How To Play Piano in a Jazz BIG Band (7 Steps)
How To Play Piano in a Jazz BIG Band (7 Steps)

Hi! Today I’m going to show you how you can play together with a big band. And I’m talking about the jazz big bands like the big band that you’re hearing in the background. To play with a big band, to play piano in the big band, is something that I think is really, really fun. It’s really exciting. It’s everything, but it can also be very challenging. So here are “7 steps” or “7 tricks” that I think are quite essential to take into consideration when you play with the big band. Here we go. First thing is that when you play together with a big band I suggest that you prepare yourself before you get to the first rehearsal. Because when you get to the rehearsal and if you don’t know, if you don’t have yet seen the music, the conductor hands out like…it could be up to 10 pages long, and just want song for you as a piano player. I’ve experienced that, and that can be very confusing, very overwhelming and sometimes, you can lose… you can get a little bit out of track by getting so much information at once. At least that’s an experience. So, what I would like to do is always get my hands on the sheets before I get to the first rehearsal. And then, when you get to the rehearsal then you could also bring a recorder or something that can record the music so that you are able to play together with the music when you get home. Or, if it’s like an old classical… arrangement like Duke Ellington and Count Basie that’s been recorded many, many times, then you could just go home and practice over a CD, or something like that. As I said, when you play with a big band there are lots, and lots, and lots of chords going on, so when you play with a big band it’s very, very essential that you play together with the rest of the band. That means that you got to play the exact same way or exact same chords that are written out. So if it says on the sheet, G7 with a (b9) and (b13), so that’s G7, with (b9), and 3rd and (b13). So if that was the voicing, or if that was the chord, then you got to play the same chord as well, because the “press” or the guitar player, or the rest of the band, if they’re playing this: and you are playing the 9th and the 13th that of course will sound like this: Not so good. Sounds like a cluster. So you always need to prepare this and this is not something that you can expect that you can do on the spot unless you have been doing this for the whole of your life. I need definitely some preparation time to get through this. Then “step 3” is that when you play the chords even though it’s a g7 with a (b5), or something like that, then it’s up to you how you would play that chord. You choose the voicing that you would like and what I like to do, when I play with a big band, is to play many, many “upper structure voicings”. And “upper structure voicing” is when you play a rootless voicing, normally where you play rootless voicing with your left hand, without the roots, and if it was a G7 the bass player will play G and you will play the rest. So what I like to do then, for example, could be to play the G7, you start with a 7 and 13th, for example, if that fits with the rest, and then you can add voicing on top of that, for example: the 9th and 5th and root like this: That’s a G. or, this is not a G. Or a (Bb) with (Bb)mi, like this: Many different ways you can do this but always keep up the “structure voicings”. And the reason for that is that there is so much going on, and you will most likely not be heard unless you do this. Because the brass is playing very loud sometimes, and that sounds cool, but if you want to get heard, or if you want to support people they should definitely hear you. Let me put it that way. That is very, very smart to play those “upper structures voicings”. And then, there are a lot of solos when you play together with a big band. What I like to do is to support the best way I can the soloist. So I will always play the chords and that I think will fit his solo the best way And sometimes you play with a guitar player in the big band, and sometimes you should not play at all, so let the guitarist and the soloist do their job, and you can relax a little bit. And when you’ve got a solo what I like to do is to build the solo to this big, “crescending momentum” I don’t know, that’s just the word I came up with… So you just start, and what I like to do is to start in the middle range, or middle register, and then move it up, during the solo, and getting louder, and louder, and louder and then fall back down. That’s something if you have just a small short amount of time to play your solo, that’s like a recipe that I found out it works. So you can think of that. And then, there are 3 types of “fills”, so when you play in the big band, sometimes the composer or arranger, they want you to play “fill”, for something like this: so it’s written out in the sheet and that’s fairly easy but of course you need to practice and prepare those as well, and sometimes, or most of the times, they just say: “fill”. Then you need to have like a “repertoire of fills” that you can practice as well. And sometimes you got this call and response together with the brass section. So they’re playing the melody, for example, and then you’re going to respond to that. So we’re going to do that. I’m going to demonstrate that in the tune that I’m going to play for your now. Sometimes I like to add some random “fills” here and there that I think will fit. But if you do that, just be careful and talk to the conductor if he thinks that will work or at least listen to what he says, if he says that it doesn’t work. I like to add some “fills” if I feel that it works, and I’m not stepping on any toes or anything like that. So I’m going to demonstrate that for you as well. And then, “step 6” is that you’re going to listen. So you listen to the whole band especially the drums, bass, and guitarist of course, but also the rest, and you’re going to listen and let that determine what kind of voicing you want to play, or where you want to put those voicings and syncopations and all that. That’s based on if you feel that it fits. Let the music decide for you where you want to put those voicings and syncopations. And lastly, I suggest that you learned the arrangement especially the part that you do a solo, where you do a solo. When you play a solo in any arrangement I would not sit and watch the sheets while I was playing solo, because then you don’t have that much freedom, at least I don’t think so… People are different, that’s just the tip. I’m going to demonstrate for you, I’m going to play a tune called “Having some fun”. This is written by the great Bob Mintzer. This is from our play-along app by Peter Erskine, and he was kind enough to let us use this for this video. So what I suggest that you do is to go to the app store and download, or purchase this app. It’s great because then you can just complete the color of the piano, so you can be the pianist for this great big band. And also you can download a deeper summary for this lesson, click on the link under this video. And I also got an exercise for you, regarding this. I will see you next time, so take care of music. Let’s now listen to the big band arrangement that I was playing. This is “Having some fun” by Bob Mintzer I am Gjermund Sivertsen, see you next time.

