Tag Archives: building a jazz repertoire

If you intend playing with other musicians it’s essential that you start building a jazz repertoire.

Teaching the blues

Teaching the blues

A moment after writing the title of this article, up popped an image of John Lee Hooker smiling and shaking his head. “Nobody can teach you the blues. Blues is a feeling, something you have to live.” I tried explaining that I’m a jazz piano teacher and that teaching the blues is part of my job but the image faded.

So where do we start? If you’ve read my previous articles or are one of my students, the following message will come as no surprise: no matter how many books you read or the amount of teachers you learn from, nothing will replace two activities: playing with other musicians and listening to the jazz and blues masters. So, onwards!

In my last article I bypassed the fruitless attempt to define jazz and will do likewise with the blues, but we can still amuse ourselves by googling it. Here’s the first quote I came up with:

Melancholic music of black American folk origin, typically in a twelve-bar sequence.

I’d argue that it’s not necessarily melancholic and we’ll discuss the form later in this article. But I now want to address the subject of this article: teaching the blues.

When a potential student asks to be taught to play blues piano I have to admit to a rather grouchy response. “I teach jazz and, for me, blues is a part of jazz and jazz is a part of the blues.” Actually, I’m not convinced that this is strictly true. But for teaching purposes I find it unhelpful to separate them into two distinct compartments. If we have to take a stab at separating them, it could be said that, say, Muddy Waters is in the blues camp. But as soon as we try attaching a ‘jazz only’ label to jazz musicians it becomes nigh impossible to assert that their music has no connection with the blues. There is, perhaps, less of a blues influence in the playing of Bill Evans than, say, Oscar Peterson. It could also be said that some European jazz has evolved through influences other than the blues.

I see my job as preparing students for a variety of blues tunes that they are likely to encounter at a gig. As this is an article rather than a book, I’ll just be focusing on varying blues structures rather than chord choices, scales, licks etc.

Blues structures

A blues sequence can take on a number of guises, varying in time signature, length and chord structure. Here are some examples.

A basic blues

A basic blues contains 12 bars and 3 chords: I, IV and V. These chords are unusual in that they are non-functioning dominant 7s. In other words, rather than pointing to their tonics (1) these dominant 7s stand in their own right.

teaching the blues

The next example is a more ‘jazz’ version of this sequence, where, at bars 9 and 10, the V and IV chords are replaced with II – V. This is the sequence for Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues:

teaching the blues

Minor blues

But a blues isn’t always in a major key. Here’s the sequence for Coltrane’s Mr P.C.

(At bar 9 the chord Ab7 could be replaced with its tritone substitute D7(b5).)

teaching the blues

I should point out that when I describe the above sequences as ‘basic’ I’m referring to the amount of chords rather than suggesting that they are in any way inferior or easier to perform. Take a listen to Coltrane’s version of Mr P.C. as a case in point.

Blues in 6/8

So far my examples have been in 4/4 time but All Blues by Miles Davis is in 6/8. Here’s the piano accompaniment to his melody:

teaching the blues

Once again, notice the subtle harmonic twist in bars 9 and 10.

A blues sequence can be in a variety of time signatures, including 3/4, 5/4 and 12/8.

Bebop blues

In C Jam Blues (above) a II – V sequence was introduced in bars 9 and 10. In the 40’s the Bebop players took this to its logical conclusion, giving the sequence a complete makeover. Firstly, chord 1, the dominant 7, was replaced with a straight major chord. This was then followed with a series of descending II – Vs.

Here is one variation of this more complex sequence:

teaching the blues

This sequence works with many bebop blues sequences. One example is Charlie Parker’s Blues For Alice.

8-bar blues

All the examples so far have been 12 bar sequences, but this length can vary. Here is an 8-bar blues that would work with Ain’t Nobody’s Business.

teaching the blues

This is by no means an exhaustive list of blues variations but, hopefully, demonstrates that there is more to the blues than 12 bars and 3 chords.

