The correct way to play Miles Davis’s “Four”

Have you ever played the Miles Davis tune “Four?” It’s a fun tune to play, and if you’ve played it, here’s a follow-up question: have you ever played it correctly? And here’s yet another related question: does it even matter if we’ve played it correctly?

The reason I’m asking is that first learned “Four” from the old 5th edition of The Real Book, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, both the melody and chord changes were wrong. Actually, I think I did realize it at the time, but I frankly didn’t care enough to do anything about it.

I had memorized the Real Book version and enjoyed playing it at jam sessions and on jazz gigs, and then ignored the obvious fact that the recordings I read were different. I’d dimly think “Oh, it’s no big deal and besides, I’ll get around to learning it the right way sometime.”

Gradually, “sometime” came around, at least as far as the chord progression was concerned. A friend showed me how the Real Book had substituted Bbm7/ Eb7 for Miles’ Em7/Ab7 in bars 3-6. I played it like this, but it sounded a little strange to me and the tenor sax player in my band refused to play those changes, because the Real Book chords sounded so much more logical to him.

Over time, it slowly dawned on me that Miles wrote the progression the way he did because he wanted to include the element of surprise, for instance when the ii/V in Db, Ebm7/Ab7, opened up to the Fm7 instead of going to Db major. This is what Miles intended and now it seems so much better to me than the chords I mistakenly played for a few years in high school and college.

The melody is also wrong in The Real Book, even in the new 6th edition. It’s only a matter of a couple of notes at the beginning of the second phrase, but it sounds very different indeed, once we know what to listen for.

The issue here points to our over-reliance on the written note over what our ears tell us. If we sing along with Miles’ recording, we’ll learn the melody correctly. If we start with the Real Book, we’ll learn it wrong.

Which is better? (It’s obvious which is “easier!”)

Making my Journey Through The Real Book video on “Four” forced me to finally learn the melody correctly and explore this great tune as it was intended to be played. I’m delighted to share it with you here so you can pencil in the real melody in your own copy of the Real Book:

Four: Journey Through The Real Book #126

Give it a try. It only takes a few minutes and I’ve found it’s a satisfying feeling to go through this process and play the tune correctly.

Have fun, and “let the music flow!”

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