"Imagine you're a ballet dancer," Randy Halberstadt tells his sometimes frustrated jazz piano students. "After two lessons, you say, 'Hey, I tried this walking on my toes thing and it just doesn't feel natural at all. What's wrong with me?' It's such an illusion — we make this stuff look so easy."
No kidding. But the truth is that even the most "natural" of players work long and hard at getting jazz right, though they may hide that secret well. After 25 years of teaching (privately, and at Cornish College), Halberstadt, 48, who admits he was never a "natural" himself, has decided to share some of his secrets.
He celebrates the release of his first book, "Metaphors for the Musician" (Sher Music Co., $36) at 9 tonight at Tula's ($12, 206-443-4221) with a three-set show. It will feature his trio (with bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer Brian Kirk), vocalists Greta Matassa, Janice Mann and Jay Clayton (her last appearance before leaving for New York — really!), plus a short reading from some of the many amusing and informative anecdotes in the book.
Halberstadt's 328-page tome is a treasure trove of detailed, hard-core technical information, practice routines, advice, diagrams, music samples and entertaining stories, all connected by his love for metaphors and comparisons. Part of its charm is that it's not the typical, step-by-step "how-to" instruction manual, but rather a nondogmatic collection of pearls, gathered over the years.
The pianist talks about everything from tricks to make improvised melodies more compelling (repetition, resolution) and the nine scales you can play over a G7 chord, to the annoying colleague who drops by your gigs to tell you everything you're doing is wrong. (Yes, it happens.)
Halberstadt is particularly impatient with the "guru" type, whom he describes as "a teacher who mistakenly bases a whole curriculum on only one method because it worked for him."
His open-mindedness has served him well. Halberstadt's former students include Julie Wolf (now touring with Ani DiFranco), Joe Doria (at the Sunset Tavern) and Bill Anschell, who has put out two strong albums.
Why did he write the book?
"I felt like I was playing the same solo over and over again," answers Halberstadt the pianist, using another metaphor to refer to teaching lessons. "It was a pretty good solo, but it didn't feel like improvising anymore. Now that I've got it down in print, I can just give my students the highlights, then send them home to read Chapter 14."
Halberstadt may be doing a lot more than that. His publisher, Sher, is the Rolls Royce of jazz books. With only 22 titles on its list, including the immensely popular compendium of tunes called "The Real Book," Sher is promoting "Metaphors" to thousands of schools, clinics and workshops all over the world.
Go down and catch Halberstadt at Tula's — while you can.
School bands compete
Meanwhile, at 7 p.m. Wednesday over at the New Orleans Restaurant ($7-$10; 206-622-2563, all-ages), the next generation of jazzers competes for cash prizes and a featured gig at the club. High-school jazz bands from Nathan Hale, Garfield, Roosevelt, Newport Hills, Shorewood and Shorecrest will be on hand.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org.