Alone Together – From Dave McKenna to
New England Conservatory to Jessica Williams

One of the wonderful things about playing the piano is that you can make music when you are by yourself. In fact, that’s why many of our adult piano students chose to learn to play the piano rather than returning to their original instruments e.g. violin, clarinet, trumpet, etc.

Band and orchestral instruments are almost always played in an ensemble. As a result, when adults feel drawn to return to taking music lessons, they often choose piano lessons. The reason is obvious: they want to be able to enjoy learning to play the music they love in their own homes by themselves.

So in a sense, the title of today’s featured selection is apropos. Often when you play the piano you are alone. Yet at the same time you are playing each piece completely as if you were together with others in an ensemble.

This scenario really rang true for me this summer. Between the fact I was not playing in church on Sunday mornings during July, had a lighter piano teaching schedule since many of students were on vacation and because my jazz trio is no longer performing, I found myself alone together with my music at the piano.

So whether I was at our Hudson, MA piano studio playing the Yamaha P22 Studio Upright, at our Natick, MA piano studio playing the Yamaha P2 Studio Upright or at home playing my Yamaha P105 Digital Piano, I found myself alone and within a few short minutes, I felt together with my piano bopping to the music, tapping my foot and smiling.

Back in the late 1980s when I began performing as a solo jazz pianist, I purchased quite a few recordings (some on cassette if you can believe it) by pianist Dave McKenna. One of these was Dave McKenna Plays the Music Dancing in the Dark and Other Music by Arthur Schwartz. On it, I first heard Alone Together.

Although I think I tried playing through this terrific tune, I couldn’t get comfortable playing it. And so I put it aside. About a year or two later when I began work on my two Masters Degrees (Jazz Studies and Classical Composition) at New England Conservatory, it seemed like everybody in the jazz department was playing Alone Together.

As I recall, our jazz department chair person Hankus Netsky included this standard in one of my courses called Advanced Aural Training. Once again, other than doing the class assignment, I didn’t proceed toward truly learning this Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz classic.

Fast forward to 2016 and ran across a surprising announcement by jazz pianist Jessica Williams. For some reason, although every time I heard a recording by Jessica, I thought, “she’s really terrific-one of the greats”, I didn’t pay much attention to her specifically by listening to her recordings the way I’ve done with many jazz pianists.

Jessica’s announcement involved her health and finances. Due to a serious back injury and surgery, she lost her savings, her piano and her source of income (performing). I was in shock, and yet I know only too well about the realities of the music business regardless of your ability, experience and loyal fan base.

This time I did some serious listening to Jessica Williams and I’m glad I did. My Spotify playlist of her recordings contains 11 hours of music. The quality is stunning!!! Suffice it to say that I have spent a lot of my listening time in awe of Jessica’s versatility and artistry. And that’s what FINALLY got me to dig into Alone Together nearly 30 years after I first became familiar with this standard.

When you listen to my recording of Alone Together you will notice that I took the first chorus as rubato rendition. That is…..until the last couple of measures when I moved into swing tempo. Continuing with the second chorus and throughout the performance, I used “bass in 2”, 9th voicings in a modified stride piano style and of course walking bass for my accompaniment patterns. It’s a lot of fun to play and I hope you enjoy my version.

Usually, I like to cite a variety of examples of different performances of the featured selection. For today, I’ll make an exception and recommend that you listen to Jessica Williams’ Trio version of Alone Together, which begins with an extended solo piano introduction. This long beginning demonstrates her mastery of counterpoint and keyboard independence (right hand and left playing two different melodic lies at the same time). Of course, once the bass and drums enter, the performance really swings.

How would you like to be able to get into the magic of being alone and together by playing the music you love?

Not quite ready to do this on your own? You probably need some help to learn how to develop your piano playing. Our adult piano students certainly came to the same conclusion that you have.

When you take piano lessons at the Mascari Piano Studios from one of our patient, knowledgeable and encouraging piano teachers, you’ll get the help you need to learn to play the piano if you are a beginner, refresh your skills if you took lessons in the past or take your playing to the next level if you are more advanced. Whatever your skill level, you can learn to play or return to your favorite piano pieces in the style that suits you.

Fall is the perfect time to get started taking piano lessons at the Mascari Piano Studios. To find out if taking piano lessons at our Natick MA piano studio location or at our piano studio in Hudson MA location is right for you, contact us today.

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