New podcast episode now available! It's time to Discover, Learn, and Play with Jazz Pianist and Educator, Peter Friesen
Dec. 20, 2022

Blue Christmas

This JazzPianoSkills Podcast Episode explores the classic Christmas standard "Blue Christmas" Discover, learn, and play essential voicings, chord/scale relationships, and a jazz piano solo!


Welcome to JazzPianoSkills; it's time to discover, learn, and play Jazz Piano!

Every JazzPianoSkills weekly podcast episode introduces aspiring jazz pianists to essential Jazz Piano Skills. Each Podcast episode explores a specific Jazz Piano Skill in depth. Today you will discover, learn, and play  Blue Christmas. In this Jazz Piano Lesson, you will:

Discover
The Christmas standard made popular by Elvis Presley, Blue Christmas

Learn
Essential jazz piano voicings and chord/scale relationships for Blue Christmas

Play
A jazz piano solo for Blue Christmas using classic jazz language

Use the Jazz Piano Podcast Packets for this Jazz Piano Lesson for maximum musical growth. All three Podcast Packets are designed to help you gain insight and command of a specific Jazz Piano Skill. The Podcast Packets are invaluable educational tools to have at your fingertips while you discover, learn, and play Blue Christmas.

Open Podcast Packets
Illustrations
(detailed graphics of the jazz piano skill)

Lead Sheets
(beautifully notated music lead sheets)

Play Alongs
(ensemble assistance and practice tips)

Educational Support
Community Forum
SpeakPipe

Episode Outline
Introduction
Discover, Learn, Play
Invite to Join JazzPianoSkills
Lesson Rationale
Exploration of Jazz Piano Skills
Conclusion
Closing Comments

Visit JazzPianoSkills for more educational resources that include a sequential curriculum with comprehensive Jazz Piano Courses, private and group online Jazz Piano Classes, a private jazz piano community hosting a variety of Jazz Piano Forums, an interactive Jazz Fake Book, plus unlimited professional educational jazz piano support.

If you wish to donate to JazzPianoSkills, you can do so easily through the JazzPianoSkills Paypal Account.

Thank you for being a JazzPianoSkills listener. It is my pleasure to help you discover, learn, and play jazz piano!

Warm Regards,
Dr. Bob Lawrence
President, The Dallas School of Music
JazzPianoSkills

