Big Phat Jazz Piano Solos

Sheet Music Review

Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band have, since forming in 1999, carved out a huge reputation for themselves as an 18-piece big band, playing traditional 1930/40s swing through to more recent fusion and funky jazz. They have recorded several albums and notched up multiple Grammy Awards.

Several publications have been issued over the years, including lead-sheets and backing tracks for popular Big Phat Band favourites.

But with Big Phat Jazz Piano Solos, his latest publication from Alfred Music, Goodwin has taken a different approach, offering stylish intermediate piano solo versions of some of the band’s most enduring tunes.

According to Gordon Goodwin in his introduction to the book:

“The pieces in this book are piano solo adaptations of the most popular Big Phat Band titles that I have written over the years, arranged at an intermediate to later intermediate level. Preparing music for less experienced musicians presents a challenge. I worked to capture the essence of the Big Phat Band versions of these songs, while making the music technically manageable yet interesting. The goal was to create arrangements that are musically challenging without being overwhelming.”

I’ll take a look at the book in a moment, and consider whether I feel Goodwin has succeeded in his goals, but first I should note that in addition to the book itself, Goodwin has recorded a series of performance and tutorial videos, available to watch freely on Alfred’s YouTube channel.

These videos promise to add enormously to the value of this project, so I will start by taking a look at them…

Continue reading Big Phat Jazz Piano Solos

Solo Xtreme Books 4-6

Sheet Music Review

Barely were the pixels dry on  my review of Solo Xtreme Books 1 – 3  when Books 4 – 6 landed on my door mat.

My favourable impression and comments about the first three books equally apply to all these – and indeed, the presentation, feel, quality and target audience for Books 4 – 6 is unchanged. The concept here, too, is a simple extension of the earlier collections.

Please therefore consider this review an addendum to the previous one, and be sure to read that first.

Like the previous books, each book includes a selection of new compositions which are billed as “X-traordinary and Challenging Piano Pieces”.

The levels covered by Books 4 – 6 are:

  • Book 4: Early Intermediate to Intermediate (ABRSM Grade 3)
  • Book 5: Intermediate to Late Intermediate (Grades 4-5)
  • Book 6: Late Intermediate to Early Advanced (around Grade 6)

Grade equivalents are necessarily vague, because as with the previous books they are not so much designed to fit snuggly into any particular assessment system, but rather to bust out the player beyond their current level.

What remains to be written, then, is an evaluation of the music in these new collections…

Continue reading Solo Xtreme Books 4-6

Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets

Sheet Music Review

In a recent review I praised Gayle Kowlachyk and E.L. Lancaster’s Piano Studies for Technical Development books, and I’m pleased to say that the duo are back with another set of interesting and highly useful books, Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets.

This new series collects 59 original compositions, mostly from the pedagogy literature of the mid-late Romantic Era, in three progressive books. As such, it offers an invaluable source-book for teachers everywhere.

Let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets

Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Sheet Music Review

The name Melody Bober may be a new one to many readers here in the UK, but in North America she is well known for her popular Grand Solos and Grand Duets for piano series, among others, published by Alfred Music.

And based on her latest series of collections, Solo Xreme, perhaps it’s time for her to gain wider recognition here too!

Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Albéniz: Cantos de España

Sheet Music Review

As I write this, the UK is one of many countries in the grip of a historic heat-wave. Suffice to say that when the weather here turns Mediterranean in feel, I have a tendency to uncork a fine bottle of Rioja and reach for the Albéniz CDs.

The piano music of Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), it seems to me, occupies a uniquely odd position in the classical piano repertoire.

On the one hand he would seem to be universally admired, his monumental series of 12 piece Iberia roundly hailed as one of the seminal masterpieces at the very pinnacle of the “core repertoire” (and yet rarely performed or recorded!). On the other hand, many pianists complete their lifetime journey at the piano without once opening one of his scores.

As well as the stunning Iberia cycle, don’t miss the gorgeous Suite Española Op.47, scenic Recuerdo de Viaje Op.71, accessible España Op.165 and the brilliant Cantos de España Op.232. All are easily available as sheet music scores.

A brand new edition of the last listed of these works has recently been issued in the Alfred Masterworks Edition library, so let’s take a closer look.

