it just came natural to his brain and he was master of the piano.

I hope you have seen his few live recordings like the DVD 'In Performance' two separate recordings on the same DVD.

To say the above does not imply anything remotely like 'an idiot savant'.

I have no thoughts in my mind that would suggest,quote :"I just think we have to be careful of buying into the stereotype of the musician as a natural-born, intuitive (or nonthinking) musician. This stereotype has haunted jazz musicians in particular. A lot of it has to do with race, I think, but also this romantic notion we have that music just pours out of the genius's soul."

Simply not the case at all.

Some of what Erroll played, has been transcribed, I have seen the book of some of his renditions. Of course this is rather over simplified for he never played the same song in the same style ,though close jn many ways.

I suppose Erroll's music would be very technical and if the score could be seen that would be obvious. It just happens that he could and did play by ear. Neither could he sing either.When you watch him play you can see the song is in his head and he almost wants to show us all how he is bringing the music from the mind to the keys.

Hope this is what you wanted me to say, but please ask more if in doubt still.

Alan (swingal)

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139185
09/16/07 07:30 PM
09/16/07 07:30 PM
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Indiana
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Matt H Offline
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Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting anyone is a racist, just pointing out that the notion of the natural musician (vs. the intelligent, choice-making musician) is often associated with jazz.

Al, maybe I just don't understand what you mean by playing by ear. It sounds to me like magic.

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139186
09/16/07 08:29 PM
09/16/07 08:29 PM
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swingal Offline OP
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Hello Matt,

If you read through the replies on this topic some do play by ear 'jazzwee' for example.

One of the reasons I started this topic was because I wanted to see who else played by the ear method only. Incidentally I really think many wind instrument jazz players in the late 19th Century and early 20th played that way, specially in New Orleans (Have been there in Dec 06, fantastic enthusiasm, I loved it.)

If I may attempt to describe ear playing. It is a matter of having a strong pitch sense and a good memory of the 'song' or rendition. The music is in the subconscious brain and the pianist recalls this music from the sub-conscious mind and transfers it to the notes on the keyboard knowing the sounds all the scale gives and what various chords give out and variations therefrom as in improvisation. I'm sure someone else can explain it better.

It is no different from a classical pianist memorizing a complete work. They memorize the score I think. In the ear playing you memorize the sounds and have to know what to play on the keyboard to get the required sound. My understanding of playing by ear means simply that, its a memory thing.

I had hoped we might get a professional jazz player to explain what I'm trying to say.

All the best,

swingal

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139187
09/16/07 08:42 PM
09/16/07 08:42 PM
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OK, but jazz musicians don't just recreate music they have heard. They improvise new sounds. You need more than good pitch and a good memory to do this. You need to know something about music. Jazzwee explained how understanding theory helps him do this. Even your own explanation mentions theoretical awareness of scales and chords. This is why I'm perplexed when you say you are 100% sure that Errol Garner didn't understand theory. If by this you simply mean that he didn't study theory and didn't read music, then I understand you. If you mean something else, then I don't.

Re: Pianists who cannot read. #1139188
09/17/07 05:32 AM
09/17/07 05:32 AM
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swingal Offline OP
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Matt,

quote:- "if by this you simply mean that he didn't study theory and didn't read music, then I understand you".

Yes that's exactly correct. He just learned it all by natural musical intuition. He mastered the keyboard and played what he felt would excite us all and it did and does. As I suppose most jazz pianists do similar actions in their improvisations.

To add a bit more, when playing jazz surely we anticipate the embellishments and impro's as part of the progression. This comes from the subconscious, a sort of very quick reaction from brain to fingers. I suppose it's a bit like reading further forward from the score than the hands are playing. I don't know.

This sort of analysis is very difficult to explain which is why I need help from others here.

Matt, have you seen any of Oscar Peterson's DVDs especially the 1977 Montreaux Concert? He is a masterful pianist and he did come from a fully trained classical pianist background.

We just cannot enter someone else's brain so I guess thats it.

Alan

PS I should add that if we are to include music like Keith Jarrett plays and other modern styles , yes theory is all, in fact it is almost mandatary.

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