As a young student of jazz, I was always mesmerized by the solo piano work of Bill Evans. He had this way of deconstructing (and then reconstructing) jazz standards in a way that I just loved. I was convinced that his work was the purest form of improvisation. That is, it was a stroke of pure genius created in a single moment of time, something someone only with the musical mastery of Bill Evans could achieve.
But years later, my thinking changed while I was listening to the Bill Evans solo piano record "Alone." I made an interesting discovery: Take 1 of one song sounds an awful lot like Take 2 -- in fact, his statement of the melody was almost the same note-for-note!
This made me realize that his creation of beautiful solo piano arrangements was much more intentional than pure improvisation. They were the product of practice and careful planning. (In a similar way, Thelonious Monk was said to plan improvisations for various songs -- as he put it, he would plan what his "story" would be)
I tell you this because like many jazz pianists, I've always been intimidated by playing solo piano -- how do I play the melody/chord/bassline/rhythmic pulse all at once? How do I make the harmony sound as open as Bill Evans? How do I create rhythms as hip as Monk? And so on. It seemed near impossible. What they were creating was so innovative and mysterious to me that it seemed like they were just pulling it out of thin air. I thought, like many of us do, I could NEVER do that. But my Bill Evans discovery changed my thinking -- I don't have to know how to improvise solo piano arrangements in that way -- Instead, I can PLAN AHEAD and PRACTICE these techniques. Jazz is a lot more pre-planned than many of us believe.
I'm hear to tell you that you don't have to just "know" how to do everything all at once. Take a lesson from Bill Evans and plan ahead. That is, write an arrangement of a tune for solo piano. Heck, write three. Ten for extra credit. But write them in a similar way, in a way that is new to you. Now you'll have something new up your sleeve when you flip to a random page in the Real Book and try to "improvise" a new arrangement.
What I've done for you here at the Shed is to write one of those arrangements to get you started. Check out the sheet music and the youTube video to hear it played measure by measure.
This arrangement is great for intermediate level jazz pianists or non-piano instrumentalists who are looking for a way to play tunes using more open voicings. In essence, the two hands are divided in three roles:
1) Left hand plays Root + 7th or Root + 3rd/10th
2) Fifth finger of right hand plays melody
3) Fingers 1 & 2 of right hand plays chord tones
When learning this arrangement, it's important to notice what choices I made. Make it a point to know where the chord tones of each harmony are. I.e. where are the Root, 3, 5, and 7th? Are there chord tensions (9,11,13) on the chords? When do I harmonize the melody? When don't I? The goal here is first for you to write your own arrangement in this style, and then second, for you to improvise an arrangement in this style.