New podcast episode now available! It's time to Discover, Learn, and Play Jazz Piano with Liz Kinnon (Part 2)
Sept. 27, 2022

Special Guest, Ron Drotos

JazzPianoSkills welcomes Ron Drotos, New York City jazz pianist, educator, composer, author, and entrepreneur.

As a child, Ron Drotos began improvising on the piano, creating the dinosaur sounds he heard in his imagination. He spent his teenage years playing in jazz and rock bands, and in 1985 received a Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition from The University of Connecticut, where he studied with Hale Smith. During this time, Ron studied jazz piano with Dr. Billy Taylor, Walter Bishop, Jr., Harold Danko, and Ellen Rowe. From 1987-88, Ron worked as an assistant to the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and then began to pursue his own music career.

 After moving to New York City in 1989, Ron served as Associate Music Director and created orchestrations for the Broadway musical Swinging On A Star, which received a Tony Award® nomination for Best Musical in 1995. Additional Broadway credits include Smokey Joe’s Café, The Life, and Fosse. Ron has orchestrated for the New York Pops Orchestra, with whom he has appeared several times at Carnegie Hall. He has been featured as Music Director on the 92nd St. Y’s famed “Lyrics and Lyricists” series. He has performed with vocalists Julius LaRosa, Judy Collins, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Nell Carter, and Giacomo Gates. In addition, Ron has taught at the Fairbanks (Alaska) Summer Arts Festival since 1999, where he has been inducted into the festival’s Hall of Fame.

 In 2012, Ron created the website, through which he helps beginning to advanced pianists all over the world learn how to improvise with a sense of joy and fluency. In addition, Ron is the author of The Inner Game of Piano Improvisation, which is available on Amazon.

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



Dr. Bob Lawrence  0:32  
Welcome to jazz piano skills. I'm Dr. Bob Lawrence. It's time to discover, learn and play jazz piano. Well, we've been hitting it hard for the entire month exploring the key of E major with an extensive harmonic workout. Pretty intense melodic workout. And, of course, last week we we jumped on honeysuckle rose, learning that tune in what key you got it in the key of D major. So today, I thought it would be a good time to kind of celebrate to take a break from all of our hard work throughout the month, and sit back to enjoy my special guest Mr. rendre to us. Now Iran is an incredibly gifted jazz pianist with his hands and all kinds of professional activities. He spent his teenage years playing in jazz and rock bands. In back in 1985. He received a bachelor's degree in music composition from the University of Connecticut. During that time, Ron studied with Hale Smith. He also studied with legendary jazz pianist and educator Dr. Billy Taylor, Walter Bishop, Jr, Harold Danko, and Ellen row. Now from 87 to 88, Ron worked as an assistant to the legendary baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and then he began to pursue a music career of his own. After moving moving to New York City and 89. Ron served as associate music director creating orchestrations for the Broadway musical swinging on a star, which received a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical in 1995. Additional Broadway credits include Smokey Joe's Cafe, the life and fossi Ron has orchestrated for the New York Pops Orchestra which, with with whom he has appeared several times at Carnegie Hall. He has been featured As music director on the 92nd street wise famed lyrics and lyricist series, and has performed with many vocalists including Julius LaRosa, Judy Collins, Brian Stokes Mitchell, now Carter and Gia como gates. In addition, Ron has taught at the Fairbanks Alaska Summer Arts Festival since 1999, where he where he has been inducted into the festivals Hall of Fame. In 2012, Ron created the keyboard website, through which he helps beginning to advance pianist all over the world learn how to improvise with with a sense of joy and fluency. In addition, Brian is the author of the inner game of piano improvisation, which is available on Amazon. Well, I could go on and on. But let's get to my interview with Ron. Now both audio and video formats are available for this podcast episode. And of course, you can listen to the audio version of the episode through any of the popular podcast directories such as I Heart Radio, Spotify, Apple podcast, Google podcasts, Amazon, music, Pandora, and so on. Or you can go directly to the jazz panel skills website, where you can listen to the podcast as well as check out the video, which I strongly recommend doing. Now. It's my great pleasure and honor to welcome to jazz piano skills. Mr. Ron DRO, toasts. Run stroke house. Man, welcome to jazz piano skills, my friend. Well, thank

Ron Drotos  4:12  
you, Bob. It's great to be here.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  4:14  
Man, you know, you and I've been trying to connect for the last couple months. And you know, we your schedule is crazy. My schedule is crazy. But I am so thrilled that we both have carved out some time to sit down together connect and talk jazz and I'm thrilled to introduce you to the jazz piano skills community because if they don't already know you, I if they do already know you, I know they love you. And if they don't know you, I know they're gonna fall in love with you. So it's I'm thrilled that you're here. So thank you. From from my heart to all the jazz panel skills, listeners. Thanks for coming on today.

Ron Drotos  4:51  
Oh, it's great to be here, Bob. And you know, it's great occurred to me that you know pianists in the old pre internet days, we never hung out together because there's only one thing Atlas nice rehearsal. And now we can actually talk shop, right?

Dr. Bob Lawrence  5:05  
Yeah, we can interact and mingle with one another. So, man, you okay, look, we got about an hour. And I really I mean looking at your bio, looking at your credentials, looking at your background, there's no, we're gonna be there's no way we're gonna get everything in an hour, but we're gonna try. So this is gonna be a fast hour. So we're going to just jump in, I want to, I want to handle microphone over you. And before we get into all the stuff that you're doing professionally today, I want you to rewind the clock. Go back to the very beginning your childhood and fill us in on run your family, your background, how you got into music and how you got to where you are today. So my friend the microphone is yours.

Ron Drotos  5:43  
Awesome. Alright, so my journey is a little unusual for pianists. I didn't have piano lessons, my whole upbringing. My father had played. He was the he was the first rock and roll generation, you know, so he would have been a teenager in the late late 50s. And he had he was playing sax clarinet at that time really rock and roll like Billy I remember seeing like combo charts for Bill Haley in the comments and Elvis, but it was also swing era stuff. So he would play at the country clubs play saxophone, every summer when whenever the when the older professionals took that vacation, he would start on lead alto then second, two weeks as a high school student. And but he he played football in college and messed up his teeth or something is over. Sure. So he was learning piano as I was growing up, and he would play you know, these you know, sort of like Basin Street Blues with a stiff kind of a headcollar medium stiff strike No, but I got that.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  6:54  
I like it, man. I'd sit and listen to that man.

Ron Drotos  6:56  
He was great. He was great. Right? But like I got to absorb that early sort of looking back. I got to absorb that early pre bebop feeling. Eventually got I'll talk talk in a while with Billy Taylor and a musician inhale Smith, who also had developed their styles pre bebop, so no, no, he had a really nice, steady tempo. My dad he played about three or four songs and I heard them a lot. And I also remember, like, once or twice a week we would my sister and I would sit around the piano and we'd sing you know, pop songs of the late 60s Like Puff the magic dragon, or the purple people eater song, you know, things like kids,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  7:37  
I keep. So Dad, Dad would play and you guys would sing

Ron Drotos  7:41  
along, which I think is sort of disappearing these days. Right. You know, there is no families on the piano and it wasn't even a piano was just it was an old Wurlitzer electric piano My uncle had given them right. The little black Wurlitzer was actually beige.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  7:59  
I don't I know exactly which one you're

Ron Drotos  8:01  
Yeah, it was probably from like, I don't know. 6566. Classic. Yep. Yeah, definitely. So we, so we got a lot of piano, a lot of music in the family. My dad would play acoustic guitar, too. And so did my plate. Did mom play it off? No, she was always the, quote, non musical person. But she would sing harmony in the car along with the radio. And then years later, I discovered an old LP from the 50s. She was in like the the Long Island all state New York, or something. And I said, You never told me about this.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  8:36  
Pretty musical for being non musical.

