Jazz Piano Ballads and Bossa Novas

When was the last time you played a ballad or bossa nova?

If your answer isn’t “this morning” or “yesterday,” then this one’s for you:

When we think of jazz piano, we often think of medium or uptempo tunes with a swing feel. Although this music is wonderful, there’s a lot more to jazz music than that. As a result of this narrow focus, many aspiring never become the well-rounded musicians they are capable of becoming, and would enjoy being. Today, let’s explore some other styles: ballads and bossa novas.

Ballads and bossa novas actually have a lot in common. Bossas use straight 8th notes and jazz ballads can incorporate a mix of straight and swing 8ths, used in the right way. And they both usually have a certain lightness of texture that allows us to express different emotions than we tend to do when playing straight-ahead swing tunes. And as pianists, they both give us many opportunities to use traditionally pianistic textures, such as arpeggios and the use of the sustain pedal.

Here’s a video to give you some ideas on playing a jazz ballad. It’s Billy Strayhorn’s great “Chelsea Bridge,” and you’ll also learn the correct opening chords, which are wrong in The Real Book.

Chelsea Bridge

And here’s a wonderful bossa nova by Antonio Carlos Jobim:

Chega De Saudade

Good luck with these two great tunes, and I hope you fully develop your piano playing to the point where you’re playing in the way you’ve always dreamed!

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