Improve Your Improv with Jeffrey Chappell; A Fabulous Special Event

by Carol Barth

On Sunday, February 27, 2005 classical and jazz pianist, teacher and composer, Jeffrey Chappell presented an enlightening special event, Improve your Imrprov. He started by reviewing for the 14 members who were present some characteristics that distinguish jazz from classical piano. Much less pedal is used when playing jazz, and the harmony uses 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chords, resulting in a complex sound. Often melody is based on a blues scale, which has just 6 notes and contains some skips. Rhythmically, syncopation is commonly used, and off-beats and weak beats are emphasized. The structure or form of jazz can be based on a 12 bar blues progression, a 16-measure American song form, or theme and variation. Mr. Chappell then named many styles and characteristics of these styles in a historical overview of the 20th century. Jeffrey told us that in order to play jazz, one needs both understanding and experience.

As an introduction to the experience of playing jazz, he developed a step-wise approach to improvisizing, starting with playing a c major scale for melody, and a c triad in the left hand for harmony. Imagine my surprise when I was selected to demonstrate improvising. In less than 10 minutes, this exercise became much more jazzy by changing the rhythm and accents of the scale and adding a 7th to the triad. In several steps I was instructed to hold some notes, add some skips, put in some grace notes, and repeat some patterns. I was having a good time; it was easy to do, and it sounded like jazz.

Anne Williams and Virginia Rutledge were the next to improvise a jazz duet. Virginia was told to play a specific walking bass pattern based on 12 bar blues while Anne was taught the blues scale and again led through a step-wise improvisation process. Jeffrey leaned in to the middle of the keyboard to add some of his improvisation, and we listened to amazing sounding 6-hand jazz.

Jeffrey Chappell is a gifted teacher who instantly put the audiences at ease. He made improvising very accessible. He answered many questions, played more improvised jazz and gave all who attended a resource list. If you werent there, you missed a fabulous special event. I cant wait to get some of the recommended pieces and books to learn and play. I am inspired!