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MY SITUATION
I want to compare techniques for integrating piano into a jazz band playing 1920s jazz - that's seven musicians in total, including piano, banjo, bass and drums in the rhythm section. I have some ideas, but they're not necessarily what any pianists did back in the 20s. I have a strong musical background, including jazz studies, and I've played at thousands of jazz gigs - mainly as a vintage jazz cornetist. I play some jazz piano too, in assorted styles, but I admit to being weak in 20s jazz piano.

NOT SO STRAIGHT FORWARD
I find that swing techniques don't work well in a large 20s jazz ensemble, particularly not in one which is playing at the tempo "disturb di neighbors" or even faster. Even swing-bass and stride seems wrong at these tempos, unless you're the star of the band like Fats Waller. It's a similar story with Jelly Roll. So maybe the lesser band pianists are a source? But no, listening to the old recordings, my ears tell me that many of them were just experimenting, and sometimes with chaotic results.

THE ELUSIVE BAND PIANIST
Sadly there's scant video footage of band pianists playing in a straightforward 20s jazz style, and its often hard to pick out the piano on recordings. Sometimes I suspect that sound engineers intentionally keep the piano inaudible until its needed for a solo or something.

MY PROVISIONAL SOLUTION
So for these rapid tempos, I'm experimenting with sustained notes and chords that add colour to the ensemble without over-complicating the rhythm - a rhythm which is already nicely controlled by the banjo, bass and drums I presume. I can find gaps in the sound, exploiting, for example, those lower bass pedals and the "cello" notes - so I'll be doing something to justify my seat in the band, if there's any more demand for this music. I can add more notes and rhythm as I go along. It seems to work in simulated performances. I haven't had a chance to try this against live musicians yet, partly due to the pandemic, but I look forward to trying.

OVER TO YOU
Does my solution sound like a valid technique to any of you? And can you suggest more suitable alternatives?

Last edited by anotherpianoplayer; 01/25/21 02:50 PM.

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Hi Another--good to find another 1920s fan here, not many of us.

While I have no big experience in playing in a band, I do have a colleague who got his degree in early jazz arrangements. I was looking into a different aspect, but--I got a copy of a piano part for one such arrangement. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to attach it here (it's a pdf), but I can say this:

the bass is mostly (80% or so) either 1/4 note octaves or 5ths, occasional half note, occasional little transition single note phrase.

the rh is either just chords, or with the melody as the octave around the chord.

If your band is not working from charts, I would suggest very basic lh octaves on each quarter or half, depending, and rh chords, with occasional rhythmic stabs. If you can stride, do it.

lh comping did not exist in the early 20s. I'm not sure when it started, but certainly not by 1925.

And, to my knowledge, swing did not become the standard until 1923-ish, so watch yourself on anything older. Walking bass is right out.

My remarks are predicated on my assumption that the you and band are trying to be authentic. If not, I have no advice.

2 more things--1920s jazz is different than 1930s (Fats Waller), so don't think about Fats, he won't help (of course, when you get to 1929-1930 there's no sharp change). and--since you have so much experience in bands, why not ask the pianists?

Finally, there are many Yootube vids of NOLA street bands such as Tuba Skinny and Loose Marbles playing in very authentic style. A woman named Shaye Cohn plays in both, and while these are not pro vids, she can sometimes be seen and/or heard playing behind everyone else.

and a bonus--pay attention to the Marbles clarinetist, Mike Magro--the Hendrix of trad NO street bands.

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Was going to recommend a study of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I own discs and thoroughly enjoy. But after a brief listen now, I know he's there, I can see him playing, but can't hear him unless they give him a break. So. . .


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Hi Another--couple things I forgot.

The harmonic choices back then were very "limited"---major 6th chords are not common, and major 7ths do not occur, unless the 6th or 7th are in the melody.

Oddly enough, a minor chord with a major 6th DOES occur, but not often in sheet music. But that's no reason why you can't use it.

Again, I'm talking about early 20s. Still, be aware of how alien a 6th might sound in "trad" jazz.

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The accompanying grand piano in New Orleans jazz played the following:
If there was no bass (sousaphone) and banjo, then each pianist's hand replaced the missing instrument - the left played bass, the right played chords in the rhythm of the fourths.
With a full rhythm section, the pianist's right hand played chords on offbeats (2 and 4), or riffs or fillers. The left hand played long chord notes.

Last edited by Nahum; 01/26/21 04:07 AM.
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Earl Hines is probably worth listening to.

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Originally Posted by tend to rush
Earl Hines is probably worth listening to.
Also Lil Hardin, Billy Kyle, Sweet Emma Barrett.