AMDG

Transcript

Dr. Bob Lawrence  0:33  
Welcome to jazz piano skills. I'm Dr. Bob Lawrence. It's time to discover, learn and play. Jazz Piano. Wow, can you believe it? Here we are rapidly approaching the end of December. And completing our year-long journey through all 12 major keys, harmonic workouts for all 12 major keys, melodic workouts for all 12 major keys, rhythmic workouts for all 12 major keys, and tunes for all 12 major keys. Wow.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:11  
What an accomplishment, right? All of you who have been grinding and chiseling away at every key throughout the year should be feeling an enormous sense of achievement and success. I know I do. And I'm very proud of all of you for hanging in there and doing all of the grunt work necessary to become an accomplished jazz pianist. Now we have devoted the entire month of December to our final key the key of G major. We've explored the key of G major both harmonically and melodically. Our harmonic workouts, as it always did throughout the entire year, explored four approaches to voicing the chords found in the key of G major, plus various rhythmic comping patterns, and our melodic workout, as it always did throughout the entire year, methodically tackled the scales modes, arpeggios for each chord in the key of G major, plus various linear lines to help us develop improvisational vocabulary. Now it's time to put our new harmonic and melodic and rhythmic skills that we've developed in the key of G major, it's time for us to put them to work within a tomb, as we have always done throughout the entire year. So today, you are going to discover a great Christmas tune made popular by none other than the king, Elvis Presley. I'm talking about Blue Christmas, you're going to learn the core changes harmonic function, and musical form of Blue Christmas. And you are going to play various voicings and correct chord scale relationships for Blue Christmas, which will then be cultivated into a jazz solo. So as I always like to say, regardless of where you are in your jazz journey, a beginner and intermediate player and advanced player even if you consider yourself to be a seasoned and experienced professional, you're going to find this jazz panel skills podcast lesson exploring the the jazz Christmas standard. That funny the jazz Christmas standard. If we've made it the jazz Christmas standard, Blue Christmas, you're gonna find this podcast episode to be very beneficial. But before we dig in, I want to as I always do at the beginning of every jazz panel skills podcast episode, I want to take just a moment to welcome all first-time listeners. And if you are indeed new to jazz piano skills. If you are indeed a first-time listener to the jazz panel skills podcast, I want to invite you to become a jazz piano skills member. All you have to do visit jazz piano skills.com. Check out all the educational resources, materials, and services that are available for you waiting for you to help you accomplish your goals of becoming an accomplished jazz pianist. For example, as a jazz piano skills member, you have access to all of the weekly educational podcast packets. Now these are the illustrations, the lead sheets, and the play alongs that I develop and I produce, and publish for every weekly podcast episode. These are invaluable educational tools that you want to have in your hands as you're listening to the podcast episode. And you certainly want to have them sitting on your piano when practicing as well. You also, as a jazz panel skills member, have access to the online sequential jazz piano curriculum, which is loaded with comprehensive courses, all of them. Using a self-paced format. There are educational talks for you to listen to interactive media to test your conceptual understanding of the jazz panel skills being taught. There are video demonstrations of the jazz panel skills in all 12 keys, play along, and much much more. You also as a jazz panel skills member have access to the online weekly masterclasses, which are in essence a one-hour lesson with me each and every week. You also as a jazz piano skills member can enjoy the online interactive Fakebook, which grants you access to jazz standards from the Great American Songbook, you'll be able to enjoy lead sheets outlining each tunes chord changes, plus lead sheets that are outlining the harmonic function of each tune. There are chord scale relationships that are presented play along files, historical insights, inspirational recordings, and much much more. The interactive Fakebook of course, is an ever-growing collection of tunes that you should absolutely discover, learn and play. You also as a jazz panel skills. Member, you have access to the online private jazz piano skills community, which hosts a variety of engaging forums. There are podcasts-specific forums, course-specific forums. And of course, there are just simply general jazz piano forms for you to enjoy as well. And last but certainly not