The Unconservatory  

Jazz Music For the Left Hand

Here is a great question from one of our visitors and our response.

"I have had a stroke and am left with the ability to play the piano left handed only. Although classically trained, I am wanting jazz music for the piano, left hand only. Would you be able to help?"

Reply by Kirk Whipple (Additional material by Marilyn Morales)

Dear Friend,

I have written a "Rhapsody for the Left Hand," combining a fusion of classical and rock styles. If you are interested in the work (fairly difficult, duration: approx. 7.5 minutes) a score is available. Also, a performance of this piece was recorded by the author of "Playing Left Handed Piano Music" on our web site, Antonio Iturrioz. (available on cassette: "Music For 1 & 2 Pianos / 1, 2, & 4 Hands")

Beyond this, I do not know of any other jazz or popular pieces arranged for the left hand alone. The Unconservatory would be very happy to post any information regarding single pieces or collections for this very specialized repertoire. I do, however, have some practices to suggest.

As a performer of jazz music, myself, a complete solution to your inquiry would be to undertake jazz studies with a qualified pianist, composer and educator you trust. While this may not be a short term solution to quickly increase your left hand jazz repertoire, you may find in the long term a great resource for developing material specific to your tastes and professional goals.

By way of example, many jazz pianists use "fake" books (scores with only melody and chords) to create and/or spontaneously improvise jazz piano arrangements. Over time, these "arrangements" may stabilize and become compositions that change very little from one performance to another. On the other hand, there is room for great changes based upon the experience of the player and her expressive desires.

Once a jazz pianist has a basic vocabulary of theoretical, technical, stylistic and expressive devices, the sky is the limit. A serious jazz student will be able to improvise and compose arrangements that grow with her abilities and interest. Since most jazz musicians develop their own distinctive styles, you may find yourself discovering some fresh musical territory. You may decide to transcribe your best efforts. If you are not interested in doing the transcription part of the work, there are transcribers for hire that could be of help.

Another possible path would be to form a group that includes your left-handed piano (or other keyboard) performances. It could start as a hobby where you get together with musicians (for example, a bassist and a drummer) who are interested in working with you. One of the beautiful elements of jazz is that, in many cases with ensembles, less can very definitely be more.

A classically trained pianist can easily begin to fit in by playing the melody and some simple chords with a good group. The pianist will pick up tricks from the other players. The other players may appreciate working with a pianist who does not overplay! A musical balance between bass, drums and left hand pianist would be a very sensitve one. I also suspect it would be quite challenging and exciting!

Another ensemble practice to consider is that the left-handed pianist could function as the "guitarist" in a quartet (i.e: flute, bass, drums & L.H. piano as "guitarist"). The guitar usually alternates between playing chords and melodies in this ensemble setting, both of which can be easily accomplished by a classical pianist with a little coaching.

If you are more inclined to pursue jazz studies by yourself in a studio setting, there are excellent keyboard and electronic sequencing products as well as instructional methods and recordings on the market that we might recommend.

Good luck with your search!

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Updated: September 25, 2002 (KB)

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