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What's The Difference Between Playing a Classical Piece and a Jazz Composition?


In this article, using my performances of Duke Ellington's Meditation and Duke Ellington's

Theme from New World A-Comin', I'll explain the difference between playing a classical piece and a jazz composition.

Since both pieces come from Duke Ellington's collection of Sacred works, you will have an easier time understanding the difference in interpretation.


What's The Difference Between Playing a Classical Piece and a Jazz Composition?

In this article, you'll learn the basics between playing a classical piece on the piano and a jazz composition. In addition, you'll see the areas of focus that both types of music require.

For classical compositions, your goal as a pianist is to:

  • Read all of the notes on the page accurately with precision

  • Follow all of the dynamic marks: louds, softs, crescendo, decrescendo

  • Execute all of the articulation (staccato, legato, marcato, etc) as well as the phrasing

For jazz compositions, your goal as a pianist is to:

  • Interpret the notes on the page so that the melody is recognizable even with embellishments

  • Include a variety of dynamic contrast as your see fit when playing the piece

  • Give your interpretation of the music color by using articulation and phrasing

For BOTH classical and jazz compositions, your goal as a pianist is to:

  • Always play with feeling

  • Always maintain solid /consistent tempo (except for Rubato sections)

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, it seems to me that the best way to show you the differences and similarities between playing a classical piece and a jazz composition, is to take two of Duke Ellington's sacred works and put my performances here together.

How I Became Familiar with Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts

Back in 1987, I began organizing, directing and programing jazz worship services at The Hartford Street Presbyterian Church in Natick, MA where I've been Music Director for 41 years. Shortly after the first service, I found a video of Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts . Not long after that, I was able to get a music book with several of the pieces. Within a short time, I began working with my choir and soloists on some of the pieces. Then I realized that there might be a royalty issue about performing the music with the vocal and instrumental ensemble. Besides the choir and me playing piano I had

Mike Monaghan on saxophones and Marshall Wood on bass. In order to find out how I could get permission to perform my selections from Ellington's Sacred Concerts, I did some research. Lo and behold, the person who held the copyright to the music was Ruth Ellington, sister of the great Duke. It was the time BEFORE the internet, so I called her on the phone. She couldn't have been nicer. She told me that she thought Duke would have appreciated what I was doing and as a result, I had permission to perform the 1988 Jazz Service at my church.


Ever since that time, I've played three of the pieces from time to time. One of which Come Sunday was featured in a recent blog post. And for today's post, I have included the other two.


Meditation is a classical piece in that all the notes are written on the page.

When you listen to my performance, notice that I played the notes that are written in the musical score. I also brought out the louds and softs, staccatos, legatos, tempo changes and phrasing. As I did with Theme from New World A- Comin', I also played with as much feeling as possible and maintained a steady tempo (except with Rubato sections).


Listen to Diana perform Duke Ellington's Meditation

Theme from New World A-Comin' is a jazz composition that allows room for interpretation.

When you listen to my performance, notice that I took liberties and embellished the notes that are written in the musical score. I made the decision to play through the piece rubato and then played it a-tempo. In addition to improvising sections, I played the piece with louds and softs, articulation and phrasing where I felt they'd work best. As I did with Meditation, I also played with as much feeling as possible and maintained a steady tempo (except with Rubato sections).

Listen to Diana perform Duke Ellington's Theme from New World A-Comin'


 

Want to Learn How To Play Jazz Compositions and Classical Pieces on the Piano?


You can do this when you take Piano Lessons Online this Summer with our Flexible Schedule Piano Lesson Programs.



 

Diana Mascari has taught piano to hundreds of adults and children for more than 40 years. She holds two Masters of Music degrees from New England Conservatory and taught keyboard harmony to music majors while pursuing doctoral studies at Boston University. Her work as music director for a multi-cultural Presbyterian Church has continued for four decades, and her jazz and classical compositions have been performed worldwide. Diana has been performing for more than 50 years. From solo jazz piano (her first love) to commercial groups touring the East Coast to leading her own jazz ensembles at many colleges and jazz clubs throughout New England. For questions or comments, please get in touch with me




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