Welcome to the PianoGroove Community!
Thanks for sharing your musical background and history. It sounds like you have a very rewarding and enriching career in music.
For many of us coming from a classical background it can be an initial challenge to read and interpret jazz charts. When we are just given a chord symbol and a melody note, there is so much freedom for interpretation which can be daunting to start. So you’re certainly not alone there!
Interpreting chord charts and lead sheets is exactly what we teach here at PianoGroove and so I’m sure you will find the syllabus well-suited to your goals.
With your previous musical experience I’d imagine you can skim through much of the Foundations Course and move onto the following courses where we explore jazz harmony and voicing techniques:
After watching the theory lessons and jazz standard studies you will have a much clearer understanding of the options available when playing from chord charts and lead sheets.
It does take time but as mentioned, with your musical experience I’m sure you will grasp the concepts quickly and easily.
I can see you already acknowledged the need to listen to a LOT of jazz music. Listening is the ultimately source of inspiration and allows us to ‘sculpt’ and ‘mould’ our sound based on the players that we like the sounds of.
Improvisation is very personal based on the musicians, styles, and eras that we have studied and transcribed from. That’s why everyone has their own unique ‘voice’ when improvising.
Steve - our Blues/Boogie Woogie teacher - explains this nicely the intro lesson for his upcoming Chicago Blues course.
See the below video starting at 9m 12s where Steve talks about his influences and the importance of listening and emulating the records that “speak to us”. I like how he explains it:
This advice is applicable to all styles of improvised music.
Spend a week or 2 browsing around checking out the links above and if you have any questions we are here to help. Talk soon!