least, as a jazz piano skills member, you have access to unlimited, private, personal and professional educational support whenever and as often as you need it. Again, take just a few seconds minutes to visit jazz panel skills.com To learn more about all the educational opportunities and how to easily activate your membership. Now, there are indeed several membership plans to choose from. And I am certain there is one that is perfect for you. But if you get there and if you have any questions whatsoever, please do not hesitate to reach out to me, let me know. I'm always happy to spend some time with you answer any questions that you may have and help you in any way that I can. Okay, now it's time to discover learning play jazz piano, it's time to discover learn and play the Christmas standard Blue Christmas. Okay, as I mentioned earlier that the last two weeks have been pretty intense with our key of G major harmonic workout and our key of G major melodic workout, our harmonic workout extensively explored for very specific approaches to playing sound harmonically. In other words, playing the chords. And our exploration was not simply about playing the seventh chords found in the key of G major was about how to approach voicing the chords so that you are playing sounds that are stylistically correct. In other words, your chords have to sound like jazz. So we looked at basic block shapes and root position and inversions. We looked at traditional left-hand three-note shells, we looked at contemporary quarter voicings, and we also looked at two-handed shapes, all of them all of these voicing types. Approaches need to be in your arsenal. Now, our melodic workout thoroughly investigated ascending and descending scale and arpeggio motion through each of the seven chords found in the key of G major. And our primary focus was to begin developing what I like to call root independence by shifting our entry points when playing our scales and arpeggios from the root of the sound to the third to the fifth and to the seventh. So our entry points and destination points are always different. So the whole point, the whole entire point of our key of G major harmonic workout and our key of G major melodic workout. The whole point right is to prep us for applying our skills to tunes. So we will as we have done throughout the entire year and every key. We will today take the practice approaches that we have equipped board over the past two weeks, and we will apply them to Blue Christmas. And not only are we going to put our harmonic and melodic jazz piano skills to work within this classic Christmas standard, we will also use our jazz piano skills to construct and play a jazz piano solo over the core changes of Blue Christmas. As always, this is going to be a ton of fun. So the educational agenda for today is as follows. We will explore the Christmas classic made popular by Elvis Presley, Blue Christmas, the chord changes, and the harmonic function. Number two we will discover learning play various voicings for Blue Christmas blocks, traditional shells contemporary shells, two-handed voicings number three, we're going to discover learning play the chord scale relationships for Blue Christmas and other words the appropriate ascending and descending scale and arpeggio motion. And number four, we are going to discover learn and play a jazz piano solo for Blue Christmas, using 100% diatonic scale, and arpeggio motion, focusing as always focusing on various essential rhythms that we have studied throughout the entire year. And we will be using a very relaxed, very groovy swing field of 105. Today when playing Blue Christmas. So if you are a jazz piano skills member, I want you to take a few minutes right now hit the pause button. I want you to access, download, and print your podcast packets, the illustrations, and the lead sheets. Again, you have access to all of the podcast packets as a jazz panel skills member and you should be using them when listening to this podcast episode. And of course, as I mentioned earlier, you should be using them and have them sitting on your piano while practicing. Now if you are listening to this podcast on any of the popular podcast directories such as Apple or Google, there's Amazon, Spotify, I Heart Radio, Pandora, etc. The list goes on and on. Then be sure to go directly to jazz piano skills podcast.com to access and download your podcast packets and you will find the active download links within the show notes. Okay, one final but very critical note that I mentioned every podcast episode. If you are sitting here listening at this very moment and you're thinking that Blue Christmas and the various skills that we are about to discover, learn and play are over your head, then I would say to you okay, so what? Sit back, relax, continue to listen, and continue to grow your jazz piano skills intellectually by just simply listening to this podcast episode. And again, when just keep this in mind when first introduced to any