I had the opportunity to review a couple of Elena Cobb’s jazz books, Higgledy Piggledy Jazz (Book 1) and Blue River.
I’ll start with Higgledy Piggledy Jazz. Just the title alone makes me smile and gets my curiosity peaked of what I might find inside. The cover of the book says that it is for “inexperienced pianists who have plenty of enthusiasm between Grades 1-4.” For your typical U.S. methods I would say it would be a comfortable start with students in level 2B and up. The book includes a delightful CD which is recorded by a live jazz band. The CD includes recordings at slow and fast tempo, with and without solo parts. While the CD makes a very fun accompaniment, it can easily enjoyed on its own.
Higgledy Piggledy Jazz begins with a super cute piece called “Super Duck”. This piece is very catchy and begins with a simple 5th/6th interval bass line. The CD accompaniment even includes a duck sound that made me laugh right when I heard it. Students MUST try playing with the CD so they can play along with the fun trumpet solo! The next piece is “I ate all the choc’late” (something many of us can relate to, I’m sure…). It includes a nice walking bass line and another solo opportunity. The great things about these solo opportunities is someone can join in on the fun OR it’s the perfect opportunity for improvising. A fun idea is to play it the first time how it’s written then the second time improvise on the solo part.
Following the chocolate piece (I’m craving chocolate now…) is “You Tell Me Why I Wait for Christmas”. The bass line is back to the 5th/6th interval patterns. This piece has a nice and simple rock groove that allows for some more improvisation opportunities if you aren’t using the CD. That is one thing you will find a lot in this book- many opportunities to step out of the box and get creative! “Nerdy Cat’s Twist” (don’t you love these names?) has a classic feel. The tempo description at the beginning says “groovy” and it is just that. I absolutely adore the accompaniment for “Blues for Little People”. This is a very bluesy piece. “Time to Catch a Train” is a nice up tempo piece. Very light “tap dance” style. Funny thing…I first played these pieces without the CD and had thought about the tap dance style before I heard the accompaniment. What do you know? The accompaniment has that “tap dance” sound to it! “Polka Butterfly” is another must play with the CD accompaniment. This is another up tempo, very fun- polka style piece.
I love the layered chords in “Higgledy Piggledy Jazz”. I also enjoy the variation on the bass lines. This is a cute piece and the covers name sake. Following that piece is “Peony Pink”. With this piece a couple visuals come to mind. First riding in a pink convertible with the top down on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Perhaps there are peony’s covering the ground. Another visual I had was walking along on a lightly rainy afternoon with a pink umbrella and splashing puddles. There is a character change that is a little unexpected and then it resumes right back. The last piece, “Take Three” is a lovely jazz waltz. I enjoyed the accompaniment in this one. It sounded like a jazz or flamenco guitar which I really enjoy hearing. Very relaxing.
The first four pieces in this book included colored chords when the chord harmonies changed. I really appreciate this and would be very helpful with students. Several pieces also include some fun lyrics.
Blue River is intended for the intermediate-Advanced level pianists. The first piece of this book is its namesake, “Blue River”. This piece has lots of triplets which is one of my favorite things to play in jazz music. I love triplets! Following this piece is “Star Dust”. I immediately felt transported back in time almost as if I had memories in that time, but I had never been.
“Cloud Seven, Latin” is a fun rhythmic piece with a latin feel. I really enjoyed “Mrs. VanDerBlond”. This piece had several different moods, very charismatic and fun with my favorite- triplets! The last piece in the book was also one I really enjoyed, “Pearls and Blues”. I really enjoyed the tremolos. This piece was in true blue style. I could totally picture a lady singing by the piano in long beautiful pearls working the music.
As you can see from many of my descriptions above that the pieces from Higgledy Piggledy Jazz and Blue River are not only aurally appealing and fun to play, but Elena’s music naturally encourages the player and/or listener to use their imagination, visually creating characters within, even creating a story perhaps. Both are full of rich color and textures that can be enjoyed over and over. You can listen to all the pieces in her books on her website. If you haven’t tried Elena’s music yet, it is a must!
I always find it fascinating on how compositions, products, etc… come to be so I wanted to share a little bit about Elena and how everything came about including her teaching philosophy…
Background: Elena Cobb is a classically trained pianist and teacher and right now sharing her time between teaching piano at a 450 year old public school in England, and writing music. Because Higgledy Piggledy Jazz tunes were very popular she had written a musical ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz, or the Importance of Being Happy’ with a sold out premiere earlier this summer. (Molly Spencer is a little girl who lost her father in a traffic accident and now she is unable to walk. There is nothing physically wrong with Molly and all she needs is to be happy to be able to walk again. With the help of the Doctor Nerdy Cat, Super Duck and Mrs Van Der Blond, she visits magical Cloud Seven to see the Star Dust and to find her happiness.)
Philosophy: Elena expressed that she wants children to feel like stars. “I believe that a child who is stuck in front of the note which he, or she does not understand, is an unhappy child.” Her jazz inspired ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz’ series of interactive books (piano, alto sax and classical guitar ensemble) and ‘Blue River’ for piano were born out of the idea of giving her pupils an opportunity to perform with the real Jazz band, or to play along the CD with the live Jazz band recording. “I also wanted to communicate a message that classically trained pianists, sax players and guitarists can improvise and now I receive messages from teachers who write to me saying that they have transposed their favorite scores for the school band, or ensemble and they are having fun. And this is exactly my point!” Elena’s pupils are also frequent guests on the local BBC Radio playing, or singing live.
Elena has offered to give a copy of one of her pieces found in her Book Blue River, Star Dust to everyone! Just head on over to her blog to download. Thanks Elena!
In addition Elena has offered to give 3 readers the chance to win one of the following books below:
~ ‘HP Jazz for piano with a play-along CD’
~ Blue River for piano
~ Download option of Blue River