Ron Drotos  8:39  
Well, there you go. Exactly. Harmony, which was I'm not even that great. I suppose. So. So you know, I think looking back, I don't think we could afford piano lessons, even if I asked for them. But I started my first experience at the piano at age, I don't know, five or something was was imagining what dinosaurs would sound like. And then I would, you know, be the Bronco and make these big battles with dinosaurs. I think my parents encouraged that but they also said, well, we don't want to listen to this all day. So my dad, I'll never forget this. His way of teaching me was he went to the we were living in New Jersey in Teaneck, New Jersey, he went to the Paramus Mall. They must have had a music store. They are any he came back with the Alfred dobra. Jay sort of, you know, general Old World general title that we have. And any basically it's the primer level, they basically said, Okay, this is what a middle seat looks like. You hold it for four beats. When you're finished with the book, let me know and I'm going to test you. And he goes, if you can play every piece, I'll then get you the next volume volume one. Is that okay? And I remember going through the whole book, and I got to the second the last piece, which you'll recognize is that Bach music That was probably six at the time that got me. I mean, I just couldn't get that hand independence. And I but I remember thinking if I can get this, it's going to be smoother sailing after that forever. And it probably took me about a month to get that. And so one day, he comes home from work. And I said, I got the whole book, and he's like, okay, play that one, play that one play. I don't have to memorize it, but I could play the whole book. So the next day, he brought me book, but one and looking back, it's amazing, because a lot of times when we take lessons, you know, even the best teachers, we tend not to play the pieces, like you don't have to learn 30 pieces and retain them. All right, on to the next and I had to keep that almost like a pop musician who's still playing, jumping Jack Flash after you know, right, right. Right. Right. So, so that was I think it got in me physically, and my ear really well. I still remember a lot of those early songs. This time.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  11:04  
This time, you're what age? What age are you? That was about

Ron Drotos  11:06  
six, six years 567. And then I played trumpet in elementary school, and then rock guitar with my friends in middle school. And then my guitar broke at age of 15 or so. And I and my friends were forming a rock band in high school and I said, Okay, I'm just gonna, I keep coming back to the piano and between trumpet and guitar in this. So I'm just gonna stay with piano now. And I became serious. I started playing three hours a day, no matter what, three hours a day from from about age 1516 on.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  11:37  
Yeah. So it was it was about that high school time where you started getting serious.

Ron Drotos  11:42  
That's right. So when the rock band were playing Pink Floyd's comfortably numb, and I'm improvising you know, and then some some jazzy stuff, and then pick it up what I can hear and they're taking some theory lessons. We had a very good this is I was in Connecticut. By this time, we had very good high school music program. I got to take jazz arranging. Oh, wow. Two times a week.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  12:10  
We'll see that's very unique. That's very unique, especially at that time, right. I mean, I'm not even sure even today if that they have jazz arranging in high schools.

Ron Drotos  12:19  
Yeah, this would have been around 1980, around 1980 and the wonderful teacher, Fred Pasqua, who had gone to New England Conservatory for classical clarinet lessons at Berkeley. And so he was trying to pass some of that along so I did an arrangement of put on a happy face I remember and you know, began arrangements and small group and probably really important for me as a teenager was that there was this culture of experimentation. Like, like my band and my friends who played we were into Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Frank Zappa, all these musicians who would play classical one minute jazz the next round. Right? No boundaries at all. And so even though we couldn't even play, we would just try anything. Crazy.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  13:06  
Yes. So who was okay, so you get the high school, you've been playing, you know, you really had like, you're working through the like the Alfred books or the, you know, the traditional beginning piano books, kind of doing the rock and roll thing. You got your buddies, you're doing the garage band, the garage band scene and playing and pop and rock tunes. You get this guy in high school that introduces you to jazz. I'm just curious who was like the who was like the very first jazz musician at that stage that you listened to? That turns you on that you went like, Well, wait a minute. I've got to study this genre. I got I got to play jazz. Who was

Ron Drotos  13:45  
yeah, there's two levels to this answer. Keith Jarrett is the Cohen concert. I must have heard it about four years.

Right. You know, I just remember listen, I had no idea what he was doing. But the colon cancer, you know, which is biggest selling a low piano record. But the interesting thing is, so that was about fifth I was at age 15 When I got turned on to the old concert. And then his early stuff, like, did an album called nude ants, which is like new dance guard used to listen to that. This is before his standards trio, you know, and but coincidentally, though, I heard Elton John last February of 2022. For the first time, it was a second to last show, maybe no, it was his last show at Madison Square Garden ever, so to speak. Who knows if we'll come back but but yeah,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  14:33  
because he's been doing his final tour now for what, eight years.

Ron Drotos  14:38  
But he started his last show. Well, we'll see what happens. But the interesting thing is, he starts his third song that night was border song. Solo without his band. Wow. And I'm listening to it and after about, I don't know, a chorus or so. Tears start streaming down my face. I'm like in the last row at the garden crying, and I realized that that At before I got into Jarrett, when I was about 14, I got a cassette tape of Elton John's Greatest Hits, it was the first one I ever bought. And that was on there. So I haven't been crediting Elton as being as big an influence.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  15:13  
So that you heard that. And that took you back, didn't it? It really did. I

Ron Drotos  15:16  
mean, it was just unbelievable, right? Yeah. Yeah, it's interesting.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  15:19  
You know, you and I are probably about the same age, you know, high school during the 70s. Is that when you went to high school,

Ron Drotos  15:26  
were my old Yeah. 78 To like, 8182. Okay, so

Dr. Bob Lawrence  15:30  
I'm a little older than you. I graduated in 79. And, and, but I kind of I was it it was, I kind of my path was kind of the same path that you you took, right, I was kind of poking around, I started as a drummer. So I was playing rock and roll drums in the garage bands. And I would always be fascinated with the piano players. And so I started playing some poking around playing some rock tunes on the piano and, and I was introduced my first introduction, this is hilarious, because you mentioned this name earlier, and we'll talk about that later. But I remember this piano teacher put on some Oscar Peterson and I must have looked like a deer in headlights. Like, you know, my jaw must have been hanging on the floor and my eyes must have been glazed over or something because he only let me listen to about like three minutes and he took the needle off the took the needle off the record said, Okay, let's try something else.

Yeah, so, so anyway, he grabbed a Billy Taylor album, ah, and he put Billy Taylor on. And it was interesting, because Billy Taylor, when I heard Billy Taylor, I got very excited, because that seemed kind of more like, down to earth. Straight ahead. Jazz. I mean, Oscar is a virtuoso. Right. So he just blew me away. So Billy Taylor was my first really first idol jazz idol that I admired, that I started to try to emulate.

