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The Jazz Theory Book is an influential work by Mark Levine, first published in 1995. The book is a staple in jazz theory, and contains a wide range of jazz concepts from melodic minor scales and whole tone scale to bebop scales, diminished scales and "Coltrane" reharmonization. Levine assumes that the reader can read music, and gives over 750 musical examples.
I'm a hobbyist pianist who has been playing primarily rock and blues music for about 2 years, and classical before that for a few years. I have a beginner grasp of music theory (I know my major, 3 minor, and blues scales, and work on ear training and understand intervals). I thought to branch out in my playing (especially improvisation for cocktail-style piano) and get some further understanding of music theory by reading through the Jazz Theory book, however, it's pretty tough to get through for me. Given this book is nearly straight theory and has very few exercises, should I be working through other books more my level before diving into the heavy theory?
Have you tried Charles Austin's An Approach to Jazz Piano? It's probably the most comprehensive jazz piano/jazz theory book out there, and it starts with "rock" type harmony and moves on from there. I found "The Jazz Piano Book" assumed a lot of cultural knowledge that I didn't necessarily have at the time, when I was starting jazz piano, as well as introducing ideas in a weird order, and at the time I just needed a really thorough explanation of all the things from first principles, and ways to put them into practice.
Levine's The Jazz Piano Book is more of a textbook than a How To, so no wonder you are finding it hard work. Given that your stated aim is to get into 'improvisation for cocktail-style piano', perhaps start by obtaining jazz piano arrangements of some cocktail-style tunes; you are bound to learn something just by playing them, and the cocktail quaffers are unlikely to care whether the solo is yours, Hal Leonard's or Mulgrew Miller's (Levine is a big fan).
This is the penultimate jazz theory book. There is an in depth discussion on this book here on LJP: /post/2004/10/12/mark-levine-the-jazz-theory-book/When it comes to jazz theory, no book really comes close to Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book." This book covers everything you could possibly want to know about jazz theory, and then some. Study tip: When you get this book, go through it from first page to last as fast as you can. Keep track of what you need to work on and then go back and focus on those areas. Don't get bogged down in any one section for too long or you'll never get to the end. I mean it, this book can consume you so use it as a great resource and tool to help you get to the next level in your playing, but concentrate on the playing part. Jazz book worms don't get on stage, and you want to get on stage!
The most comprehensive Jazz Theory book ever published! Over 500 pages of text and over 750 musical examples. Written in the language of the working jazz musician, this book is easy to read and user-friendly. At the same time, it is the most comprehensive study of jazz harmony and theory ever published. "The Jazz Theory Book" takes the student from the most basic techniques such as chord construction and the II-V-I progression through scale theory, the blues, "I've Got Rhythm" changes, slash chords, the bebop and pentatonic scales, how to read a lead sheet and memorize tunes and a study of reharmonization that is almost a book in itself. Mark Levine has worked with Bobby Hutcherson, Cal Tjader, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, and many other jazz greats. Endorsements:"This could be the single finest music book of any type I've ever seen. It's certainly the best explanation of the mechanics of jazz, and the amazing depth of the content is matched by the care and accuracy of the presentation. An invaluable resource for all improvising musicians regardless of instrument."-Bass Player Magazine "Mark has done it again. The Jazz Theory Book has the clarity that most pedagogical books strive for. This book seems to have left no stone unturned in what one should know about the inner sanctum of jazz theory. The most fruitful information is generally derived from the source and that is the essence of this book. This book is connected to the music of our Jazz Masters. You can't get any better than that. Even the mature musician will find information here. Truly a magnificent accomplishment."-Rufus Reid "Mark has done it again and the music world is grateful. This book will help move the understanding of jazz theory and harmony into the 21st century."-Jamey Aebersold "Mark Levine has done it again, but this time he has created the most comprehensive and complete theory book I've ever seen. It is really user-friendly and is written in a clear and comfortable style. It has excellent musical examples pertinent to the text and is also very inspiring and gives a lot of practical advice you don't find in most theory books. Again, a great job! Highly recommended."-Richie Beirach "As is the case with The Jazz Piano Book, Mark has done a completely thorough job, organizing the material in a very logical and readable manner-highly recommended."-Dave Liebman "just what the doctor ordered. Insightful and very well thought out."-Donald Brown "Finally, a book on jazz theory and harmony that is very easy to understand yet still covers in great depth just about all of the basics anyone would need to know in order to get started or, in the case of the more advanced player, wonderful information on areas such as playing "outside", reharmonization, keyboard fundamentals, etc. I wish I'd had this book 40 years ago. I think this is the book every musician should own."-Bobby Shew "The Jazz Theory Book should be in every musician's library regardless of the level of their ability."-James Moody "Once again Mark Levine has made an invaluable contribution to the field of jazz textbooks. The Jazz Theory Book covers a wide range of very useful material. It is quite thorough and complete. Even better. Mark never loses sight of the fact that you use theory in order to play and compose music. Simply a great book."-Jim McNeely "This is the best book on jazz theory I have seen to date. The conversational tone of all the text gives the student the feeling of learning from a friend rather than an authoritarian figure. Great stuff!" - Ernie Watts
Here's a bunch of random reviews from the web."At Last - the Jazz Sounds Rosetta Stone!"As a jazz keyboard hobbyist for many years, I've often wished there was a way to understand the secrets to the great chording combinations that make the cool jazz sounds I've admired in other musicians all my life... this is the book that provides the clear a simple explanations of those concepts with lots of exercises and examples from the community's best performers. I can't think of anything that Mark Levine has left out or left uncovered. What a find."The Jazz Theory Book"The ultimate jazz theory text. Specific examples using familiar tunes make it easy to understand the subject being discussed. Applying the information in practice is, of course, the challenge, but all you need to know is here."jazz theory essential purchase"this book is dedicated to the better understanding of jazz and improvisation. A must for all keen jazz musicians"Excellent Tutor"For those who want to teach themselves Jazz Theory this book is excellent. If it is followed and all the exercises done, it gives a really good grounding in jazz theory. As a 'classics' player without much background in jazz, I found it excellent and very good value for money. 2b1af7f3a8