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A Notated Guide to Basic Voicings For Your Jazz Band Pianist.

I'm going to approach three basic blues lead sheets and outline possible voicings and how they are constructed. I'm using charts from the Real Easy Book by Sher Music and Hal Leonard's Jazz Classics With Easy Changes. I would also like to acknowledge Voicings For Jazz Keyboard by Frank Mantooth, a must resource for any Jazz Music Educator or budding Jazz Pianist.

The first tune is "Sonnymoon For Two" by Sonny Rollins. (1)

[phrase omitted]

There are three dominant 7th chords: Bb7 (I), Eb7 (IV) and F7(V). The first line of chords are constructed with the root in the left hand and the guide tones (the 3rd and 7th) of the dominant chord in the right. Keep the right hand chords in the pocket (near middle C) to avoid a muddy or a thin trebly sound.

The second line of chords are constructed in perfect fourths in the right hand down from the root. The left hand plays the 3rd and 7th. This can also be done from the 5th of the chord thus creating minimal movement between the chords which is good and that the root is not played as the lowest note in the left hand. The bass player will take care of that.

[phrase omitted]

Pulling the chord apart in my view creates a more sophisticated sound when playing with a complete rhythm section. I would give a copy of these notated voicings out to the student along with the lead sheet. Encourage your students to play these voicings using a variety of comping rhythms. Have them experiment with their own ideas. Don't write down the rhythm patterns for them since they usually do not deviate from them and never create their own. Best to have then play spontaneously by feel.

The second tune is "Red's Good Groove" by Reg Garland. (2)

[phrase omitted]

The first line of voicings consists of the bass in the left hand and the guide tones in the right hand. Now there is a minor chord, creating the ii7--v7--i7 progression, one of the most common progressions in Jazz Literature.

The second line voicings follow the perfect fourths built down from the root and/or the fifth note of the chord. With the Cmi7 chord, I opted to keep the voicing close to the others by having the right hand play the root at the top and then the 5th and 3rd with the left hand playing the root and 7th.

The third tune is "Comin' Home Baby" by Bob Dorough and Ben Tucker. (3)

[phrase omitted]

You will notice that the lead sheet has the solo section with just chord symbols and slash marks. Enough to scare away some pianists who only play by notes on the page. "What? I'm supposed to spontaneously voice, comp and be in sync with the rest of the rhythm section?" I can just hear it now.

You will notice that the first line of voicings include some clustered chords. I like the way these sound with this piece. The voicings move pretty much in sequence.

[phrase omitted]

The second line I've labelled alternate root and rootless voicings. The first chord (Gm7) is referred to by Frank Mantooth as a "miracle voicing" (4). Basically, build this chord on any given note and descend by a major 3rd and then a perfect 4th, perfect 4th, perfect 4th. It's actually a Gm11th since it is constructed from the 5th note of a minor chord. In this case, it's built from the D, which is the 5th note from G. Then it's a small movement to Eb7 and then the remaining chords.

[phrase omitted]

I would encourage your students to now analyze their other charts, especially the blues tunes and substitute some of these voicings for the notated versions. It makes great practice for constructing on the fly. The next step would be to hand out a blues tune in F and have the student come up with voicings following the examples provided.

These are just some ideas and techniques I have used with my students. There are many, many resources out there to assist you and your jazz band pianist. Check them out.

(1) Rollins, Sonny "Sonnymoon For Two," The Real Easy Book, Level 1 (Pentaluma, California: Sher Music, 2003)

(2) Garland, Red "Red's Good Groove," The Real Easy Book, Level 1 (Pentaluma, California: Sher Music, 2003)

(3) Dorough, Bob and Ben Tucker, "Comin' Home Baby," Jazz Classics With Easy Changes vol.6 (Milwaukee WI: Hal Leonard, 2002)

(4) Mantooth, Frank. Voicings For Jazz Keyboard, Milwaukee WI: Hal Leonard, 1986

Mike Doogan-Smith recently retired after teaching for 32 years in Northern BC, most recently at Smithers Secondary School, where he taught choir, band and musical theatre. Mr. Doogan-Smith received the BCMEA Professional Music Educator (Secondary) Award in 2012, and in 2015 the Smithers Chamber of Commerce recognized his outstanding contributions to arts and culture within his community.

This article is reprinted by permission of The BC Music Educator; The Journal of the British Columbia Music Educators' Association, 2018 (Volume 57, No. 1).

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Title Annotation:canadian connections: British Columbia Music Educators' Association
Author:Doogan-Smith, Mike
Publication:Canadian Music Educator
Article Type:Report
Date:Sep 22, 2018
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