Ron Drotos  16:58  
Oh, wow. Small world. Yeah. So yeah, Billy, when I, when I was in college, you know, I was at the University of Connecticut. And my freshman year, you know, this before the internet, right? And so this is what have been summer of 8282. Summer of 83. So spring of 83. I saw a, an ad that at University of Massachusetts, they had a jazz in July program, Billy Taylor, and I knew the name. And I said, because because he wrote for keyboard magazine, remember keyboard?

Dr. Bob Lawrence  17:28  
I sure do. Remember.

Ron Drotos  17:31  
At first I was reading an article and I said, Oh, check this out. So I sent in a cassette tape and got accepted. And I went back for four summers and stay in touch with them throughout the year. Very nice man. And you know, we ever I didn't push it. But once in a while, you know, I'd asked him, Hey, you want to go out to dinner? And so we got to dinner, Chinese restaurant, nothing. And I'd go see him play. He made me some cassette tapes of then out of print albums by Billy stray horn and Duke Ellington. And, you know, he was a direct connection with our Tatum, you know, Have you have you read his book? It's jazz piano a history.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  18:06  
Let me see. Let me let me see. I happen to be talking about this one. Unbelievable. Oh, yeah. You're talking about this one. What do you think you're talking to a hack here? Man, what do you want a comic book? It's not a comic book. But it's, you know what, that I recommend that book all the time. Because I think it's, it's such a really concise, and great way to get acclimated to the jazz scene, the history of jazz, it's fabulous.

Ron Drotos  18:38  
Yeah, he tells a story in there, which, which, in retrospect, sometimes gets me a little emotional. You know, why did he take an interest in this kid who hadn't maybe I had the spark right. But I'd have a lot of previous training and everything but I was soaking up when he could absorb but he tells the story in there. You'll remember when he went to C Fats Waller and he was a teenager, and he wanted to ask fats a question and he choked up he froze up and fats walked right by him. And he said he would never pass up the opportunity of asking one of the masters question and I would ask millions of questions. How do you do this? What was it like doing that? And I remember walking across campus with them to lunch and just like you know, asking about our Tatum and and everything and I think he saw a little bit of his younger self and me

Dr. Bob Lawrence  19:24  
Yeah, you know, we we could have if things would have been a little differently. We might have been neighbors man, because when I was finishing up my I had finished my master's degree at the University of North Texas and was starting my doctorate degree and he was down at u and T. Doing, you know, masterclasses and some clinics and stuff. And my classical teacher down there introduced me to him and we spent the week together and he invited me to come to New York and, and, and to study with him, and I had just started I was really just in the beginning throes of my of my doctorate. And I thought about it and I told him, I was gonna stay and finish my doctorate and then I would I would connect with him. Of course, that never happened because I just stayed and did my doctorate and then stayed in Texas. But I do recall him being such a nice. Such a nice guy.

Ron Drotos  20:17  
Yeah, really. And coincidentally, at when I moved to New York, I lived in Manhattan for 16 years, but now I live right near his, his old neighborhood. Based I saw him once. Excuse me, I saw him once he had had a stroke. And I didn't really follow up. I wanted to respect the fact that he had gotten more famous and everybody wants a piece of that, right. But I have my kids babysitter lived in his building, and we dropped him dropped her off one day, and I saw him getting in the elevator. And I said, Hi, and it's nice.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  20:44  
That's awesome. That's awesome. So okay, so then you so then you go to university, Connecticut, is that where you studied music? Is that where your is this? Okay, so tell us, tell us a little about your formal education days and college days. Yeah,

Ron Drotos  20:58  
I I went for four and a half years, because I just wanted to take the classes I wanted to take I just got a bachelor's in music composition, classical composition. And at the same time, they had some jazz classes. And there was a teacher named Ellen row who was excellent to like Jessica,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  21:17  
and they probably had jazz classes, but not a jazz degree. Is that correct?

Ron Drotos  21:21  
Correct. They might have a jazz now I'm not sure. But they have jazz classes. And so they got Ellen, who was an excellent is an excellent teacher, and a great person. And my first year was, I caught the end of the career of someone contemporary Billy Taylor's name Hale Smith. He's a contemporary classical composer who had also played jazz around that same era as Billy, they were born in 25 and 24, respectively, or whichever. And he could really get that stride going, you know, the walking tense and a slow, relaxed stride he played, but he was good friends with Dizzy Gillespie, he had taught Eric Dolphy how to play. You know, these people would go to him, they he had Eric worked out of Hindemith's elementary training for musicians. Together, he taught Eric out of that, which is what may have led Dolphy to be able to hear those poly chords and everything. Yeah. And no, it's on me.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  22:13  
Yeah. Hey, another real quick story on Billy Taylor. He was down here in Texas. I can't remember the exact year. It was in the 90s, I guess, late 90s. And he was playing at borders, books and records. Wow, that's kind of like a Borders Books. And I don't know if you're familiar with that chain. It's no longer around. But it's kind of like Barnes and Noble. Right. Right. So I said, Man, I'm gonna reconnect with Billy Taylor, I'm gonna go down and check it out. He's playing that he's playing at borders, books and record and I can remember thinking, you know, it's kind of odd, right? I don't get whatever, you know. So I'm going to I'm going down. Well, no one was there. I mean, it was just like Billy Taylor there and sitting at the piano, and I'm sitting next to him. And I'll never forget it right. Because, you know, they had the coffee. You know how those bookstores have a coffee, the coffee shop built into the bookstore, right? So he's sitting there playing, playing, all the things you are, Revert everything, all the changes and everything in the right hand soloing and playing melody in the left hand, just flip flop how we're used to playing it, right? And my job is just like, on the floor. One of the high school girls come up come up from the coffee bars as she can you keep it down. You're playing a little too loud. And I was like, wow. tell you how nice a guy he was. He nodded his head and he said, okay, and he just Billy Taylor. Yeah, it's unbelievable.

Ron Drotos  23:47  
That's amazing. Yeah, the other arrangement I need to do this thing Yes. He would do that whole whole thing. And it's what he had gotten from our Tatum, but he made it his Billy had the as you as you know, he had the ability to play in the style of

Dr. Bob Lawrence  24:11  
so many. Oh my gosh, right.

Ron Drotos  24:13  
When he played his own stuff, it was uniquely him. You didn't really need to do that.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  24:20  
Yeah, there's no doubt he could be the rich little of jazz piano, there's, you know what I mean? He could he could imitate anybody, no doubt about it. So okay, so go back here. So go back you so you finish your degree at Canadian university Connecticut. And so then so then what happens you got your you got your you say composition,

Ron Drotos  24:40  
music composition, a great classical composition. Okay. So

Dr. Bob Lawrence  24:42  
you graduate with the music composition degree, and I know you had to say, well, now what? Well?

Ron Drotos  24:51  
Well, first of all, when I was in school, there wasn't there was a connecting thing, a connecting thread because when I was in school, some of the As musicians, we are in the music department for vocalists. And for instrumentalists a rhythm section we started a band, we called it Grand Central. And it was like the Manhattan transfer. We had the four okay, we're part harmony and and we used to play weddings and bars and restaurants. But we also we used to open for famous groups at the New Haven Jazz Festival. So we don't even for Dave Brubeck and Glenn Miller orchestra and Lionel Hampton, we play for 25 26,000 people sometimes so and that, that that continued after college. So I did have some gigs. And I moved back to Stamford, Connecticut, where my parents were and live with them for two years. And I come into Manhattan and I would just, there was a lot of music at that time. And remember those the musicians from the 50s were still active. One of my best friend's father's was Sal Salvador, the rest you had played with Stan Kenton. And it was just wonderful. You could you had access to these people. And so I I just tried to make connections and gig locally and everything. And I would take lessons with Harold Danko.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  26:07  
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely. Exactly.

