Isn't it wonderful, language. It provides us with the ability to express ourselves in great deal so that others know exactly how we feel. To produce this language, we have at our disposition a great number of tools and devices which, as we grow up, we learn to use both by listening to others and naturally. After a number of years, we have mastered enough of them to express ourselves very well, but of course always short of perfection due to our lack of more sophisticated vocabulary and specific delivery methods (such as those used by professional comedians, public speakers or teachers). Such techniques require a specialised training or effort to acquire because they're outside the norms of regular, daily communication.
If we home in on this particular concept, we can notice that, just like I am doing right now on the keyboard (which could be considered my piano), I am producing my thoughts fluently by interpreting my feelings linguistically, finding the correct buttons to press to spell my linguistic discoveries and thus enabling you to read this. It happens fluently; very fluently in my case, becuase I type for a living!
Go to the piano in your mind. You have your devices, techniques and understanding of scales, notes and chords (to whichever level this may be). You have your song that you'd like to play and you know it quite well. Play it, in your mind, and you will notice that you can imagine yourself playing it without faulting. Isn't that amazing? But if you go to the piano and play it, you might have a hiccup in a few areas or be playing with too much concentration, worrying about fingerwork or not making mistakes and where to go next.
So, to play fluently, you must know your piece perfectly so that you can close your eyes and see yourself playing it from start to finish. If you can do this, you have proof that it is inside you well enough to be able to not have to concentrate too much on unncessary things which will interfere with your performance when you are playing it for real. Fluency is also the product of self-control and purpose. If you have not read my blog entry on not playing fast, the one before this one, do read it next. You will see that self-control and purpose are of utmost important when playing. A combination of these and being at one with the piece, will enable you to play with greater fluency.
The biggest problem for Jazz pianists in playing solo piano fluently is what chords come next and what on earth shall I improvise. I don't want to get into specific Jazz improvisation techniques in this particular entry, prefering a more dedicated post in a few days or weeks on this matter alongside other points.
So please, for the time being, understand that playing your piano fluently comes from a complete connection with your piece where you can imagine yourself playing it without fault. This fantasy-like notion can then be applied to the real world in the knowledge that you have proved to yourself that you know the piece, so wasting energy on unnecessary things will only impede your already perfect understanding of the structure of the piece. If you play your piece with purpose, combine this with the knowledge that you know the piece perfectly and then employ a little self-control, pace and intent, you will no doubt produce a wonderful piece of music.
As you can see, teaching (not only Jazz) piano is not always about fingerwork, sight-reading or repetitive practice of scales. It is about understanding and being aware of what goes on behind the scenes. This way, you will play well no matter what your technical ability and complex scale/key knowledge.
Best of luck to you all.