Hiromi’s new album Spark features the brilliant work of Anthony Jackson on bass and Simon Phillips on drums. Although Hiromi’s playing has plenty of fire, it also has great sensitivity. I first examined her singular piano style back in 2013 (available online at keyboardmag.com). This month, I present a few more exercises to get Hiromi’s sound into your own playing.
1. Gypsy Sounds
Ex. 1 is influenced by the pensive piano of the album’s title track. Our example is in the key of C minor. It has a simple pedal point in the left hand as the right hand spins a gypsy-inspired melody taken from the exotic Hungarian minor scale (C, D, Eb, F#, G, Ab, B, C). Both hands are played an octave up, as well, to add to the delicacy of the part. The Bb in the last bar of the right hand is taken from the C dorian mode (C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb, C). The simple tonic-to-dominant chord progression is the perfect complement to the whimsical line.
2. Triads in Nine
Ex. 2 takes diatonic triads and moves them over a rhythmic ostinato in 9/8 time. This example is inspired by Hiromi’s playing on the song “Wonderland.” The rhythms of the right hand are sometimes going against the bass line, adding interesting displacements and intrigue to the part. All of the notes are from the C major scale. Try practicing this with a metronome and feel the bass line in three. On your own, start experimenting by playing all of your scales as triads or fourths. You will really start to see the structure of different keys.
3. On the Beat
Ex. 3 illustrates interesting chords like those found in Hiromi’s song “Indulgence.” In this example, I’ve tried to come up with my favorite crunchy piano voicings to give you some ideas for your own chord progressions. The chords here have quite a few alterations that are placed in unusual spots. Notice that the left hand also adds a chord tone with the thumb. This thickens the dissonance of the chord and gives it more weight on the bottom. The minor 11 is a very common chord in today’s jazz language, and I’ve tried to offer a few variations of it. Bar 1, beat 4 is a voicing from late great Boston guru Charlie Banacos. Bar 2, beat 4 is a common Hammond organ right-hand chord shape.
4. The Sixth Sense
A harmonized, “rolling” line is a great technique for creating tight, undulating rhythmic piano parts. Hiromi’s song “What Will Be, Will Be” features this sound and is the inspiration for Ex. 4. This example separates the notes by the interval of a sixth and hits some interesting chords in spots. The last chord is a Dbmaj7#5, one of the newest in jazz harmony, making its appearance in the 1960s. Start using these chords more on major seventh chords where the melody is not the fifth for an added element of tension.
5. Afro Beats
African rhythms are explored on much of Hiromi’s album Spark, especially on the song “All’s Well.” In Ex. 5, the left hand plays a common 12/8 ostinato and the right hand plays a line coming entirely from the A dorian mode (A, B, C, D, E, F#, G, A). The F# stands out in the middle of all the white keys, so I try to put it in places that really display its unusual color. The rhythms here can be difficult to play together, so put your metronome on again and play one hand at a time slowly to get the feel of the music in your muscle memory.
“For complicated two-handed parts, it’s a great idea to practice the left hand first to get the part down on a physical level. This makes adding the twisting right-hand part easier,” says keyboardist and composer Brian Charette, who has performed and recorded with Joni Mitchell, Michael Bublé, and Rufus Wainwright in addition to leading his own jazz groups. Charette won Downbeat magazine’s “Rising Star Organ” award in 2014 and recently released the album Once & Future. He also has a book out entitled 101 Hammond B-3 Tips: Stuff All the Pros Know and Use. Find out more at briancharette.com.