jazz panel skill. It's over our heads. Which is precisely why the very first step to improving our musicianship is always, always always to just simply listen. So do not shy away from conversations or topics, discussing foreign topics and using unfamiliar terms right? Do not run. Stepping outside of our musical comfort zone is precisely what spawns significant growth. You've heard me say this a million times all musical growth all musical growth begins upstairs mentally conceptually before it can come out downstairs physically in your hands. So sit back listen to this podcast lesson now to discover and to learn. The play will come in time. It always does. Okay, so now you have your lead sheets packet, your podcast a lead sheets packet in front of you and you should have printed out lovin lead sheets 11 skills that we are going to take a look at skill one through 11 Okay.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  14:40  
lead sheet one basic chord changes for Blue Christmas lead sheet to harmonic function for Blue Christmas. lead sheet three block voicings lead sheet for traditional shells lead sheet five contemporary shells. lead sheet six are two-handed voicings lead sheet seventh and eighth deal with our scale motion, a chord scale relationships, lead sheets, nine and 10 deal with ascending and descending arpeggio motion. And then of course, lead sheet 11 is our solo that we will look at today as well. Okay, so let's take a look at lead sheet one with the chord changes to blue Christmas, this is a classic form, it is 32 measures in length. It is a what I would call an A, B, a C form, right. So if you look at the rehearsal letters there A, B, C, and D, you can see that rehearsal Section A, the first eight measures and rehearsal sections see are the exact same right now letter B rehearsal Section B, and D. Slightly different, so, therefore, that's why I would call this an A B, a C, as opposed to a traditional standard A B A B form. Okay. Now, the very next lead sheet, number two deals with the harmonic function of Blue Christmas. So you can see that now the chord changes are replaced with our roman numeral analysis of the harmonic function. And you believe Christmas is a pretty straightforward, nothing, nothing an ordinary here at all, you can see that we start with the one chord, we have a five chord 251 in section A, which again is repeated in Section C, we have a three-chord, starting off Section B, going into a six, but as a dominant not as what we would expect as a minor, and then our two chord, and then a two dominant, and then the five dominant, which takes us back to our one in Section C. And then the very last eight measures, letter D, we start with the one chord but check it out, the one chord we would think would be major but not in this case, our one chord is a dominant chord going into a six dominant, then we go to our two minor, and then a two that two minor turns into a dominant sound, which is very, very common, which takes us to our five chord, and then our 251. So it's a very easy chord progression. Very standard harmonic motion, harmonic movement. Okay, so now that we've looked at skill one skill to lead sheet one lead sheet two, let's take a look at lead sheet three. Here's where I lay out the block traditional four note block voicings, using various root position and inversions, to create minimal motion moving from one chord to the next chord to the next chord. Now, this is just a recommendation. You as you play through these chord changes and these voicings, these block voicings, you may choose to play something in root position versus third inversion that I may have laid out here. And that is fine. I want you to use your ears and I want you to trust your ears. And I want you to to utilize the shapes and the sounds that feel right and sound right to you. But you can see here that I have the block voicings laid out as what I would recommend using. So what I want to do is I want to bring the ensemble in right now, and I'm going to play Blue Christmas. I'm going to play it two times through the very first time. I'm going to play these block voicings as notated on your lead sheet. And again, I am not going to play anything fancy, I'm not going to do anything rhythmically fancy. I'm going to try to be as transparent as possible throughout this entire podcast. So that you can hear these various voicings and the melody in context with the voicings. So everything's going to be very simple. So I play the first time through the chord changes as notated. And then the second time through I will come in with the melody playing a single note melody only to play the melody against these voicings so that you can hear how they fit together and how they sound together. Okay, so let's bring the ensemble in. Let's listen to BLU Christmas lead sheet three with our block voicings. First time through chords only. Second time through I add a single-note melody Oh Okay, here we go let's check it out Blue Christmas?