Last edited by Nahum; 01/26/21 01:58 PM.
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Originally Posted by rogerzell
Hi Another--good to find another 1920s fan here, not many of us.

While I have no big experience in playing in a band, I do have a colleague who got his degree in early jazz arrangements. I was looking into a different aspect, but--I got a copy of a piano part for one such arrangement. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to attach it here (it's a pdf), but I can say this:

the bass is mostly (80% or so) either 1/4 note octaves or 5ths, occasional half note, occasional little transition single note phrase.

the rh is either just chords, or with the melody as the octave around the chord.

If your band is not working from charts, I would suggest very basic lh octaves on each quarter or half, depending, and rh chords, with occasional rhythmic stabs. If you can stride, do it.

lh comping did not exist in the early 20s. I'm not sure when it started, but certainly not by 1925.

And, to my knowledge, swing did not become the standard until 1923-ish, so watch yourself on anything older. Walking bass is right out.

My remarks are predicated on my assumption that the you and band are trying to be authentic. If not, I have no advice.

2 more things--1920s jazz is different than 1930s (Fats Waller), so don't think about Fats, he won't help (of course, when you get to 1929-1930 there's no sharp change). and--since you have so much experience in bands, why not ask the pianists?

Finally, there are many Yootube vids of NOLA street bands such as Tuba Skinny and Loose Marbles playing in very authentic style. A woman named Shaye Cohn plays in both, and while these are not pro vids, she can sometimes be seen and/or heard playing behind everyone else.

and a bonus--pay attention to the Marbles clarinetist, Mike Magro--the Hendrix of trad NO street bands.


Thanks rogerzell,

Thanks for your ideas. I'm already a fan of Tuba Skinny and Loose Marbles and Shaye Cohn in particular. I run a band with a similar format to Tuba Skinny, for street gigs and other open air gigs, so no piano in that, but maybe I can incorporate it into any indoor gigs it gets.

I've only found two videos where Shaye plays piano. I don't think that either was very quick. I prefer the not-too-fast tempos because they swing better, and they are less of a problem for me. I use a modified stride on those, and sometimes I strum a very open chord. As a mainly freelance player, I take any remotely suitable gig that comes in, so you can see why I'm trying to fill in the gaps in my technique. I want to find solutions for the more rapid things which have foxed me a bit in the past. The 200+ bpm tunes are my bugbear at the moment. I can't find a nice sounding solution except for seriously reducing the number of beats I play. If there were no banjo I might strum two-note chords (all four quarter notes) in one hand and use the other hand for effects. Someone suggested sustained octave notes LH and strumming 2s+4s in the RH. I'll see if that works.

You mention quarter note octaves in the pdf you saw. Were they 4 to a bar or mainly spaced in 1s & 3s?
You said you couldn't send it. If you can be bothered, I'm easy to find in Facebook: Mike P Summers, photo of me with my trumpet. I sense it might be wrong to list an email address here, but I'd have no trouble passing it to you.

Yes I do want to be authentic if possible because it matters, but I'm not completely against innovation within a preserved style, so long as it doesn't change the style drastically. I've seen session pianists avoid the beat entirely for the whole gig in 20s/30s bands, and all the musicians seemed happy (even with no banjo strumming the beat, and probably because the bass was walking) but I'd rather not depart from the original style to that extent.

Interestingly, it seems that 20s (and even 30s) jazz pianists had few qualms about doubling the bass player's notes. That is a no-no in today's jazz education circles. Well, I guess the 20s/30s bass players were less ambitious than today's bass players, so maybe there was more room for everybody back then, but I think the switch should be mentioned in jazz education so that future pianists playing early jazz are not unduly limited by modern perceptions.

Last edited by anotherpianoplayer; 01/26/21 03:24 PM. Reason: spelling issue

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Hi Nahum,

Those are interesting pianists, but none of them provide the solution I'm looking for right now. I hadn't seen that particular video of Sweet Emma. Nice to see her when she had the use of both hands. And thanks for reminding me of Billy Kyle. Such a clean technique!


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Originally Posted by Farmerjones
Was going to recommend a study of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I own discs and thoroughly enjoy. But after a brief listen now, I know he's there, I can see him playing, but can't hear him unless they give him a break. So. . .

Yep, that's often the problem. Thanks for trying.


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Originally Posted by Nahum
The accompanying grand piano in New Orleans jazz played the following:
If there was no bass (sousaphone) and banjo, then each pianist's hand replaced the missing instrument - the left played bass, the right played chords in the rhythm of the fourths.
With a full rhythm section, the pianist's right hand played chords on offbeats (2 and 4), or riffs or fillers. The left hand played long chord notes.

