For Heaven’s Sake: A beautiful, underplayed jazz ballad

Question: What do Billie Holiday, Charlie Haden, Kenny Barron, and Ravi Coltrane know that most jazz musicians don’t?

Answer: They know that 1940s ballad, “For Heaven’s Sake,” is a great tune to play!

When we want to play a ballad at jazz jam sessions, we typically play such chestnuts as Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” Horace Silver’s “Peace,” or Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence.” In fact, even if we have previously learned “For Heaven’s Sake,” we’d probably get blank stares if we called it an impromptu session.

However, the tune is beautiful, and as the above artists discovered for themselves, wonderful to play as a jazz vehicle.

“For Heaven’s Sake” was composed by three songwriters who aren’t household names, at least anymore: Don Meyers, Elise Bretton, and Sherman Edwards. The melody is typical of the kind of lyrical, expressive song that our grandparents and great-parents enjoyed during the 1940s, and it was quickly appropriated by jazz musicians such as bandleader Claude Thornhill.

The great jazz singer Billie Holiday recorded it during that time as well, and more recently, Kenny Barron and Charlie Haden played it as a duet and pianist Mark Soskin’s group recorded it with Ravi Coltrane on saxophone.

If you want to dive deeper into this classic ballad, here’s a good place to begin:

For Heaven’s Sake: from The Jazz Pianist’s Ultimate Guide To The Real Book

For Heaven’s Sake (from The Jazz Pianist’s Ultimate Guide To The Real Book)

And this video I made will give you some ideas on how to interpret the tune on piano:

For Heaven’s Sake: Journey Through The Real Book #123

If you’ve played “For Heaven’s Sake” before, I hope these resources help you go further into both the tune itself as well as the possibilities of solo piano interpretation. And if you’re discovering the song for the first time, enjoy getting to know one of the best tunes in The Real Book.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!

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