Mily Balakirev (1836-1910), leader of the Russian ‘Mighty Handful’ (‘Kutchka’) of composers was a brilliant pianist, improviser, noted conductor and champion of other composers. He incidentally studied math, became a civil servant/railroad clerk and was a huge animal lover. Although influenced by Chopin, Liszt, and Orientalism, his music is of a strong Russian character and is often technically difficult to play. Balakirev is surprisingly little-known today, but I try and encourage my students to listen if not learn some of his works. Here are a couple of recordings recently done at my studio by students Dakota Lichauco and Jessica Wang playing two beautiful gems from his piano works: Humoresque and Nocturne in D minor

Dakota Lichauco plays Mily Balakirev’s ‘Humoresque’
Jessica Wang plays Mily Balakirev’s ‘Nocturne in D minot’

Always heartwarming to see siblings practice and perform together. Here, high school senior Zachary (p) & his younger brother Nate Gillette (tpt) team up to perform the jazz standard “I’ll Close My Eyes”‘ (Billy Reid).

As part of his jazz studies with me, 15-yr old Nate (who also studies jazz piano) recently transcribed Blue Mitchell’s solo (Blues Moods, 1960) on the same tune:

Recorded and mixed in Cakewalk by BandLab at the Leitmotif Piano Studio.

This is the second of a two-part series on linear improvisation using guide tones in jazz. (I recommend viewing the first of the series ‘Creating Linear Connections Using Guide Tones in Jazz Improvisation‘ to maintain continuity). Although geared towards pianists, these principles can be adapted to other instruments as well. Here I’m demonstrating how to create a ‘double counterpoint’ or two melodies that complement and play off each other solely using the right hand. The technique used is similar to when playing polyphonic keyboard works by Bach and Handel.

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I began using Skype around 2005, the start of the video-chat revolution, mainly to keep in touch with family overseas. A couple of years later, I gave my first online lesson to a student in Israel who was interested in jazz improvisation. We used Skype and barring some poor connectivity issues at that time, the lessons went off extremely well. Teaching remote students is an important part of what I do at the studio and over the past decade I’ve got to know some wonderful, talented people across several continents. These days I use a variety of video conferencing apps, depending on preferences – Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom and FaceTime.

So when the COVID-19 restrictions were announced, my in-studio students from the Boston area transitioned to online lessons, a process that happened with ease overnight. For fun, I took screenshots of some lessons during the first week of the ‘quarantine’. The bonus for me is that I get to meet not just the students, but often their families, and almost always a fur baby that likes to hang around at our lessons (including a bunny rabbit and Chilean degu!).

Here’s more information on online piano lessons, and if you’re interested in developing your classical piano or jazz improvisational skills further, send me a message.

online piano lessons

When a student successfully turns in an assignment of this nature, it’s a reason to share it in the hope that it inspires other students to transcribe tunes and solos they are attracted to. In the course of working on ‘Turn Out The Stars”, I requested Matar Maoz (online piano student residing in Tel Aviv) transcribe Bill Evan’s solo from the album “Since We Met”. (Bill Evans Trio – Live: Since We Met, ℗ 1991 Fantasy, Inc.). He did an impeccable job – here he plays it along with the Bill Evans recording.