Thanks very much for this idea Nahum. I didn't think of that exact combination. Will try it.


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I should mention that I misquoted Nahum. He or she said sustained chords in LH and 2+4 beats or fills in RH. I'm having some success with it, but I find that low octaves root notes in the LH work well for me too, even against a recorded bass effect.


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Naham,
I'm having some success with it, but I find that low octaves root notes in the LH work well for me too (even against a recorded bass effect) so long as my RH is playing those offbeat chords. So thanks again.


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Hi again--you know, the reason you can't hear the piano in old records is, they weren't meant to be heard loudly. They're just there to make rhythm and harmony, not to stand out.

To get more specific, though, in the 2 charts I have the lh is usually playing the chord root note in octaves, either 4 or 2 to the bar. I might guess that, it depends on tempo. Fast one is a l-r-l-r oompah, the other a slower one with 4 lh to the bar.

I would also say that these charts are probably meant to be starting guides, and that in real life people would do what their ears told them would work, and what they were capable of doing--unless the leader was insistent that the charts be followed strictly.

I should have told you from the start that these charts were used by some very famous and popular dance bands, and maybe not by New Orleans loosy goosy bands (which I'm guessing did not use charts). And this makes a real difference in how you read them and how you think about the music.

You are correct, that in the teens and early 20s doubling the bass was apparently not a problem. If you can hear the bass, they are not doing much else than 1 and 3, certainly nothing like bop bass.

You might be overthinking this--is this how you approach playing cornet?

and on authenticity--I happen to be very involved in distinguishing between micro-eras in this early stuff, but mostly involving dance and recording bands, not so much "jazz". And one of the most important things for me is to not be anachronistic. That means, besides knowing what they did, also knowing what they did not do, which then means forgetting everything that happened between then and now. For one example, you can't let your comping anticipate the beat ala 1940s jazz and later--you have to stay squarely on the beat. You can't walk the bass. With very rare exceptions, you can't play a maj 7th. But these things change with time--what they didn't do in 1920 they may have done in 1928, swing 8ths for one thing.

Another thing about dance vs jazz bands--as far as I know, dance band players did not improvise--if they wanted to stretch out a longer number they would repeat the arrangement. Jazzers could take any number of choruses. Which are you?

You may not be that concerned to that level of detail, but nonetheless, certain things may stick out like a sore thumb if you're not careful.

There are other bands doing old stuff, not NO style. Here's a few vids.

Singapore Slingers

a 1922 song, authentic charts.

https://youtu.be/B-F0ZlyULNQ

New Century Ragtime Orchestra

a 1920 song

https://youtu.be/8HPC9MVFzwc

sorry--open these by shadowing the whole url, right click for menu.

Finally, to see my thoughts in action, check

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWskPzXNrsI5zNsaZDiy8gg

and

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCofOWZeZePQfRL9DRUKrYhQ/videos

read my notes for how old each song is, and note differences in playing--at least, I hope I changed from 1915 to 1926.

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Originally Posted by anotherpianoplayer
I should mention that I misquoted Nahum. He or she said sustained chords in LH and 2+4 beats or fills in RH. I'm having some success with it, but I find that low octaves root notes in the LH work well for me too, even against a recorded bass effect.
I am based also on the experience of playing with Dejan's Olympia brass band : when I started playing the bass, the bass player stopped playing (there were no rehearsals for the concerts).

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I recently ran across Jeannette Kimball. Based in New Orleans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUdW1twdtx4 . There's a piano solo.

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Originally Posted by rogerzell
Hi again--you know, the reason you can't hear the piano in old records is, they weren't meant to be heard loudly. They're just there to make rhythm and harmony, not to stand out.

To get more specific, though, in the 2 charts I have the lh is usually playing the chord root note in octaves, either 4 or 2 to the bar. I might guess that, it depends on tempo. Fast one is a l-r-l-r oompah, the other a slower one with 4 lh to the bar.

I would also say that these charts are probably meant to be starting guides, and that in real life people would do what their ears told them would work, and what they were capable of doing--unless the leader was insistent that the charts be followed strictly.

I should have told you from the start that these charts were used by some very famous and popular dance bands, and maybe not by New Orleans loosy goosy bands (which I'm guessing did not use charts). And this makes a real difference in how you read them and how you think about the music.

You are correct, that in the teens and early 20s doubling the bass was apparently not a problem. If you can hear the bass, they are not doing much else than 1 and 3, certainly nothing like bop bass.

