When you sit down to play the piano, what tunes do you play? Do you come back to Autumn Leaves and Take The A Train all the time? While this has definite benefits, it’s also important to try new tunes. Even if we just sightread the melody, playing new repertoire stretches our ears, plants the seed towards learning new styles, and keeps us musically fresh.
In my page-by-page journey through The Real Book, I’ll occasionally come upon a stretch of a few tunes that are rarely played. Instead of backing away from these tunes, I’ve learned to embrace them and have had some amazing musical experiences while studying and performing the songs which are a little bit out of the “usual” jazz repertoire.
The 3 most recent tunes I’ve played are definitely not tunes you’ll call at a jam session! At least not without bringing a chart or giving the players some time to prepare ahead of time. But all three are great tunes and will make us better jazz pianists by playing them.
The first is Golden Lady, by none other than the great Stevie Wonder. When the Real Book was originally put together, in the early 1970s, the compilers intentionally included a few of their favorite “new” songs from the realm of popular music. Because Wonder’s music has jazz-based harmonies, many of his songs are excellent vehicles for jazz improvisation. Golden Lady is one of them!
The next tune was composed by John Guenin in 1975. While I didn’t immediately “get” the cultural reference contained in the title, I eventually realized how it influenced the musical introduction and, by extension, the entire piece of music. Give it a try!
Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America
The 3rd tune on our trilogy is a lively Coltrane tune, which a college band I was in used as their theme song. This video features a recording of me playing it with them during my college years, as they sing my vocal arrangement of the song. This was heavily influenced by the legendary jazz vocal group Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross.
I hope you enjoy taking this brief excursion with me down the musical road less-traveled. You’ll learn a lot from hearing me give some perspective on each tune and watching and hearing me play them. Then, sit down at your own piano and give them a try yourself. Even if you just play the melodies at first, it’ll be fun and ear-opening.
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