Dr. Bob Lawrence  22:33  
Very nice, love this tune. It's just a great song. Now, if this is, you know I've mentioned this before in previous podcast episodes if this is where you are in your jazz journey with your voicings, being able to play your chords using four note block shapes that include the root, third, fifth and seventh and their inversions. This is fantastic. This is a fantastic place to be. Okay, the shapes you must know not only from a harmonic perspective, but believe it or not, these shapes set you up for developing your improvisational skills as well. These shapes are absolutely essential. So if this is where you are, congratulations, fantastic. And as you can see, as you heard, these voicings and melodies sound good together. In fact, I've mentioned this in previous podcast episodes as well. I went out when I was learning how to play jazz and I played many, many gigs, using these voicings, and being able to play melodies, many gigs. So okay, so now let's take a look at lead sheet for skill for traditional shells. Now here are our three-note traditional shell voicings that are always going to include in our left hand, the third in the seventh of the sound, plus one additional note, that note could be the fifth, that note could be the ninth, right, so you can see I have the traditional shells laid out for the entire chord progression of Blue Christmas. I want to bring the ensemble back, and I'm going to play these three-note traditional shells the first time through again, as notated in your lead sheet, and not doing anything fancy rhythmically with them at all. I want you to hear these voicings. Second time through I'm going to come in with the melody again very simply, with a single-note melody line against these traditional three-note shells so that you can hear them working together and how they sound together. So let's bring the ensemble in and let's check out Blue Christmas using traditional three-note shells in my left Hey all right here we go check it out.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  27:32  
Nice right, love these voicings These are fantastic, less dense, of course from our traditional block voicings. But because we have one less note, and of course, the notes themselves are spread out the third and the seventh and then the additional embellishment note as the ninth or the fifth. So, little more transparent sound right now, if you think that's open, take a look at skill five or lead sheet five with our contemporary quarter shows. So now we move away from always having to include the third and seventh in the sound to place an emphasis really on a shape built around the interval of a fourth as opposed to our chords being built around the interval of a third. So as you can see on your lead sheet here, if you just glance at it, you can see that all of these voicings have a very similar shape. And that is because they are built primarily off of the interval of a fourth. So I have laid out here for you the contemporary shells that I would use to play Blue Christmas in my left hand, and again, I'm going to play at the very first time through I'm just going to play these voicings as notated in the lead sheet. Again, not doing anything fancy. I want you to hear these voicings; the second time through, I bring the melody in single note melody line against these contemporary shells. So again, that you can hear how they work together. Let's hear how they sound together when playing them. Okay, so let's bring the ensemble and let's listen to Blue Christmas using contemporary choral shells in my left hand. All right, here we go. Let's check it out.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  32:02  
Love it. Great sound, fantastic sound. Now, I often get asked questions. I often get this question asked to me by students, you know, when which voicings should I use? Which voicing type? Do you prefer? Which one is best? Right? These are type of questions I get, and the answer the answer those questions, simply all of them, right? You should use all of these voicings, your traditional blocks, your traditional shells, your contemporary quarter voicings, and not only should you be using them all, you should be using them side by side, mixing them together, right. So when we learn them, when we study them, we like to break them apart, look at our blocks all by themselves, look at our traditional shells all by themselves, look at our quarter voicings all by themselves. And because that keeps it tidy, it's clean. It's neat, it keeps us focused on a very specific sound, very specific voicing type. Makes perfect sense, right. But we want to get comfortable enough with these voicings that we can be playing at a block voicing going into a traditional shell going into a quarter voicing, and so on. So again, all of these voicing types need to be under your fingers, they need to be part of your arsenal, and you need to be utilizing them when playing any and all jazz standards. Okay. Now with that being said, there is another type that we need to be comfortable with as well. And so if you take a look at lead sheet six or skill six, you'll see here are our two-handed voicings, and I use a five-note system where I'm playing two in the left and three in the right. And these two note shapes, two-handed shapes that I like to play are built again primarily on the interval of a fourth. So it's a very contemporary sounded very open sound. So I want to model these for you right now. So I'm going to bring the ensemble back in. And again, I'm going to play it two times through first time through I'm going to play the voicings just simply as notated again on the lead sheet and doing nothing fancy here. And then the second time through, I'm actually going to come in with the melody but I'm going to play a trumpet sound. So you can kind of hear the hear those voicings in conjunction with the melody, but the melody is being played by a trumpet to even help differentiate the two sounds right that the two handed shapes that I'm playing as voicings and then of course, the melody line as well. So let's bring the ensemble and let's listen to Blue Christmas using our two handed chordal shapes. And then the melody played using a trumpet sound. Alright, here we go. Let's check it out and have a little fun