Ron Drotos  26:10  
Harold. He had played with Chet Baker, and he had just finished playing with Gerry Mulligan. I'd

Dr. Bob Lawrence  26:16  
come in for like, two lessons, fabulous pianos, two or three

Ron Drotos  26:20  
lessons a year with him. And when I moved to Manhattan, Harold would send me some like beginning piano students that he hadn't had enough time to. Yeah, that's very generous, nice person, a great player. So I'd come in a few times a year and just check in with him. And he said, he goes wrong. You know, Jerry Mulligan's looking for an assistant. You know, it's not playing piano, but it's carrying his sax because he can't carry sax event back and you know, you'll go to Europe a few time whatever. And copy photocopying music, it was very easy. So and he lived about 15 minutes from me and Connecticut. He lived in Darien. So I'd go over his house like three hours a day and photocopy music and this and I got to Europe. Let's see three times. We went to it was incredible. And one one times with this big band and we hit all the jazz festivals in Europe like the North Sea, Montreux, and I would I would just get you know, all he had to do was get up in the morning, bring the drums to the bus, bring the three cases of music to the bus and then basically do nothing for 12 hours and then got to meet Dizzy Gillespie everybody and not

Dr. Bob Lawrence  27:23  
smart. Yeah. How cool is that? I'm curious when you were already Jerry Mulligan's house, you know, just him, you know in his jammies and your you know, whatever hanging out and did you ever go hey, man, let's play a tune.

Ron Drotos  27:36  
No, you know, a couple of times we did. He wasn't the kind of person he he was you wouldn't really go there with him if he didn't want to do it. But we did play a few times. We played some blues together. I think he just wanted to hear how I could play and that was a thrill. But you know what he would do? He wasn't a really formally educated musician. He picked up everything he knew from hanging out, you know, he wanted to learn classical music because he was Jerry Mulligan and he had a house in Milan, his wife was from Italy. He had an open invitation to just go to La Scala and sit there with a score during rehearsal. So that's how we learned how to write to put an origin but but he was self taught basically but he he would ask me like, you know, Rana, can you play this lead sheet you know the tune, he just right? He's like, can you play this and let me know if you like, how I wrote the chords like should it be F minor six or D minor seven flat five or something? You know? Yeah, right. I opinion on chord notation. Sometimes it's which staggered me but I'll tell you that thing I learned from Jerry the most. I'd never seen anybody give 110% every single minute. tuning up his ass, putting the mouthpiece in his mouth, he turned bright red and the veins would protrude on his neck. He was that focus? Yeah, intense, right. Never seen that before. And I've seen it's, you know, but but but never before that.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  29:00  
Well, why? Why? You know, it's so wild that you've had such a great you know, start here, you are now out of college or traveling with Gerry Mulligan. Now you're back and professionally, man. And this is where I want to get to now. I mean, holy moly. You, you know, you got a lot of irons in the fire my friend. So we're gonna try to talk about some of those if that's okay with you. Yeah, absolutely not my first my first introduction to you was, you know, as we, as we all poke around on the internet, you know, and find things. You have this program out there. I don't know if you're still doing it. Or if it's all it's all complete, but you are going through the real book, like, like a journey through the real book, like every single tune in the real book, and you were teaching that tune to whoever wanted to sit and listen and learn from you. So it was like a lesson from you on that song and format was I'm just gonna go from A to Z through the real book. So can you talk about that project? How did that come about? And where is it now? And how did how did it all come together?

Ron Drotos  30:12  
Yeah, it's interesting. I'm on I'm on 248 at a for myself an eight year project one, eight years, but now I'm doing two weeks. I want to get through this. But yeah, it's, uh, you know, my whole YouTube, you know, is an extension of my video course. You know, what, keyboard 2012. And my, it's funny how a little German I used to like music, you know, Beethoven did this. And then it became a big symphony. Right, right, that little idea. So so the real the old real book is you remember the fifth edition? Oh, I know. Wasn't quite legit. Yeah. They, at the bottom of each page, they used to have a saw an album, right? So autumn leaves at the bottom. Right. Right, right. Bill Evans portrait in jazz.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  31:00  
Exactly. Right.

Ron Drotos  31:02  
And then so you know, just 1111 source for this in before the internet, because so you can at least hear how the tune goes. You got this great bill, though. So. So I said, with the internet, I said, and this new version of the real book, which is great, but they don't do that. So I said, my first thought was just make a blog post and find for all 400 songs and the new real book idea to put an album Yeah, great. Well, you know, I can really create a resource. So the first thing I did was I created what I call the jazz pianist, ultimate guide to the real book where I have 400 separate pages, one page for each tune, where I list some recordings, I put some links to videos, I put links to resources, like transcriptions of the tune or someone's Oh, soloing some of my stuff. And I created 400 pages with an index and everything that's on my keyboard improv website. And that was getting some some good feedback really helping people out right. Then I said, you know, I should make a video for each one. And I'm also doing it to keep myself you know, challenged and everything because out. Because because you know how many of those Ornette Coleman tunes that we ever learn? That Coleman's, chippy is 59 or something? I can't avoid this. I put this out in the public that I'm going to do every tune in the order of the

Dr. Bob Lawrence  32:22  
book. Oh, I know it. I thought you were very brave man. When I when I when I heard that as I've been hitting now. There's a brave soul right there.

Ron Drotos  32:29  
I'm nothing if not brave. So clueless and bravery. You're like, you know, heading in the battle. And wait a minute, where's my bagpipes? You know? I'll be the bagpipe

Dr. Bob Lawrence  32:43  
player for you, man.

Ron Drotos  32:46  
Exactly. So um, so like on that tune, for instance, you know, not many people have really solved the problem of playing Ornette Coleman's tunes on piano really, he didn't really care that much. So that was I took the melody, which has different rhythms. It's like a bebop melody on chippy. And I played it in the left hand as quarter notes. And I made it my walking baseline. Yeah. And I improvised. So it makes it makes me be creative and solve these problems, and then share it with people and try to get them to get beyond the notes. And it's really the other thing, though, that I tried to do, you know, being in, I don't think I'm not one of these people who thinks the old days of the good old days and right. But the internet's amazing. It's why we're doing this today. Right? Correct. Right? Right. But on the other hand, there is you want to get the best of both worlds. And that's not as many people are getting these days. So so it's all about licks and chord scales. And this and, and not many people are understanding that even these tunes were often sung original, right, right. No, these these tunes that were pop songs. Yeah.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  33:50  
Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm just gonna say you bring up a such a great point. Because in the jazz world, and with students in the jazz world, they've often fall into that trap, right? That old is, you know, old is outdated. And new is hip. You know, I just I just mentioned that this, I just mentioned this on a podcast episode not too long ago, that don't, don't, please do not fall in the trap of thinking that traditional shell voicings are somehow inferior to chord voicings, and right and don't and don't fall into the trap of thinking that a seventh chord is somehow superior to a triad or ninth is superior to a seventh you know, that happen? It happens all the time. And you and I, as educators have to help people No, avoid that trap.

