When I was a teenager, I innocently asked my piano teacher one day if I could possibly learn some pop songs in my lessons. I will never forget his reaction!
Well, the colour drained from his ancient, wrinkly face and I could tell it was all he could do to withhold the rage clearly brewing deep within him!
“Why would you want to learn such rubbish?!?” he finally exploded.
“But it’s fun! And nobody has heard of the pieces I play” I grumbled, for he kept me on a strict diet of scales and Bach! I was tired of the same old routine and desperately wanted some excitement.
“Could I then just learn some jazz and blues?…What about some Scott Joplin even?” His cheeks were starting to puff uncontrollably and he gripped his chair for support. I could tell this was going nowhere!
I dropped my shoulders is resignation. The situation was hopeless. In fact I resorted to learning to play the “Maple Leaf Rag” in “secret,” dreaming of one day playing some cool popular music. The local music shop was just as disappointing carrying an antiquated stock in their so-called “popular music” section.
Now fast forward twenty or more years on and what a different world we live in! Exciting music is easily available from all over the world with the click of a mouse (or a poke of an iPad)!
Take one such book that I recently stumbled upon…
“Blue River” by Elena Cobb. A collection of six original pieces for the immediate to advanced pianist (grade 6+). Now had such a book been available for me as a teenager, I would have loved it! And to have shown it to my old teacher…now that would have been cruel but funny!!!
Full of bluesy, jazzy pieces and even some latin thrown in for good measure, this is an exciting collection which some of my advanced piano students are really enjoying at the moment. It’s challenging them but they are having lots of fun.
Cloud Seven, Latin. This was the first piece that caught my attention. It has a classic Cuban style groove, so perfect for working on improving rhythm skills. The main theme builds into octaves which, while tricky at first, really helps to increase the excitement of this feel-good piece as well as helping develop technique. I love all the contrasting themes, that in combination with the dynamics, makes this piece extremely playful. This song would be a great party piece. One of my pupils, 20 year old Liam Roberts, described this piece as “fresh, challenging and exciting to play!” Well it doesn’t get much better than that!
Star Dust. Not to be confused with the Hoagy Carmichael song of the same title, this piece is in complete contrast to Cloud Seven, Latin. It has a very tender, haunting melody over an arpeggiated left hand accompaniment. As a composer myself, the middle eight section intrigues me. It has a very interesting harmonic progression with loads of potential for the musical performer to build up to the emotional return of the main theme now in octaves. There won’t be a dry eye in the house! A really lovely piece of writing.
Tango Leone. Full of old-school tango clique, this piece is a real toe–tapper! It has an interesting middle section where the melody switches into the left hand whilst the right hand plays a rapid semiquaver (16th notes) counter-melody which will need careful balancing. Some fingering would have been very welcome here. The opening of the piece apparently repeatedly “came” to the composer (Elena Cobb) when she was driving by the same spot on a country lane. So she decided to write it down! Well good for her and good for us!!!
Blue River. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of boogie-woogie! A satisfying little number which isn’t too fast and will be a good “work-out” for the left hand.
Pearls & Blues. A nice slow blues with a triplet feel. Perhaps might have been easier on the eyes if it had been notated in 12/8 but it doesn’t disappoint. A classic 12-bar blues with a fun, tremolo blues chord finish.
Mrs. Van Der Blond. An ambiguous 14 bar introduction leaves the audience guessing where this piece is going before launching into a upbeat boogie! It would make a superb encore piece! Even contains a cheeky quote of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue!” What’s quite interesting about the piece is it contains a simple crotchet (quarter-note) left hand routine which later moves into a swing quaver (eighth-note) variation; perfect for simplifying into impomtu duets/jams, with pupils taking turns to provide the accompaniment and then improvising using the blues scale in C! Lots of potential for fun here!
Conclusion. Overall, a welcome addition to my teaching repertoire, these songs will provide hours of fun in lessons and at home for my piano students. Some pupils who are reluctant to improvise will love that these pieces will give them the sound of jazz, boogie, blues and latin without the “stress” of having to “go off the score.” And for those more adventurous pupils who are developing their improvisation skills, this will inspire them to dizzy new heights! It’s a shame that chord symbols haven’t been included as this would have been a big help for students but I guess it’s good practice for them to work out the harmonies and write them in. If you want some extra fun injected into your lessons, then look no further…!
Special offer. Elena Cobb is kindly offering a 10% discount when you buy her book from her online-store using the code: MTJAZZ (All her books ship worldwide)
Elena Cobb’s website & store. You can hear and see short examples of her pieces as well as her other books for piano, alto sax and guitar
Superb recordings by the Snake Davis (sax. player for Eurhythmics & M People) and his jazz band (their own interpretation of two of Elena Cobb’s song from the book)
Cloud Seven, Latin: https://soundcloud.com/elena-cobb/cloud-seven-latin