Sheet Music Review
Tim Richards will be known to many readers as the best-selling author of the seminal Improvising Blues Piano, which set a new standard in jazz education publishing upon its first release back in 1997.
His follow up books Exploring Jazz Piano volumes 1 and 2, and Exploring Latin Piano (co-written with John Crawford de Cominges) have consolidated his place as a leading authority in the field of blues and jazz piano playing and teaching. Before proceeding, let me say that if you don’t already own Tim’s previous books, you owe it to yourself to buy copies right away.
Tim’s latest publication (once again brought to us by the forward-thinking Schott Music) is called Tim Richards Blues, Boogie and Gospel Collection – hereafter BBGC for short.
Unlike the previous publications listed, each of which was 240+ pages, BBGC is a fairly modest tome at just 52 pages, and is essentially a music collection rather than an instructional manual. As with previous volumes, however, the book is printed on high quality glossy paper, and includes black-and-white photographs of Tim performing with his Trio, and promotional pictures from across his successful career as a performing and recording artist.
Music-wise, there are 15 new pieces in the collection, of which 13 are Tim Richards originals. These are joined by his arrangements of the classics Wade in the Water and The Jelly Roll Blues by Jelly Roll Morton.
Not least for the benefit of those who have worked through his previous books, Tim writes in his preface:
“For those whose taste remains firmly in the blues arena, I am pleased to present this collection of pieces in various blues, boogie and gospel styles. Although not a method or tutor in the way that Improvising Blues Piano was, the pieces are presented in approximate order of difficulty. Unlike IBP, the pieces include fully notated solos – but most of them can be extended by adding your own improvisation where you see the marking “Repeat ad-lib”. You can hear some simple examples of this on the CD.”
The included CD features all 15 of the pieces performed by Tim, recorded on a Yamaha C3 by Mariano Nuñez West. With a duration of 31’57” the CD is an enjoyable listen in its own right, and may well leave you wanting to explore more of Tim’s professional recording work; Tim’s Selected Discography is listed for those inspired to take the plunge.
The pieces cover a good range of styles that come under the umbrella of the collection’s title, with gospel pieces such as Wade in the Water and Raised on the Gospel rubbing shoulders with the blues of Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk, the barrelhouse flavoured Give and Take, Professor Longhair tinged Timbo’s Gumbo and more jazzy Blue Mix and Big Bear Blues. The Latin clave rhythm permeates Take it Easy, neatly contrasting the shuffle of previous piece in the collection, Bluesology, while The Jelly Roll Blues looks further back to the Ragtime era.
Notation throughout is clearly engraved, and presented with jazz chords above the traditional piano staves, as well as indications of scales that could be incorporated should the player choose to extemporise repeats. Notes at the start of each piece give historical context to the musical substance, while footnotes point to the additional educational pages at the back of the book.
Some of the pieces are indicated to be played with Straight 8s, others with Swing 8s, so the player will need to understand these terms or at least refer to the recordings for guidance about rhythmic conventions and inflection.
Awkward stretches and hand position changes are largely avoided. The easiest pieces in the book would be, technically, at around Grade 3 level, but the book quickly progresses to pieces more aligned with the demands of higher grades, making the collection as a whole best suited to more advanced players.
Completing the book is a ten page educational section. This includes advice and practical guidance about the core elements of the musical styles included in the collection.
A section on Chords Found in the Book explains the importance of 4-note chords in Blues and Jazz harmony, introducing or reminding the reader about the different types of sixth and seventh chords, as well as “slash” chords. These are presented with such beautiful simplicity that the book succeeds in ways that so many of the more complex jazz harmony books don’t – anyone with a working knowledge of music theory will be able to follow the points that Tim makes.
The next section looks at Improvisation with Arpeggios and Modes, and draws the link between the dominant seventh and the Mixolydian mode, and between the minor seventh and the Dorian mode. Once again, this is explained with simple clarity and ease, opening up a world of understanding that should be a breeze for most players to follow.
A further section achieves the same trick for Pentatonic and Blues Scales and lastly there is a two-page spread dealing with Coordination Tips which is well worth working through.
These educational pages are expertly done, and it would be a great shame to neglect them. They not only add musical texture and background, but also give the player the knowledge and understanding necessary for more fully engaging with these richly rewarding piano playing styles.
The educational sheet music world is awash with jazzy pieces these days, with excellent material by so many of our best composers. In many cases, these are essentially “jazzy pieces” written by educators from a classical background, but for those looking for something more “authentic”, the ABRSM Jazz syllabus publications and John Kember’s Jazz Studies books are among the better choices.
Tim Richards not only belongs in this latter category of authentic jazz composers – he stands as perhaps the leading pioneer in this field. He is, quite simply, the “real deal” – an internationally acclaimed performing artist with an established career as one of the leading blues pianists of the 21st century.
It is little surprise, then, that his latest publication is an instant classic, earning an immediate place at the top table. These are deeply felt, expertly realised and above all authentic pieces that will not only hopefully open up the world of blues piano playing to a new wave of enthusiasts, but which are classics in their own right.
Add in the outstanding and lavish presentation, the brilliant educational content, foot-tapping CD recording and very reasonable price, and Tim Richards Blues, Boogie and Gospel Collection proves itself not simply as the best “jazz piano” publication of the year, but probably the best of the decade so far.