Ron Drotos  34:34  
Yeah, I saw you know, Chick Korea was putting out videos right from his home. And I'm one of them. I forget which one but he said when he was starting out as a kid he played take the A train like this what I call a simple strike, because you don't

Dr. Bob Lawrence  34:52  
Right, right, right, right. And these

Ron Drotos  34:54  
days, people go right to rootless Thirteen's, which is way right I don't even know the seventh chord sometimes. And then they get frustrated. Like, right 30 tunes like that. It's what I call moving laterally. Right? Yeah, right.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  35:08  
Right, right. Yeah. Well, you know, and I tried to tell young students I said you want you know, the best syllabuses for studying jazz? It's already been, it's already been created, it's called history. Start at the beginning. Just follow the historical evolution of it, but you can't just throw out, you know, 100 years and jump in at Chick Korea and go okay, here we go. You know, and so many. So oftentimes, people tried to do that as well.

Ron Drotos  35:38  
Exactly. So the real beginning of jazz would have been literally jazzing up the melodies, right? That's exactly right. melodies, right, before you're learning your right. skills. So, absolutely. So

Dr. Bob Lawrence  35:53  
I used to, I used to have a teacher who used to say that if you can't improvise with the melody, you have no business trying to improvise. That's great. You know, so, so Okay, so this real book project is going on? You're in the throes of that you have your website. What's the title of your website? Again? Keyboard? Yeah, okay, awesome. So you got your website, you got the real book thing, you got a new book that I want to talk about. And you know, all of that all of these projects, all of these projects can be put under one big umbrella called educator, music educator, music teacher. And in order to be a music educator, or a music teacher, to be involved with all the various projects that you're involved with, you have to have a real passion for it. And you have to have a heart for it, what I call a teacher's heart. So take a second and talk about your teacher's heart. Because somewhere along the line, somewhere along the line, the teacher's heart erupted. And you got involved in wanting to share and teach. Talk about that for a second.

Ron Drotos  37:02  
Yeah, that's a tricky one. That's a really good question, Bob. I don't know when it started. I probably you know, with with you, too. It probably started much earlier than we think we were probably the other kids showing the people in the sandbox. How the amount of water in the pail to get the council. Yeah, good point. Yeah. So it must have started back then. Because but I think what it comes down to is the going back to like my high school and college years, and even even when I was playing Broadway, you know, you come you come into contact with a group of musicians that that just love it. And you just cheer and you help each other out and this right, no, and and I think it's the same thing with with students. I'm, you know, it did start early. You know, in high school. One of my jobs was as the busboy at a restaurant, so I'd clear the tables and everything in Stamford, Connecticut, and one day and they don't operate piano one day, they get this guy who's probably about 30 years old to come in and play and sing. And his name was Tony, we became friends. And after the shift, he's like, pack it up. And being a musician. I went up and I said, Hey, you sound great. You know, I play piano too. And he's like, I'll play something for me. So I played during that dream or something, you know, wow. And he wasn't really a jazz or he was more like a Billy Joel type and some jazz, but we're really good at that, you know, but he wanted to learn more about harmony. So he said, Can you give me lessons? I'm the busboy, the restaurant 17. My house? Well, that's great man. started there. And I just love it. Because I find Well, first of all, I love it personally. Because it's very gratifying to get people to the point where they can where the water begins to flow, they can start making fluid and it's like Billy Taylor used to always tell me that he probably told you, he said, we learn. We learned to improvise the same way we learn language.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  39:06  
Oh, yeah, absolutely. That's 100% True.

Ron Drotos  39:10  
Yeah. And and so, it the the analytical way of thinking, Okay, I've got this chord, I've got this scale, or I'm playing the third that has a place but it's not the first thing we do when we learn language. Nobody's telling a toddler. Okay. We're gonna have the theory of adjectives. That would hold them back, right? Oh, man. Right. You can't say that word again until you say it correctly.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  39:37  
Oh, my gosh, right. Well, you know, being a rock band,

Ron Drotos  39:41  
or, you know, whatever the equivalent is with our music. We need to jam with musicians who are at our level and have so much fun. It never occurred to me as a teenager whether I was playing well or not.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  39:53  
Yeah, well, you know, I don't know if you're familiar with if you're familiar with this book, man. I'm if you're familiar with this book, I'm going to be thoroughly impressed. But just like if you're not just lying to me enough, I'll still be thoroughly impressed. This is a book by Christopher Small. And it's called musicking. And Christopher Small is no longer with us. But he was, you know, he never wanted to be pinned down as a music sociologists or music psychologist or music anthropologist, or you know, he never wanted, you didn't want labels. But the one thing he talks about in his book and why I keep it on my shelf, is he talks about how we got to stop treating music as a noun and start treating it as a verb. It's what we do. And you bring up this language thing and Billy Taylor referencing language, he was saying that musical expression, your, your ability, your your, that it's a birthright, you have a birthright to be musically expressive, just like you have a birthright to speak. And so, our job is to help everybody tap into their birthright, of being expressing themselves musically. And like you said, some of us are better with words than others. Some of us can write better than others. But we never say to the person who's not great with words, don't ever talk again. Yeah, we never we never say that a person who's not good at is not the greatest at writing, saying, hey, you know, what, don't ever sit down and pour your heart out? In letter? Don't ever do that. We never say to somebody who's a bad golfer, stop golfing.

Ron Drotos  41:27  
Right? They never said that to themselves. But with music, we say to ourselves sometimes.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  41:32  
Exactly. And so our job is to help people regardless of where they are within the confines of their skills, is that have them have the courage, and we'll talk about that a little bit. Cuz you talked about that in your book, the courage to sit down and just express yourself musically at whatever level that that you play, and it's going to be fantastic.

Ron Drotos  41:55  
Yeah, there's another aspect to which you're sort of applying to the benefits we get from playing music are independent of our, quote, talent or ability. Correct. Just the, you know, the happy chemicals that are released. Oh, my gosh, distressing the community aspect, right. Yeah.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  42:13  
Yeah. Because I, you know, I tell students all the time, Jesus, if the criteria was that we all had to play with the technical, the technical skills and ability of Oscar Peterson, well, then, here's my piano, you can have it done. It's over, it's over for me, I can no longer play, you know, so. So, so Okay, so you obviously have this teacher's heart. So let's talk about, let's talk about this book that you have. I love it the inner game of piano improvisation. Fantastic. So, how did this project come about?

