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With a performance career spanning five decades, Charlie Austin has played on The Tommy Banks Show on CBC and the 1970's and 80's ITV Concert series, where he accompanied singers such as Mel Torme, Henry Mancini, Viki Carr, Connie Stevens, Carol Lawrence, and others. Charlie was the house band pianist and arranger for Second City Television (SCTV), produced in Edmonton. For over thirty years, Charlie taught in Grant MacEwan University’s Jazz Program, where he influenced a generation of Canadian jazz musicians. His comprehensive jazz piano text An Approach to Jazz Piano, and 450 Contemporary Piano Studies in 15 Keys, his groundbreaking collection of studies in popular styles, have been sold around the world. Now retired, Charlie continues to perform, teach, record, and inspire. Recent recordings include solo piano If I Should Lose You (2012) and trio recording Homage (2014).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Playing in Keys: The Headache Is Worth It.

It's summer time (so they say). The piano goes more out of tune than at any other time of the year. I could do a quick unison tuning and that might help but I've been taking to putting in my ear inserts to tone down the sound in this small room I have with my lovely little 'Steigerman' grand piano. For some reason that helps to bear the out-of-phasing of the unison-piano-strings.  It would be nice to have it in tune because I've convinced myself that I need to play even complex songs in twelve keys.

I've been using some precious time to do this. I'm finding it helps in many areas:
  1. It gives me a better understanding of the harmony because the new keys are harder to figure out without this understanding.
  2. It definitely helps with hearing intervals, especially leaps.
  3. It creates a better understanding of all keys.
  4. It helps to play in keys that don't always get played in and breaks the tactile memory and makes the player work harder to overcome this.
  5. It's great for technique and fingering issues.
  6. It is good for the understanding of voice leading.
  7. It helps with hearing and the understanding of tonality and all twelve tonal centers.
  8. It helps in the development of piano texture-creation in the new keys which will influence the texture and understanding upon the return to the original key. I always come back to the original key refreshed.
  9. It helps tremendously with improvisation and line creation. Now I can better improvise in these keys and others (I say to myself).
  10. It mainly benefits the inner ear and solidifies the sense of a particular tonality.
The thing is that the songs might be played slower in unfamiliar keys but one rule of thumb is to play musically.  Have articulations, dynamics and beautiful tone uppermost in the mind as the struggle to  play in unfamiliar territory proceeds. I find myself often more 'transported' playing in this way through these keys. In a way the sounds of these keys or at least 'piano keys' will sound new and are worth lingering on in a lyrical manner. In the jazz world (of old and even now) the keys of E, A, B, F# are played much less than the 'flat' keys so there is much territory to be explored. Its nice to be able to play Charlie Parker heads in keys as well and extrapolate phrases and run them through sequential root motion patterns.

I'll follow this article with another featuring one of my favorite and most useful aspects of 7th chord-tones substitution and the pathways that are present when one or more of the chord tone leads to an adjacent chord extension tone—it can contribute to the solo line concept as well.