Series Spotlight: Jazz Piano Solos

The Jazz Piano Solos Series has proven wildly popular among pianists. Each volume features a collection of 20-24 exciting new piano solo arrangements with chord symbols of the songs, which helped define a particular jazz style. The difficulty of the arrangements varies somewhat, and though they can be quite challenging at times, they are always eminently playable. Pianists possessing an intermediate ability or better will find the majority of the selections well within their reach. For the more challenging arrangements a little extra practice may be needed, but it’s time well spent. The series, which is published by Hal Leonard, currently has 47 volumes, including jazzy arrangements of Disney tunes, pop standards and Gospel music, with more in production!

We asked Jeff Schroedl, Hal Leonard’s Executive Vice President, about the inspiration behind the series:

How did the idea for the Jazz Piano Solos Series come about?

It started with four books back in 2001: Bebop, Cool Jazz, Hard Bop, and Latin Jazz. I compiled the first volumes and tried to focus on more specific genres of jazz rather than another broad collection of standards. The black and white cover designs turned out nicely, and the arrangements really hit the mark. The books sold well from the start so we decided to make it a series and continue with more publications.

What is your process for deciding which artists or genres to feature in each of the different volumes?

We represent print rights for many great songs and composers. We try to create publications that best utilize our song rights, and naturally, we aim for titles and collections we think will sell well.

Brent Edstrom is the talent behind most of the arrangements in the series. His music background is eclectic. He started on the tenor banjo and moved to piano in middle school. He played in a rock band in high school and developed an interest in progressive rock, jazz, and classical music. Although he most frequently performs as a jazz pianist, he has also enjoyed performing in a wide variety of settings including tours with Motown star Freda Payne, performances at a local Bach festival, recordings with folk and country musicians, and feature performances with jazz ensembles and symphony orchestras. He also composes contemporary art music and writes and arranges for jazz ensemble and orchestra.

In terms of formal training, he received a degree in classical piano performance from Washington State University and a Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media from the Eastman School of Music.

Sheet Music Plus had the opportunity to ask Brent a few questions about his work on the Jazz Piano Solos Series:

When did you start arranging?

I started arranging in high school when I wrote a chart for a community jazz band. I was certainly green and remember the trumpet players throwing things at me because of the impossible ranges. I did my first work as a professional transcriber in college, lifting arrangements of vocal jazz recordings for a local high school.

What has been the hardest artist and/or genre to arrange in a jazz style?

One of the lessons I learned by listening to Miles Davis and other jazz innovators is that almost any genre has the potential to be a compositional or arranging resource in jazz. With that said, I would say that iconic pop songs can be the hardest to arrange since it can be a challenge to honor the original song while incorporating the rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic freedoms that are a foundation of jazz.

Approximately how long does it take to arrange all the pieces for one volume?

That depends in large part on the type of project and my workload. Personality projects such as Bill Evans and Horace Silver take much longer since I start by transcribing source material and use that material to develop authentic arrangements based on the style “schema” of the artist. I teach full time at Whitworth University, so arranging time is constrained by teaching load during the year. Assuming I have enough time for daily writing, it takes about 4-6 weeks to complete a typical Jazz Piano Series book.

Do you have a favorite volume from the series?

This might sound corny, but I do my best to make the current project a personal favorite. I always do a final play-through before submitting a project to my editor, and I work hard to ensure that the arrangements are satisfying to play and that there are a variety of interesting and engaging treatments in each book. With that said, the Bill Evans and Horace Silver books are particularly meaningful since their music was such a big influence on me as a young jazz musician.


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