A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“A Fine Romance” is one of several wonderful songs that Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields wrote together. (Some others are “Pick Yourself Up” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”) The team composed “A Fine Romance” for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie Swing Time, from 1936. The lyrics are fun to hear, and I especially enjoy the 2nd verse, which isn’t always included in vocal performances.

Here are some recommended recordings/videos:
(for international readers who may not have access to these YouTube links, I’ve indicated the original album names wherever possible so you can listen to them on music streaming services, etc.)

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire: from the movie “Swing Time” (1936)

Billie Holiday

Oscar Peterson: Oscar Peterson Plays The Jerome Kern Songbook

Dave Brubeck

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Harmonically, most of “A Fine Romance” consists of the old “Heart And Soul” chord progression: I/vi/ii/V. However, it’s disguised, and this is where the fun comes in!

Look at measures 1-4. At first, they don’t look very much like I/vi/ii/V, do they? But as an experiment, play the melody with these chords underneath, with one chord per measure: CMaj7/Am7/Dm7/G7. Sounds logical, right. Jerome Kern could have written it this way and it would have sounded good, although perhaps similar to hundreds of other songs from around the same time. So what does he do instead? He harmonizes the phrase with chords that are built upon a chromatically ascending bass line, with some new chords substituting for the I/vi/ii/V. After the initial tonic chord of C6, he puts in C#dim7 as a substitute for Am7. The C#dim7 contains the same notes as an A7(b9), without the root. Then he keeps moving upward, which brings us to Dm. The Real Books uses a Dm6 here to accommodate the ‘B’ in the melody, but feel free to play Dm7 during your solos (it also sounds fine during the melody). The next chord is a little “further out” of a substitution. Instead of using a V chord, or even a V substitute, Kern puts in a D#dim7, which functions as a dominant of Em, which he’s going to. This keeps the dramatic tension of the ascending bass line going for a full 4 measures and at the same time adds a little spice to the harmony in this spot. It also gives a great deal of forward motion towards the beginning of the next phrase, which begins with an Em chord, which is itself a substitute for the I chord (CMaj7). You can continue this type of harmonic analysis through the 1st ending, and see how all the chords somehow or other relate to an underlying I/vi/ii/V cycle.

The chords in the 2nd ending move elsewhere, with a stunning sequence of secondary dominant chords giving us V-I relationships in several keys before concluding with yet another phrase that evokes I/vi/ii/V; in this case it’s Em7 Ebdim7/Dm6 G7, which finally leads us back to the tonic at the very end. As we can see here, Jerome Kern was a master of using harmonic motion to create a sense of forward propulsion.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
A Fine Romance: Wikipedia

Jerome Kern (from the Dorothy Fields website)

A Fine Romance: Journey Through The Real Book #117

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