18 thoughts on “How To Play Piano in a Jazz BIG Band (7 Steps)”

  1. Samy says:

    Surely not an easy task! This is tough !! You SOUND EXCELLENT with this amazing big band recording, aaa this is so good.

    I have a question about those 11th chords.
    I don't have a clear answer to this, should they automatically be treated as 9sus chords ?
    In theory it's a 9 chord with an added 4th right ? Or maybe not and it's really meant to be played as a sus chords.
    I guess that's why I don't see them often, I do play a sus chord when I see one but what's the point of having it then? Maybe it's for avoiding writing sus all the time.

    Thank you.

  2. Andrei says:

    Amazing lesson! I can see how much effort you put into making this videos. Thank you a lot.

  3. Pablo Eduardo says:

    the best! i love your channel!

  4. Manjula Boricha says:

    you tech me pyino i like vedeyo ples and rekvest

  5. D-Koz Music Production says:

    One thing I can say is WOW.


    Excellent, very helpful. Thanks for posting!

  7. Matthew Livesey says:

    This is great! I teach big band in HS and struggle with delivering solid piano comping lessons to help my students grow, I shared this video with them and it's helped a great deal, for me AND them!!! Thank You!

  8. Richard HS says:

    Awesome..great tutorial..thanks

  9. Nightmare2302 says:

    really good video!

  10. Tommy says:

    Very surprised this has so little views! Thanks for the great tips.

  11. Claudia Fernandez says:

    this is what I need, I want to be part of the Big Band of my university, And am prácticing for auditions. thank You

  12. Håkon E says:

    This is so helpful, thank you!! Where are you from? 🙂

  13. J T says:

    Good, solid instruction throughout, but the part I like best is how you have the screen set up. You can bet I'll be slowing this down and studying those voicings! This is just the kind of thing classically-trained pianists need to see; jazz is almost a completely different "language" of combining tones in chords (quartal vs triadic, playing w/o root, etc), and there are some very simple facts that you are presenting very well here which will help any pianist play better jazz.

  14. Q says:

    How do you practice upper structures and on what type of chords would you use it on?

  15. Lee- MusicLover says:

    i would really like to know how people learn to do this stuff in the first place. around here i could find NO jazz instructors, so while im accomplished at gospel and normal piano styles, jazz is the one thing i want to play (its my favorite) and the one thing i struggle with most. my old piano teacher tried her best and got me some jazz books and tried to learn along with me but it didnt make much sense. and the jazz piano books i bought were mostly just jazz inspired arrangements so while i can play pleasantly in the style for solos, to play along with someone? thats something i cant do because i dont know how to do the chords and frills and such. so how does one go about learning those things? anyone? TT

  16. Raúl García says:

    Eres lo mejor que me pudo a pasar. Tenía tiempo de no tomar el piano y gracias a ti mañana comienzo a aplicar tus conceptos. No tengo más que decir que gracias, Dios te bendiga. Desde México

  17. Rudy Vasquez says:

    These tips were very helpful! I really appreciate all the hard work you put in your videos. I was wondering if you could make a video about comping with a guitar player. Maybe go into the different styles and the roles of each instrument. How do you communicate with the guitar player. Thanks! And always taking care of my music!

  18. Natanae Trouves says:

    Piano is wonderful. 🙂

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