Playing without the dots

Playing without the dots

Playing without the dots

Why you should memorise tunes

Sheet music is just information, it’s not the music itself. The more you read what’s in front of you the less head room you’ll have for creativity. Playing without the dots opens up your ears!

Which tunes should  I learn?

This, of course, is very much up to you. But I’ve chosen the following 12 songs for the following reasons:

  1. They are easy to learn.
  2. They are popular and likely to come up when playing with other musicians.
  3. Your list should contain well known standards, at least one in 3/4, a blues, a ballad, a Latin tune in straight time and a song form that follows the Rhythm Changes structure.

12 songs to learn

1)  Autumn Leaves

Thi is the first standard I give to my students due to its simple construction.

Usual key: Bb major
Form: AB = 16 bars
Map: Very easy to learn as it just flips between II-V-I major and II-V-I relative minor.

2) C Jam Blues

A very simple blues.

Usual key: the clue’s in the title.
Form: 12 bars
Map: Can either be played with the 3 basic chords or with an added II-V at bars 9 and 10.

3) I Got Rhythm

This chord sequence is known as Rhythm Changes and is based on this song by Gershwin

Usual key: Bb.
Form: AABA = 32 bars.
Map: The A section is mostly a I-VI-II-V turnaround but with a move to the subdominant (IV) at bar 6. The B section consists of 4 dominant 7s that follow the circle of 5ths.

4) Blue Bossa

This simple sequence has a Latin feel.

Usual key: C minor
Form: 16 bars repeated.
Map: Only 2 keys to learn: it’s mostly in C minor but bars 9-12 flip to Db major.

5) All Of Me

A very well known standard, often sung.

Usual key: C major
Form: AB = 16+16
Map: Remains in original key with a foray into the relative minor.

6) Bye Bye Blackbird

A traditional ‘singalong’ but listen to the Keith Jarrett version for inspiration.

Usual key: F major
Form: AB = 16+16
Map: A section remains in the original key. B section contains some II-V’s.

7) Fly Me To The Moon

Often sung, popularised by Sinatra

Usual key: C major
Form: AB = 16+16
Map: III-VI-II-V-I-IV as in ‘All The Things You Are’ but then moves to the relative minor.

8) Satin Doll

An Ellington standard. Ramsey Lewis recorded a very accessible version.

Usual key: C major
Form: AABA = 32 bars.
Map: kicks off with a pair of ascending II-V’s. B section moves to F major.

9) What Is This Thing Called Love

Another popular standard with a conventional AABA structure.

Usual key: C major.
Form: AABA = 32 bars.
Map: Unusual in that the A section starts with a minor II-V-I in F minor.
As usual, the B section moves to a new key, this time Bb major.

10) Yesterdays

A Jerome Kern ballad in a minor key that contains a circle of 5ths

Usual key: D minor.
Form: AB = 16+16
Map: After staying in D minor for a while it moves though the circle of 5ths from bar 9 – 12 before returning to the key signature.

11) Beautiful Love

Another tune in a minor key with an AB structure.

Usual key: D minor.
Form: AB = 16+16
Map: Sets out with a II-V-I in D minor then switches to its relative major.

12) Some Day My Prince Will Come

Here’s your opportunity to play in 3 time. This tune is a Bill Evans special.

Usual key: Bb major.
Form: AB = 16+16
Map:Stays in the same key but throws in some diminished chords.

 

Jazz Repertoire: essential standards part 3

Jazz Repertoire: essential standards part 3

Building your jazz repertoire: part 3 of essential standards

Here’s my final list of suggestions for your jazz repertoire. These are all standards that you should become familiar with.

Although I’ve listed 14 tunes, I suggest you at least learn What Is This Thing Called Love, Softly As In A Morning Sunrise and Yesterdays.

For more of a challenge, take a look at Stella By Starlight.

So here’s the final list. If you wish to catch up with previous lists, scroll down the page.