Continue reading Albéniz: Cantos de España

Piano Studies for Technical Development

Sheet Music Review

Pianists and teachers tend to have a variety of views about the value of “studies”, some strongly advocating daily practice of finger exercises, others suggesting they have little value away from the context of specific repertoire, in which case bespoke studies developed around tricky passages are preferable.

Personally I’ve always taken a middle path here. As I wrote in my recent article The Three Treasures of Musical Learning,

“All aspects of playing need consideration, not merely finger independence, tone control, and fluency – important though these obviously are for pianists. Scales, arpeggios, exercises and studies can all be helpful, but must be executed with an understanding of why they matter, and what is being developed.”

I’ve never found it difficult to understand or explain the benefits of the enjoyable little exercises in the Dozen A Day books, and my students almost always find the Burgmüller Op.100 both musically engaging and inspiring to play (my recording of them is free to listen to here).

But I’ve never been a huge fan of Hanon, Czerny, et al, and have tended to agree with my teacher’s teacher, Ernö Dohnányi, who wrote (with irony, in the introduction to his own book of finger exercises!) –

“In music schools, piano tuition suffers mostly from far too much exercise material given for the purely technical development of the pupils, the many hours of practice spent on these not being in proportion to the results obtained. Musicality is hereby badly neglected and consequently shows many weak points.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that when Gayle Kowalchyk and E.L. Lancaster’s two books of Piano Studies for Technical Development landed on my desk for review, my initial gut reaction was to excuse them from the short-list for consideration. Until … I took a closer look.

Let’s find out why I changed my mind …

Continue reading Piano Studies for Technical Development

EVC @ the RAH

Pictured (from the left) – Andrew Eales, Elena Cobb, Lindsey Berwin and Heather Hammond.

We often hear of a decline in music education within UK state schools – and without doubt, over the last 25 years of teaching I have witnessed a steady but undeniable diminuendo in the musical life of local schools here, often despite best intentions.

How wonderful, then, to see buoyant evidence of enthusiasm for music among young people – as was most certainly and robustly the case when I attended the Elena Cobb Star Prize Event at the Elgar Room in London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall last week.

Here was a showcase of great playing delivered by young people from around the UK and beyond, each performing and clearly relishing music by a host of living writers, and in many cases in the very presence of those composers.

Continue reading EVC @ the RAH

Mike Springer: Lyrical Landscapes

Sheet Music Review

Mike Springer will be known to many readers (especially in the US) as a prolific educational composer, with many publications in print with Alfred Music (UK readers can explore his extensive catalogue here).

Lyrical Landscapes is his latest series, appearing as three collections of solo piano music composed for intermediate players.

Written in a variety of styles ranging from Romantic to contemporary, covering a variety of moods, these pieces are evocative and engaging to play, and would especially suit older and adult players at this level.

According to the composer:

Lyrical Landscapes is a collection of expressive pieces … written to provide opportunities for late elementary to late intermediate students to develop skills in projecting lyrical, melodic lines…

“From slow ballads to upbeat tempos, these pieces allow pianists the opportunity to develop a deeper musical awareness through the use of technical control, rubato, and subtle tempo changes. These pieces were composed so students not only enjoy performing the music, but grow musically along the way.”

Let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Mike Springer: Lyrical Landscapes

Birds: Études-Tableaux

Sheet Music Review

As a reviewer I get to discover a surprising amount of great new music, but it’s predominantly at the beginner – intermediate level.

So it is particularly exciting when something arrives that is more challenging, and yet just as appealing.

Birds: Études-Tableaux is a collection of six pieces by Andrew Higgins, published by EVC Music Publications, and subtitled modern virtuoso studies.

If you’ll pardon the pun, it perfectly fits the bill!

Do read on for further twittering about these wonderful pieces …

Continue reading Birds: Études-Tableaux

Martha Mier: “Jazz Suite in Color”

Sheet Music Review

Martha Mier is undoubtedly one of America’s finest educational composers.

Best-known in the UK for her Jazz, Rags & Blues and Romantic Impressions series, she is also a co-writer of the Alfred Premier Piano course (the new Express version of which I plan to review here soon) and composer of several other collections and stand-alone works.

Hot off the press, Jazz Suite in Color (don’t blame me for the spelling here!) joins Alfred Music’s growing Recital Suite Series aimed at intermediate players – in terms of the UK grades, these pieces are around Grade 4 level.

Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Martha Mier: “Jazz Suite in Color”