Ron Drotos  42:50  
Well, you know, I've been writing well, one of the things I started doing in 2012, when I created my keyboard website was I started writing a blog, you know, at first with, like, with many bloggers, that at first, sort of a weird term, right? Bloggers,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  43:07  
I've never got, I never got it. But anyway,

Ron Drotos  43:10  
a blogger too. So whatever that means. So you write like once a month, and you get an idea for something, you write another and then I started challenging myself to write every day for a while. I don't, I don't write every day anymore. But but over 10 years, like I have, like, I don't know, 1300 blog posts. And then, you know, and a weekly news letter, I do a newsletter just to my students, my online students, and then I do another one to mailinglists people sign up for my newsletter. And so I probably had about 1800 of these things I've written over the years. So last December 2021, I took my kids skiing in upstate New York and and I don't ski so if you or anybody else is watching has been at a ski lodge for eight hours, two days in a row, you know that you want to find something to do. So I brought my laptop and I had my cup of tea and hot chocolate for them when they came in. And I, I said, You know what? There's a book in here. So I created a Word document and I spent eight hours dragging like about 250 of these that had to do with the inner game, the mental game, the healthy attitude about improvisation and some nuts and bolts and practice ideas. And then the next day, I went back and I spent eight hours dividing it into 20 chapters. And then I spent the next and I thought it was almost done, while eight months. Eight months later, I managed to organize it in a way that has a flow, I cut out redundancies and I have a chapter and it takes the reader on a journey. What is improvisation relating into our everyday life and that we are creative and getting over that to letting the Music Flow the cure for you know, practice paralysis, I call When people are overwhelmed, they don't do anything. Right. Right. Your Practice paralysis all the way through. I have a whole chapter on practicing. I call it into the woodshed Yes. One, one on jazzman, and then going beyond what we think is possible with ourselves. And I also made over three hours of audio links. So

Dr. Bob Lawrence  45:19  
yeah, that's really impressive, man. Because in the book, right, you click on those links, or you scan the link, and it takes you right to a video presentation that you do. And it's really impressive. I as I was reading your book and going through it, I was, you know, the only thing well, before it just after I after the enjoyment of the content, I that my second thought is, oh, Lee, how much work? How much time did that all that take? Because that's, that's quite a project.

Ron Drotos  45:47  
Yeah, yes. And I wrote some new stuff for it, too. It's not just the blog post. But I think I think I hope when you read it, you felt read as a book. It's not sections, but it has a flow. And

Dr. Bob Lawrence  45:58  
oh, it's very user friendly. So what I want to do, I'm going to do it, can I, I'm just going to throw out a couple chapter titles. And I want you to talk about those chapters. Because I love the chapter titles. I'm just gonna, I'm just gonna throw out the chapter and then let you talk about it. Okay. So the very first chapter, what is improvisation? Oh, come on, man. Tell me.

Ron Drotos  46:21  
Yeah, you know, in our society now we're, you know, we have such a high mental bar that we think, to be to improvise is this huge, creative step that that, you know, in order to play well on piano and improvise, the planets have to align right in the right way. Lightning has to hit me twice. And I have to play 10 times better than I've ever played before in order to sound decent. Right, right. That's improvising. But you know, but we improvise every time we go to the refrigerator to see what's in there to make a sandwich. And if there's no mayo, we use mustard that's improvising. Right? Every time we spread the mayonnaise on the sandwich, we improvise the amount. Right? Right.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  47:06  
We are improvised improvisation, right? Yeah, we're

Ron Drotos  47:08  
improvising. Every time we speak. We don't know what I'm not gonna plan out. Okay. When I see my friend, I'm gonna be sure to ask her how her day was. And then I'll segue into this, you know, we improvise, we use the language and music is no different. It's like Billy Taylor said, so that's my proposition. Well, you're already improvising every day, almost everything we do in life is improv improvising.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  47:31  
Yeah. Once somebody starts to realize that hopefully, the fear of doing that with the piano starts to evaporate and go away, you know, so, I love that you addressed it right away very first chapter. So okay, so, okay, how about this one? And this, I think this is a great one, you have a chapter called Operation theory overload. And, you know, in today's age, I got to just tell you, man, it was bad enough when we were growing up, right, it was, it was bad enough we could get we would go get books, you know, we would buy the entire Jamie ever saw catalog and begin reading it, you know, there's information that we could get our hands on. But today, oh my goodness, it's even worse, right? With the internet. There's all kinds of videos in and documents and PDFs and everything that you can have access to. So it's easy for somebody to overdose. overload on theory. So talk about this chapter. And what was your goal with inserting this into your book?

Ron Drotos  48:29  
Okay, yeah. So first of all, I really want to point out that almost every book and video made is is probably very valid and well intentioned and expert no doubt. Right? No doubt itself. The challenge is that there is general advice. It's not saying to a particular person, okay, you're at this stage right now, you can play GTA train like this, I think the best step for you might be to learn the rules, voicings now but you let's take a little step back and work on playing it in tempo with a simple stride. And you're gonna learn how to play the modes, you're going to learn, you know, so, so that's what's missing and you combine millions of dictums like you have to do this, you have to do that you have to do the five ways to do this, the five ways to do that, you if you want to sound good, you have to learn these 30 techniques. And you multiply that by however many instructors and students are, it's this avalanche of overlay. And I think if the reason I came up with that title is I think if if, if anybody or a group of people in say 1980 wanted to prevent future generations from feeling good about themselves, and really learning how to improvise or play jazz or rock or whatever, they would invent operation theory, okay, we're gonna overload them with theory to the point where they talk about practice paralysis, where they just do anything, right. It's insane. It's amazing. So

Dr. Bob Lawrence  49:59  
well, and you know, You know what else is interesting that I have found in my years of teaching? And I'm guilty? I personally have been guilty of this in my journey. Isn't it funny how we hear things that were never stated in reading these books and getting advice. Like, for instance, I'll give you a great example. I hear every jazz musician on the face of planet earth and every book that I've ever read, I've heard musicians say that you should, you should practice in all 12 keys. Right? That's good advice. And I used to I used to read that I used to read that advice. I read that sentence as an incomplete sentence. And I would put at the end of that sentence every day. And I realized that no, I realized that no one told me to practice in all 12 keys every day. They told me to practice in all 12 keys.

Ron Drotos  50:46  
That's interesting. Yes, yes.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  50:48  
Did you see what I'm saying? Yeah, so I actually put upon myself when I was reading into the material that which wasn't even there, making my my journey even harder, even more difficult. And when I realized that, wait a minute, I don't have to practice. Yes, I should be practicing in all 12 keys, but not every day.

Ron Drotos  51:09  
That's or you could somebody else might say I have to practice jazz standards in every key. Good, right? So maybe the way to start would be playing Mary Had a Little Lamb and F sharp. Right, and just go right, that's, that's the part that we often need somebody to guide us with. Right? Well,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  51:28  
that's exactly right. You know, transcriptions is a great a great example of this. I start I start students with transcribing, Hank Williams Senior tune, or Willie Nelson tune, right? Who says you have to your first transcription has to be Bill Evans, for heaven's sakes, oh, my gosh, are you kidding me? You know, so but But it's interesting how we get this theory overload going and we start piling it on, whether intentional or not intentional, it happens. And it's like you said paralysis, it actually prevents us it's stagnation. It prevents us from moving forward. Yeah, exactly. So, okay, so I got another title for you here. Speaking to that, which is a perfect segue in this enjoying the journey is another chapter that you have