Dr. Bob Lawrence  37:28  
How fun is that? It's great. So again, right, we have our block voicings, we have our traditional shells, we have our contemporary shells, we have our two-handed shapes. Okay. So now, if you take a look at I do not have time to go through skill 789 and 10 today, but I do want to mention them and talk about them briefly here. Skill seven and eight, I have the chord scale relationships laid out for Blue Christmas, using ascending and descending scale motion with a Root Entry. Of course, you should practice these chord scale relationships using a third entry, a fifth entry, and seventh entry as well. We want to get used to being able to play these chords get relationships from multiple perspectives, we do not want to be root dependent. Okay, skills nine and 10 lead sheets nine and 10 Lay out the ascending, and descending arpeggio motion for each quart found within Blue Moon. And again, I'm in the lead sheets, it's a Root Entry. And again, you should be practicing these shapes these arpeggios using various entry points, the third, the fifth, the seventh, ascending, and descending. Okay, so skills 7,8,9 and 10 very important spend time with them, which will help you tremendously develop your own solo over Blue Christmas and help you to also play the solo that I'm about to perform for you as well. So let's take a look at skill 11 or lead sheet 11 Here you can see I have notated a solo for you over the chord changes of Blue Christmas. Now a couple things I want to mention here. One number one the entire solo is is constructed using 100% diatonic motion in other words, honoring only playing the notes that are part of the chord scale relationship only. So no notes that are outside of the chord scale relationship. No half step approach moments, no enclosures No notes outside the key or the CT scan relationship at all. And why I do this is because you have to get comfortable constructing and playing and improvising using the right notes first, before you can start incorporating the wrong notes. And besides, you can make a whole lot of music, just playing the right notes. So this is where we begin right, we have to get a handle on understanding chords, care relationships, and being able to construct melodic ideas using diatonic motion diatonic relationships. So that's number one. Number two. All the rhythms of the solo are various rhythms that we have studied throughout the entire year. So you're going to see eighth note groupings, you're going to see single eighth notes that fall on the backside of the beat. Like for instance, in measure two, you're going to see 16th note groupings, like you see in measure four, you're going to see 16th dotted eighth relationships and measure nine and dotted eighth 16th relationships, you're gonna see eighth note triplets and measure 10. Right. So you got quarter note triplets and measures 21 and measures 22. So again, these are all rhythms that we have dealt with, that we have studied that we have practiced throughout our journey starting way back in January, and have moved through the entire year together in the various keys. So I'm going to bring the ensemble in, and I'm going to play Blue Christmas. Three times through the first time I'm going to state the melody I'm going to play the head. I'm going to use various voicings, you might hear some blocks you might hear traditional shell some quarter voicings two-handed shapes, and then I'll perform the solo, and then I will play the head or the melody the third time as the closing statement. Okay, so Wow, here we go. Blue Christmas, lead sheet. 11 Blue Christmas with a solo. Alright, here we go. This should be fun. Let's check it out.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  46:01  
Seeing a lot of music, a lot of solos can be constructed using 100% diatonic relationships. So, wow, it never fails, right? We have unpacked again, a ton of information, as we, as we do in every podcast, and today was certainly no exception. We have unpacked a ton of information as we set out to discover, learn and play Blu Christmas, as I tried to do with every tune study, throughout this entire year, I tried to model for you how to begin truly learning a tune, how to connect the what and how that you are practicing to an actual piece of music. In other words, how to the jazz piano skills that you are practicing, translate the plane. And I want you to think about this if you are unable. This is so important. If you are unable to apply your practice approach to the learning of tunes like we did today, like we have done throughout the entire year. If you're an able to make this nexus, this link between the practice approaches and the learning of attune, I would say that you need to really sit down and examine your practice approach. Right another way saying this is if you do not see the jazz piano skills you are practicing in the tunes that you are learning and playing, then there is a disconnect between the two, which is not good. And you've heard me say this many times as well on many different occasions that harmony and melody are the same. Right? They are the same, and indeed they are. Well, I can also say that jazz piano skills and tunes are the same as well. Now, I am saying that if if you do not practice, what I'm trying to say I guess is if you do not practice jazz piano skills, like we have done throughout this entire year, every month, you're not going to be able to successfully play tunes. That's just that's the truth. Hopefully you're beginning to see that jazz piano skills are the gateway to tunes they are tunes. And tunes are made up of jazz piano skills. The only difference The only difference is a tune has a fancy name like Blue Christmas and jazz piano skills. They do not. If you're beginning to see jazz piano skills as tunes and tunes as jazz piano skills, then you are 100% on the correct path. And that should make you feel fantastic. And once again, I want to encourage you as jazz piano skills members use these podcast packets, the illustrations, the lead sheets, the play alongs, right when you're practicing when you're studying, I say it over and over and over. Conceptual understanding determines your physical development. So the time that you invest in studying and mapping out these voicings ascending and descending scale and arpeggio motion from various entry points, right. These are skills that are essential, and it's time well spent when studying them. Again, the return on your investment cannot be adequately expressed. And as always, always, always, always be patient. Developing mature professional jazz piano skills takes time, often a lifetime. So begin structuring your practicing after the plane demonstrations that I modeled for you in this podcast episode, and You will begin to see you will begin to feel, and hear your progress I guarantee it. Well, I hope you have found this jazz piano skills podcast lesson exploring Blue Christmas to be insightful and beneficial. Now, no masterclass this Thursday or next Thursday due to our Christmas break here at the Dallas School of Music. So I will be out I'll be at home sipping some eggnog. So do not show up for a masterclass this Thursday or next Thursday because you'll be there by yourself. So, again, use the educational podcast packets, your illustrations, your lead sheets your play alongs for not only just not only for this podcast episode for but for all of the podcast episodes. Also, if you have not checked out the jazz panel skills courses, be sure to do so they will maximize your musical growth. And also, please make sure that you are an active participant in the jazz piano skills community, get out there, get involved, contribute to the various forums, make some new jazz piano friends, always a great thing to do. Now, you can reach me, of course by phone 972-380-8050. My office extension here at the school is 211. You can also send me an email that's Dr. Lawrence, drlawrene@jazzpianoskills.com. Or you can use the nifty little SpeakPipe widget that is found throughout the entire jazz piano skills website. Now, before we leave or before I leave, I want to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and many, many blessings in the new year. It has been my pleasure and a joy to provide this weekly podcast for you. I hope it has been as fun and as beneficial for you as it has been for me, and I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am. How much I am looking forward to a new year 2023, And an entire new journey. It is going to be a blast. Well, there is my cue. That's it for now. Until next week. Enjoy the classic Christmas standard Blue Christmas. And most of all, have fun as you discover, learn and play. Jazz Piano. Merry Christmas!