Hailing from Bali, Indonesia, 12 year-old jazz piano prodigy joey Alexander recently released his debut album My Favorite Things to great worldwide acclaim. This month we’ll examine a few key elements of Joey’s style and give you some exercises that illustrate some of his signature techniques.
1. Minor 11th and Major 7#5
Ex. 1 illustrates two important chord voicings in modern jazz; the Bmin11 on beat 3 of bar 2, and the B maj7#5 chord in beat 3 of bar 4. You’ll hear these chords everywhere in modern jazz piano. Notice the nice counterpoint as the major chord in bar 1 moves to minor in bar 2. The notes in bar 1 all come from the B major scale and in bar 2, from the B Dorian mode (B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A, B). The counterpoint continues as we modulate to keys a major third apart with the motion of “up a minor third, down a fifth.” In bar 4, beat 3, we have our cool maj7#5 voicing which is just a major seventh chord with a raised fifth.
2. Just Like Bach
Ex. 2 demonstrates Joey’s continued use of counterpoint, much like Bach, with him using both hands to navigate the chord changes. All of the material comes from the corresponding major or dominant scale, so practice your Hanon exercises! Practice soloing with both hands playing different melodies over chord changes. Try to divide your mind to make each hand create its own melody. Note that when one hand is very active, the other should rest a little. Also try to create nice consonant thirds and sixths between the two lines. It’s difficult at first, but after some practice it gets much easier. Look how the harmony is filled out with just a few notes in bar 2. Roots and thirds are a must to define the harmony, so make sure you work them in along with dominant seventh resolutions to the third of the next chord. Look for common tones in the harmony (like the D in beat 3 of bar 2), to move to different key centers.
3. Slow It Down
Ex. 3 illustrates how Joey sounds great on ballads. Here we start with a Bb Dorian (Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb) melody harmonized in thirds. In bar 2 beat 1, we have an
Abmaj13 voiced derived from a right hand fourth shape starting on F. Bar 2 beat 3 places a B triad over a D in the bass, resulting in a cool 13b9 voicing. We see more thirds in bar 3, this time in the right hand over a simple bass arpeggio and in G Dorian mode (G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F, G). At the end of the bar we have two more lush voicings and another Abmaj13 chord made with a fourth right-hand shape.
4. Modal Vamps
Ex. 4 is a modal vamp using our old friend the minor 11th voicing. In these right-hand clusters, I usually grab the bottom two notes with my thumb. This is how we can produce fat-sounding five-note chords. This example is in 5/4 time, so I’ve come up with an interesting ostinato that moves down to Dmin11 and then up to Gmin11. The left hand part is roots and fifths and mainly serves to rhythmically propel the section along.
5. The Real McCoy
Another inescapable influence on Joey’s playing is the iconic jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, seen in Ex. 5. Here we have a left-hand fourth vamp with a big fifth “power chord” on the downbeat in the style of McCoy. The right hand plays notes from the B minor pentatonic scale (B, D, E, F#, A, B) as the left hand keeps the steady rhythm. Try moving the right-hand part up or down a half step to get some “out” sounds of your own.
“Make sure to transpose these new voicings into all 12 keys in your spare time,” says keyboardist and composer Brian Charette, who has performed and recorded with artists like Joni Mitchell, Michael Bublé, and Rufus Wainwright in addition to leading his own jazz groups. Charette won Downbeat Magazine’s “Rising Star Organ” award in 2014 and recently released the album Alphabet City. He also has a new book out entitled 101 Hammond B-3 Tips: Stuff All the Pros Know and Use. Find out more at briancharette.com.