Ron Drotos  52:16  
enjoyed the journey. Yeah, I mean, I think classical pianists, least some of them can do this. You know, certainly Rock and Pop. But a classical pianist might look at a piece of music that's very difficult, like a Chopin Etude. And it's kind of fun working it out, like, Okay, I'm gonna play this left hand 30,000 times faster each time. And that they're enduring, they're enjoying the journey. They're not waiting until they can play it perfectly to enjoy it at least somewhat. But with with jazz, we tend to say, okay, you know, I can't play giant steps at lightspeed, you know, so, I'm a failure, and I can't play and I hate this. But you know, what have you another thing I talked about? I think I'm one of the audio that is, what if you took giant steps and okay, my journey right now is to just get to know these core. Yeah, good point. I'm just gonna listen to them. And I'm actually going to enjoy listening to them. Right. You know, I can't play it fast. I can't play them in rootless voicings, I can't improvise like John Coltrane. Yeah. Enjoy the journey. So this is a thing that that I did get from that high school rock band and our four ways that forays into jazz, we would just play one chord, A minor seven, and improvise. never even occurred to me that I needed to practice it in all 12 keys that same day, I mean, for months, we just played one chord for 20 minutes a day. And we loved it.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  53:46  
Well, you know, what's funny about that run, is I tell students all the time, that's actually the that's actually the highest form of musical expression that, that that you can do when you bathe in a sound when when you have the courage to sit down and bathe in that sound. That takes there's a lot of, there's a lot of joy in that there's a lot of fun that can take place in that there's a lot of lab latitude that you have with that, you know, and I've always used as an example, I always, I always tell students in my office in my studio here, I said, you know, if Miles Davis came back to life and came into this room right now, as he was getting his horn out, and he would say, what are we going to play? And if I said to Miles Davis, we're going to jam on C minor. As he was blowing into his mouthpiece. He would say, Cool, who? Who's going first? You and me. That In other words, that would not be a shocking statement to him. That's right. That would not be a shocking statement to him. He would go like cool, what's the groove and who's going first? I mean, after all, so what right? The basically, you know, let you stretch. So it's funny how something like that. That can be a lot of times again, students will perceive that as being rudimental one chord one chord. Are you kidding me? How babyish is that? It's not babyish. I think it's the highest form of musical exploration that you can you can undertake.

Ron Drotos  55:09  
Oh, absolutely. And look at look at raagas in India. Yeah, right. Gregorian chant or different Irish, Irish music, you know, traditional, it's on one scale. Right, right. Right. You go to a medieval fair or renaissance fair and there. That's not very different than just a different rhythm. But it's right. It's type of music.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  55:37  
Right. Right. Excellent point, man. Okay, so here's, here's another title, another chapter in your book, which I think is very important. And I think a lot of times students kind of we missed the boat here. listening, listening,

Ron Drotos  55:55  
listening. Hmm.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  55:58  
Right. Right. Check. Great chapter, by the way.

Ron Drotos  56:01  
Thank you. Thank you. i So this musician I studied with in college, Hale Smith. He had the best ears out of anybody I've ever met Best Musical ears. I mean, literally, he could he could, he could look at Stravinsky score. And if somebody left out a note, he would know which note was left. And, you know, unbelievable. You know, like, people, you know, what famous musicians would look up to him, you know, for his ear and everything. He had a statement that shocked me, he said a musician that cannot hear is like a painter that cannot see. And, and I realized how vague my conception of hearing listening to music was, you know, like not hearing details or, or I remember the first time in college when he or somebody else suggested that I improvise. And, and I just play the notes I hear in my head.

Which sounds so obvious right now to do that. But that seems weird. Like, really, I have to listen to what's in my head and play. And so it all comes down to listening. And I think it was Count Basie? I'm not sure. I think it was a good morning blues, his autobiography. I think he might have mentioned that he had a one word answer to any musical question. So anybody asked me a question. You'd say listen, so ask any question, how do I keep a steady beat? Listen, listen. And what am I listening for? I'm listening for the space between the nodes. I'm listening to my own internal flow. I'm listening to the other musicians, listening will solve almost any musical problem. And then when the part that it doesn't solve, then you bring the theory into it, not the other way around.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  57:46  
Yeah, you know, it's interesting, the listening followed by listening followed by a very important question. The question should always be, what was that? What was that? And what I mean by that, I tell students all the time, because I, you know, you've probably experienced this with your teaching. When it comes to listening. When it comes to musical ears, like the quote that you just said, you know, a musician who cannot hear is like a painter who cannot see, right? Well, a lot of times when saying that to a student, like a beginning student, fear will come over their face, because they're thinking in the back of their mind. I can't hear. I don't I don't hear like what you're hearing. And I always remind them that I always say to them, If I said to you dog barking Do you hear that? And they say yes. So we don't need a dog barking right now for you to hear that. Right? Correct. If I say helicopter, can you hear that? How about police car siren? Can you hear that? And they of course the answer to all that is yes. I said, I said these are I said, See, these are sounds that you have become familiar with that you can identify? Well, music is sound. And so if you if you can't hear a major seventh right now, it's not because your ears are bad. You haven't been introduced the sound, and you haven't practiced and studied the sound so that your ears can recall it just like it recalled dog barking or helicopter. Right? Now joy comes over their face because they realize, Wow, well then introduce me to the sounds. And that's where you and I come in as educators, we have to introduce people I always say all the time to the shapes and sounds of music. And once you get introduced to those shapes and sounds, it's amazing how smart you become.

Ron Drotos  59:41  
Absolutely. And also listening is like you were saying before with music or with the verb. It's not. It's not it's not the ideal that you want to get to in 30 years to start with. It's towards that direction. It's like walking. Right moving towards there. I'm walking

Dr. Bob Lawrence  59:58  
you Exactly right.

Ron Drotos  1:00:01  
I am and I'm trying to get over there.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:00:03  
I'm listening. That's exactly right. Okay. You mentioned this chapter. You mentioned this chapter a little early too. So I want you to just expound on, expound on it a little bit into the woodshed into the woods. Yeah, it's uh, you know, going into the woodshed is a very common expression amongst amongst musicians, but for those who may not be familiar with that, talk to us a little bit what you mean about going into the woodshed?

Ron Drotos  1:00:27  
Okay, so you picture a house, the backyard, snowing in a wooded area usually or maybe not. And in the days before central heating people would have a shed you know, usually a Wallace without walls but a roof to protect the from the rain and they'd have their firewood there that's called a woodshed. And it's not really originally for pianists, but with saxophonists and very loud horns, if they practiced repetitive things that maybe the neighbors didn't always want to hear or the family members scales and such. They would go out to the woodshed to practice so they're protected from the elements and it's a little farther away. You know, I don't think Charlie Parker had a woodshed. And his mother got apparently got threatened with eviction because he was playing the word about routine 16 hours a day.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:01:17  
Yeah, I can understand.

Ron Drotos  1:01:19  
So now it's a generic term. That means even for piano players in your house, that we go into the woodshed when we sit down, and we really buckle down. Okay, I'm gonna really get this. So I use that as kind of a fun title of I think it's the longest chapter in the book. It's with practice ideas on how to practice what to practice practice schedules, specific ideas on how to practice.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:01:40  
Yeah. Yeah, that's fantastic. And then the last chapter of the book, I thought was so wonderful. And I'm glad you put it in there. The last chapter in your book is entitled, getting beyond what we think is possible. Yeah, so important. Let's talk a little bit about that.