———————————–

Lover Man

Composer: Jimmy Davis

Date: 1941

Form: AABA

Usual key: F

———————————–

My Funny Valentine

Composer: Richard Rodgers

Date: 1937

Form: ABC

Usual key: C minor

———————————–

My Romance

Composer: Richard Rodgers

Date: 1935

Form: AB

Usual key: Bb

———————————–  

Perdido

Composer: Juan Tizol

Date: 1942

Form: AABA

 ———————————– 

Secret Love

Composer: Sammy Fain

Date: 1953

Form: AABA

Usual key: Eb

———————————–

Softly As In A Morning Sunrise

Composer: Sigmund Romberg

Form: AABA

Usual key: C minor

———————————–

Star Eyes

Composer: Gene De Paul

Date: 1943

Form: AABA

Usual key: Eb

———————————–

Stella By Starlight

Composer: Victor Young

Date: 1944

Form: ABC

Usual key: Eb

———————————–

There Will Never Be Another You

Composer: Harry Warren

Date: 1942

Form: ABAC

Usual key: Eb

———————————–

What Is This Thing Called Love

Composer: Cole Porter

Date: 1929

Form: AABA

Usual key: C

 ———————————– 

What’s New

Composer: Bob Haggart

Date: 1939

Form: AABA

Usual key: C

 ———————————– 

Yesterdays

Composer: Jerome Kern

Date: 1933

Form: AB

Usual key: D minor

———————————–

You Don’t Know What Love Is

Composer: Gene De Paul

Date: 1941

Form: AABA

Usual key: F minor

 ———————————– 

You’ve Changed

Composer: Carl Fisher

Date: 1941

Form: AABA

Usual key: Eb

———————————–

You can find my full list of suggested jazz repertoire in
Learn Jazz Piano, book 3.

Jazz repertoire
Book 3

Building your Jazz Repertoire part 2: Latin

Building your Jazz Repertoire part 2: Latin

Jazz repertoire part 2:
10 Latin tunes

The world of Latin American music is vast and would take a lifetime of study. What we are looking at here is a small collection of tunes with a Latin feel; songs that are likely to come up when playing with other musicians. I’ve tried to keep the list short, as it’s easy to get overwhelmed with too many choices. I’ve marked essential songs with *.

All these tunes have a straight 8 feel rather than swing.
The compositions of Carlos Jobim are of particular interest as they don’t follow the usual II – V – I  patterns.

You will find the complete list of ‘Building a Jazz Repertoire’ in book 3 of Learn Jazz Piano.

Here’s the link to book 3

 

At some stage you might find yourself comping behind vocalists singing this repertoire. A good reference is the Getz /Gilberto album (1964).

If you’re looking for an easy tune for starters I’d go for Blue Bossa.
Try Desafinado for something a little more advanced.

So here are my 10 choices of Latin tunes to build your jazz repertoire.
Although many artists have recorded these  tunes, I’ve provided you with suggested listening.

———————-

Blue Bossa*

Composer: Kenny Dorham

Listen: Joe Henderson

———————-

Con Alma

Composer: Dizzie Gillespie

Listen: Wes Montgomery

———————-

Desafinado

Composer: Jobim

Listen: Dizzy Gilespie

———————-

The Girl From Ipanema*

Composer: Jobim

Listen: Stan Getz

———————-

How Insensitive

Composer: Jobim

Listen: Oscar Peterson

———————- 

Meditation

Composer: Jobim

Listen:  Joe Pass

———————-

Manteca

Composer: Dizzie Gillespie

Listen: Red Garland

———————-

Nica’s Dream*

Composer: Horace Silver

Listen: Art Blakey

———————-

Song For My Father

Composer: Horace Silver

Listen: Horace Silver

———————-

Wave

Composer: Jobim

Listen: Paul Desmond

———————-

jazz repertoire
Jobim

I have now produced 22 videos for my online  Lean Jazz Piano course.

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