Mike Cornick has established a reputation as one of our leading composers of jazz piano music. Many of his previous works have been particularly warmly received in an educational context, with compositions such as his Blues in Two, Modulations and In the Groove featured in exam syllabi worldwide.
Mike’s enormous output includes more than sixty piano publications, brought to us by Universal Edition, the latest of which is his Six Jazz Piano Solos, written are written “for intermediate-level players and beyond”.
The collection comprises new, original piano solos which are around UK Grade 4-6 level. Each miniature explores different characteristics of jazz piano playing and style, and together they make a welcome addition to the repertoire for players at this level.
Six Jazz Piano Solos is a classy product, with a lovely cover, high quality paper and printing, and well-spaced, beautifully clear music engraving.
A good amount of fingering is included, reflecting the stylistic and technical needs of these pieces, underlining phrasing nuances, and enabling the pieces with larger stretches to be manageable by those with more modest hand spans.
It is a pity that there isn’t a CD recording or online download to support the book, as such audio material is so useful in helping players assimilate the rhythmic inflections that are such a part of jazz playing. Being able to link to recordings would also be useful in promoting the book. However, it’s fair to say that the core market for the book is likely to be those who are already enthusiasts of Mike’s work, and familiar with the conventions of jazz piano playing.
At the start of the book, the author’s Preface informs us:
“Despite their stylistic diversity, each of the pieces in this set has its roots in one or more aspects of jazz, whether rhythmically, melodically or harmonically.
The piece Blues: Hommage to Charlie Parker is the most directly derivative of the set; its chord progression, with some of my own modifications, is based on a 12-bar blues sequence used, or even possibly created, by that most innovative of jazz saxophonists, Charlie Parker (1920-1955).”
The Six Pieces
The collection starts with the shortest of the six pieces. At just 19 bars long, Prelude fills a single page, and is a slow bluesy tune based on a simple left hand pattern. It would suit players at around UK Grade 3-4 level, and sets a lovely laid-back mood for the pieces which follow.
Ballad is another steady piece, building on the blues mood of Prelude, while adding more complex jazz harmonies. It would be a great piece for a jazz player at around Grade 4-5 level, and requires careful attention to the pulse.
Romance is perhaps my favourite – and the most lyrically melodic – piece in the set. Rhythmically, Mike Cornick nicely juxtaposes the swung quaver feel with triplet movements, giving the piece a graceful flow. The melody works around an idiomatic chord progression, mostly following the circle of fifths.
Jazz Waltz is again melodic in nature, and does a good job of introducing the elementary jazz player to the rhythmic conventions of this popular form.
With Ostinato we return to a laid back, atmospheric mood. The ostinato of the title in fact evolves cunningly throughout the piece, providing a foundation for an interestingly explorative right-hand part, improvisatory in nature. I feel that the player can here perhaps be encouraged to go beyond the notes on the page and develop their own experimentation at the piano.
The collection ends with the aforementioned Blues: Homage to Charlie Parker, which at three pages is the longest piece in the set. It is also one of the most upbeat, and I found it a joy to play!
While noting that all six pieces are to be played with swung quavers, it is also important to highlight that in his Preface Mike Cornick reminds us:
“The degree of swing applied by the performer is a matter of interpretation and may well be varied from one phrase to another, or even within a phrase.”
At £10.99 for the six pieces, and without audio content, six jazz piano solos isn’t exactly a bargain, but I would say it is a solid investment if you enjoy jazz.
Mike Cornick has an outstanding reputation for material of this nature and quality, and here again he demonstrates his ability to write educationally well-considered jazz pieces that are a cut above the rest. For piano enthusiasts and students at around Grade 5 level, Six Jazz Piano Solos is a near-perfect diversion from their other music.
All six works in the set offer an expert awareness of stylistic conventions, but always served up with a commendable restraint, ensuring that the pieces are firmly within the reach of players at this level.
Speaking as an enthusiast of Mike’s previous writing, I would say that, without reservation, his Six Jazz Piano Solos comfortably live up to my high expectations – and other fans of Mike’s work are unlikely to be disappointed!
Sample pages are available on the Universal Edition website here, from where the book can also be purchased online.