Ron Drotos  1:02:01  
Yeah, well, it there's so much there. Because Because the truth is, nobody really talks about this. But we actually don't know what's possible for. We really have no idea what's possible for ourselves. I mean, and actually, I think, one place we do see it in life. And it's it's, it's, it's it's very unfortunate, though, but but people are put in positions that are impossible, whether it's in situations of war, or things where where, you know, you have to stay up for three days without sleeping, whatever, and are helping people that are hurt instead. And you find time after time, people go way beyond what they could have ever thought they could do. Right? I've never been in that position myself. I know people who have, so I'm not I'm not saying it lightly. But it just goes to show us as an example, that we can we have potential, and strength and abilities that and musics a great place to explore that like so you can look at it in two different ways. You could say, well, I can't ever envision myself playing John Coltrane's countdown. You know, at that tempo, right? Hey, I can envision myself playing it. I can do that. And if I can play it, what 50 beats per minute, try to 52. After a few months, I can probably get up to about 150 202 50 or in a few years. I'm beginner, just try it now come back to it. And I'm going way beyond what I thought was possible.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:03:48  
And you know what? And in the long run, you might end up just enjoying it better at 120. Anyway,

Ron Drotos  1:03:53  
absolutely. And there's no reason why you can't.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:03:55  
Exactly right. That's right. So why don't we do that? Oftentimes, I hear recordings, and I always go like, well, I like that tune played at a much slower tempo.

Ron Drotos  1:04:03  
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Because you can actually think you can express something. And then the other thing are the sort of quantum leaps like one time I in addition to jazz, I used to play a lot of Broadway I helped create a show called swing on a star and 90s and, and so I got called into this rehearsal wants to play for two weeks. And without any information they just said show up at a rehearsal studio on Broadway in 18th Street and at 10 in the morning, and I walk in, and there's 16 Dancers all dressed in black. And when Burton the legendary Broadway dancer and I met once she she did like me, I don't know why, but she helped me. So I walk in and I realized that the rehearsals for a show called Fossey, which eventually made it to Broadway. They did a workshop performance of for two weeks. And so I'm not a Fossey expert or anything you know, I I'm there because I can read music and I can play for dancers. That's why that was Tired and I'm good musician so So I show up and she looks at me and she says, Do you know big noise from Winnetka and and you know, I didn't I'd never heard of it tonight it's a Gene Krupa. Big Band. But I've never heard of it at that time. And I said, No. And one of the dancers says, Oh, I've got it. She says, I said, anybody have the music? And of course, nobody has the music. And they'd already choreograph to it, and they want me to play that arrangement. Oh my god. So one of the dancers said it was at some Fauci had done early on. So one of the dancers says, I have a cassette of it. So they played the cassette tape in front of 16 people, the producer, Richard Mawby, the choreographer, Chet Walker, and Gwen Verdon, who's choreographing this and she's one of the producers as posses widow. So, so they play it once. And I somehow, something clicked, I knew what key was in, I knew every single note and chord on that recording is about two minutes worth, I knew every rhythmic hit that they were going to do their Jazz Fossey stuff too. And I just started playing it while they choreographed. Whoa, and and I couldn't do that right now. But something in that moment, showed me what I am capable of at times. And then it comes through, you know, when I'm doing a real book, video or my performance now, but that was a glimpse of a much higher functioning in music than I ever experienced myself.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:06:26  
That's fantastic. That's fantastic. So you know, run, like I mentioned at the beginning, you know, here we are, man, we could go on all afternoon. I mean, we can go on all afternoon so you're gonna have to prime make me a promise here before we wrap things up, man, will you come back and join me on jazz panel skills again here in the near

Ron Drotos  1:06:46  
future? Oh, absolutely. Having a great time has

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:06:49  
so much so much to talk about and, and I definitely want to have you come back on so where do folks the book again? At Amazon, correct?

Ron Drotos  1:07:00  
Yeah, you can find the inner game of animal proposition at Amazon.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:07:04  
Your your website address, keyboard Right. And they can find all your videos YouTube.

Ron Drotos  1:07:14  
Ron's rotos Dr. O TOS keyboard improv Ron turtles.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:07:17  
And I'm going to post all that I'm going to post all that in the in the podcast episode as well that people can get get get in touch with you and get get access to all your great materials and information man, you know, on behalf of the entire jazz world, I want to just thank you for everything that you're doing, you know, every all the various aspects of education and jazz education that you are you have your feet and all these different in different places. And I just, I just can't thank you enough for all that you're doing for everyone for for for professional musicians like myself and for students that are that are at the beginning of their journey. Thank you.

Ron Drotos  1:07:56  
Oh, well. I'm speechless. But thank you so much. I mean, it's it just like with you. It's so gratifying. And it's total immersion and teaching performing. We get so much back from the people we're dealing with and helping so thank you for having me.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:08:15  
Ron, it's been it's been my pleasure. Thanks again. What we're gonna have you back on jazz piano skills here shortly.

Ron Drotos  1:08:20  

Dr. Bob Lawrence  1:08:22  
Thank you. Well, I hope you have found this interview with Mr. Ron rotos to be insightful and beneficial. You know, one of my mentors and teachers our friends would say to me after every lesson, never forget, the greatest thing about music is the people you meet through it. The privilege of meeting and spending time with Ron simply confirms owls sentiment 100% Now don't forget if you are a jazz panel skills member I will see you online Thursday evening at the jazz panel skills masterclass. That's going to be 8pm Central time to discuss this podcast episode featuring Ron in greater detail and to answer any questions that you may have about the study of jazz in general. As always, you can reach me by phone through the Dallas School of Music 972-380-8050 my extension here is 211 or you can send me an email Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Lawrence at jazz piano Or you can leave me a voice voice message through that nifty little widget found throughout the jazz panel Skills website called SpeakPipe. There is my cue. That's it for now. Until next week. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the pearls of wisdom shared by Ron frutos. And most of all, have fun as you discover, learn and play jazz piano

Transcribed by

Ron Drotos Profile Photo

Ron Drotos

Jazz Pianist, Educator, Author Entrepreneur

As a child, Ron Drotos began improvising on the piano, creating the dinosaur sounds he heard in his imagination. He spent his teenage years playing in jazz and rock bands, and in 1985 received a Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition from The University of Connecticut, where he studied with Hale Smith. During this time, Ron studied jazz piano with Dr. Billy Taylor, Walter Bishop, Jr., Harold Danko, and Ellen Rowe. From 1987-88, Ron worked as an assistant to the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and then began to pursue his own music career.

After moving to New York City in 1989, Ron served as Associate Music Director and created orchestrations for the Broadway musical Swinging On A Star, which received a Tony Award® nomination for Best Musical in 1995. Additional Broadway credits include Smokey Joe’s Café, The Life, and Fosse. Ron has orchestrated for the New York Pops Orchestra, with whom he has appeared several times at Carnegie Hall. He has been featured as Music Director on the 92nd St. Y’s famed “Lyrics and Lyricists” series. He has performed with vocalists Julius LaRosa, Judy Collins, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Nell Carter, and Giacomo Gates. In addition, Ron has taught at the Fairbanks (Alaska) Summer Arts Festival since 1999, where he has been inducted into the festival’s Hall of Fame.

In 2012, Ron created the website, through which he helps beginning to advanced pianists all over the world learn how to improvise with a sense of joy and fluency. In addition, Ron is the author of The Inner Game of Piano Improvisation, which is available on Amazon.