Hugh John goes to his keyboard – and Amazon – for an instant immersion in Latin music
Cover “Those who can do, those who can’t, teach.” Ah, but it ain’t necessarily so, Bernard. And it certainly doesn’t apply to Tim Richards and John Crawford de Cominges, joint authors of Exploring Latin Piano (South American, Cuban and Spanish Rhythms for the intermediate pianist).

Contrary to Mr Shaw’s infamous adage, there are those who do AND teach, and these include John and Tim, stalwarts of the British Latin and jazz scene, bandleaders, composers and colleagues at Goldsmith College, University of London (John introduced the first UK Latin Piano course there in 1998).

Tim leads his own nine-piece band, Great Spirit, and his compositions are included in the jazz piano syllabus of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music for whom he also works as an examiner. He runs an annual jazz piano course each summer at The Premises Studio in Hackney, London, at which he and John teach. John has gigged with Latin luminaries such as Airto Moreira and Giovanni Hidalgo.

The genesis for Exploring Latin Piano (ELP) lies in Tim’s previous three projects, Improvising Blues Piano, and Exploring Jazz Piano, books 1 and 2. That is, an A4 book accompanied by a selection of tunes and exercises on CD. This time round, it’s two for the price of one; two contributing musicians and educators and two accompanying CDs. The other major difference is that Tim swaps piano stool for mixing desk and production duties and leaves the playing in the very capable and expressive hands of John.

The book (no longer, incidentally, ring bound as publishers Schott now use a new ‘stay open’ binding) includes lessons, scores and photos of some of the great Latin musicians, including bandleader and composer Chucho Valdés, percussionist Tito Puente, composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and pianist Ruben González.

Encouraging improvisation and rhythmic awareness

There are four sections; a general introduction to Latin styles; Cuban music; Brazilian music; a collection of other Latin styles. Users are taken through a series of graded lessons which are rounded off by exercises and assignments designed to encourage improvisatory skills, increase rhythmic awareness and develop and strengthen hand independence.

There are 51 accompanying tracks, representing a variety of instrumental combinations and rhythms – solo piano, piano/bass/drums and a strong flavouring of Latin percussion instruments, including maracas, claves, congas and guiro. You’ll also find exercises that make good use of the humble and universally popular hand clap! Among the rhythms featured are bolero, bossa nova, samba, buleria, cha-cha-chá, bossa/samba reggae... you get the idea. There’s a huge rhythmic palette to discover and absorb.

The audio tracks are set up with bass on the left channel, piano on the right and drums and percussion on both. Panning the balance knob will enable you to play along with the instrument of your choice. You could, of course, convert the audio files to MP3 format and play along with headphones on your iPod, iPhone or any other MP3 player. This has the added advantage of giving users with the appropriate music software the opportunity to play back more difficult passages at a slower tempo.

ELP goes some way to dispelling the notion that Latin music is Brazilian music. Hardly surprising, maybe, given the way that bossa nova has entwined itself in popular music and jazz over the last half century, but hardly a fair or accurate reflection of the contribution made by other countries to the Latin genre. ELP redresses the balance with music and rhythms from Argentina (tango), Bolivia and Peru (zamba), Chile (chacarera), Cuba (bolero, mambo), Dominican Republic (merengue), Uruguay (candombe), and Venezuela and Colombia (joropo).

'Clear and sympathetic guidance from the accompanying musicians'

Let’s hear it for the band! What play-along learners need – particularly when struggling with complex rhythmical passages – is clear and sympathetic guidance from the accompanying musicians. John Crawford, Vancho Manoilovich, Andrés Ticino, Gili Lopes and Paul Jayasinha lay down a supporting structure that is consistently clear, disciplined and easy to follow and will doubtless be much appreciated by users of this book.

A mention too for the three appendices. Scholarly, incisive and comprehensive they include a selection of classical composers who have written pieces with a ‘Latin’ influence, an explanation of commonly used chord symbols and a discussion of what constitutes Latin Jazz. You’ll also find a list of jazz greats who have been influenced by Latin music  and a suggested listening list of other Latin styles with enough recommended recordings to put you somewhere near the top of Amazon’s ‘favourite customer’ list! (There is also a reading list at the end of each chapter.)

Meticulously researched and attractively presented, ELP is an excellent resource whether you’re using it for play-along learning at home, classroom teaching or looking to add to an already established piano technique. Work your way through this book and while there’s no guarantee you’ll end up with John Crawford’s impressive technique you’ll develop a keener understanding and appreciation of Latin music and have a lot of fun in the process. Highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for Purpose    5
Ease of Use               5
Features                    5
Quality                       5
Value for Money        4

Exploring Latin Piano
by John Crawford de Cominges and Tim Richards
A4 book (272 pages) with two audio CDs, £24.99p
Available from The Schott Music Shop

More information

Improvising Blues Piano by Tim Richards, £22.99p
Exploring Jazz Piano volume one by Tim Richards, £24.99p
Exploring Jazz Piano volume two by Tim Richards, £24.99p