You might be overthinking this--is this how you approach playing cornet?

and on authenticity--I happen to be very involved in distinguishing between micro-eras in this early stuff, but mostly involving dance and recording bands, not so much "jazz". And one of the most important things for me is to not be anachronistic. That means, besides knowing what they did, also knowing what they did not do, which then means forgetting everything that happened between then and now. For one example, you can't let your comping anticipate the beat ala 1940s jazz and later--you have to stay squarely on the beat. You can't walk the bass. With very rare exceptions, you can't play a maj 7th. But these things change with time--what they didn't do in 1920 they may have done in 1928, swing 8ths for one thing.

Another thing about dance vs jazz bands--as far as I know, dance band players did not improvise--if they wanted to stretch out a longer number they would repeat the arrangement. Jazzers could take any number of choruses. Which are you?...

Wow!

Very kind of you to reply with so many things. I checked out the links and some of the videos contained therein. Very interesting.

In answer to your question: Yes I do improvise a lot and it's easier for me to play cornet by ear than piano, since it only involves one note at a time and I don't have to accompany other musicians in a harmonic support role. While I love piano above anything else, I've had to work much harder to get anywhere on it. I used to analyse everything on jazz piano.

The good news is that now I am learning to play piano a bit more by ear, and although I've always avoided using my RH like a cornet, I can finally port some of the same instincts and confidence across. I seldom look at my right hand now, and usually leave it free to grope around the upper keyboard. I do need to look at my LH quite a lot, but I realise that I can often improvise over a sequence without even thinking about the harmonies - just RH. That's useful if I get lost reading or forget the chords I memorized and need to fill in until I'm back on track. I don't mean to imply that I always treat my hands as separate instruments. Often they work very much together.
And my facilty to guess/calculate/feel harmonies in real time is improving, so that means I don't have to memorise as much to be safe on a piece. Now it's just the stepping stones that need to be memorised.

My preferred playing style is swing/straight ahead, on both instruments, but I still enjoy 1920s jazz too, and I'm giving myself a second chance at playing that on piano, since I think I can do much better than before. There's still so much to do before I can be the secure jazz pianist I really want to be.

How does this compare to your own experience?


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Hello Another---I had to look back at the string to see what links I provided--here's a couple 3 thoughts--

1: If you are playing 20s NOLA jazz on cornet, you should be playing some harmonies when you're not lead or solo--at least, that's what I hear on recordings, and with Shaye Cohn and Ben Pilcer. So there's that.

2: I've had many years of classical piano/harpsichord training, starting age 4, ending age 20something in grad school. But since age 12 I've been playing by ear. I've never had an issue where one hand was holding the other back in such a way that I had to abandon one. So I can't relate to that. I don't play another instrument, and I envy those who can, especially unrelated ones like say guitar and trumpet.

3: I can play what I call halfassed boogie cocktail jazz, which I apply to 1930s and 40s uptempo tunes. I do not play anything approaching bebop, just the occasional simple substitution or polychord such as F#/C. I do not take myself seriously in that area. Others might, and one day I will make a decent vid or 2 and post it to Youtube.

4: OTOH, I am seriously into ancient Tin Pan Alley commercial product, as you may have guessed. This is the genre I started in back as a kid. This genre demands both hands, and serious forgetting of 30s/40s/50s/60s piano tropes, as well as the whole mindset of these later ages. It's an interesting exercise.

5: Have you tried singing as you play chords? This could be your way in, as you don't need anyone else, and what you play in that situation would be close to, or exactly like, what you would play supporting a band.

I still don't have a clear idea of what type of 20s jazz you want to play. As I mentioned, there are at least 2 very different kinds, and back then they were both called "jazz"--maybe still are. But one has written-out arrangements, the other doesn't. (And, to make things a bit foggier, I'm sure that many bands would start a live performance using a written chart, then do a section where a soloist improvises over a head-arranged background, and come back to the written chart for the end of the song.) Anyway, fully-charted vs head arranged makes a big difference in terms of what it sounds like. Part of that I'm sure has to do with the attitudes of the individual players in any given band.

Remember, Bix played with Paul Whiteman, but didn't like it. And I believe that Armstrong was at his best in smaller looser bands, and I think he thought so. Just saying, re attitude as evinced in performance.

I enjoy hearing them both, but would rather play loosey goosey than charts. But I have never played in a band that used tight charts. And the things I play solo are songs that, on contemporaneous records by "name" bands (such as Abe Lyman, Sam Lanin et al), are tightly charted.

does any of this help?


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