John Lewis’ “Afternoon In Paris” is probably his most widely-performed composition. Do you know why? Because it’s in the Real Book, that’s why! Moreover it begins with the letter ‘A,’ which I’ve noticed are among the most commonly played tunes in the Real Book. (Makes sense; we tend to open a book and start at the beginning.)
It’s also has a really catchy melody.
Lewis himself played it a lot, but probably not as much as his signature tune, “Django,” which was his tribute to the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. It seems like Lewis reworked it for practically every album he made. But “Django” is a lament, and not the type of tune most people call at a jam session. So even though it too is in the Real Book, it’s not played so much. (But do yourself a favor and learn it; it’s wonderful.)
“Afternoon In Paris” is a fun tune to play. In addition to its infectious melody, it had a very logical-sounding chord progression that passes through several descending keys in rapid succession. C, Bb, and Ab. Good to practice your bebop licks over. And then the bridge provides more of a grounded tonal center by staying in C major for a bit before giving a little chromatic surprise leading up to the last ‘A’ section. I sometimes like to play a G pedal point under most of the bridge.
Here’s my favorite recording of John Lewis himself playing "Afternoon In Paris".
It’s kind of quietly joyous and melancholy at the same time. Lewis was heavily into classical music and brought some of the emotional quality of slow Bach and Beethoven into his jazz playing.
And if you want to join me on my Journey Through The Real Book, I hope this video inspires you. If you know a few jazz tunes already and are looking to expand your repertoire, John Lewis’ “Afternoon In Paris” is a good place to start!
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