A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“A Sunday Kind Of Love” is a ballad that was composed in 1946 by Barbara Belle, Anita Leonard, Stan Rhodes, and Louis Prima. This fact alone gives us a fascinating glimpse into the musical richness of the period. By 1946, the Swing Era was pretty much over in one sense, and bebop was the innovative music of the day.
But beautiful songs of the Swing Era were still beloved by the musical public, and they coexisted with the new sounds of bebop. (Just as they coexisted with early rock and roll a decade later.) So even though the jazz history books emphasize bebop as the music of the mid-to-late 1940s and early 1950s, the truth is that ballads, swing, blues, and bebop all existed at the same time, and there was a huge and important amount of cross-fertilization between them. We can hear this, for instance, in the tender way that Charlie Parker phrased ballads and even medium tempo melodies like “Just Friends.” A song such as “A Sunday Kind Of Love” would have been played by swing dance bands, beboppers, torch singers, and in semi-classical styles. All in the same neighborhood at times!
(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.)
Claude Thornhill and His Orchestra
Etta James: Unforgettable
Ella Fitzgerald: For Sentimental Reasons
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One thing that makes a standard like “A Sunday Kind Of Love” fairly easy to learn is that the same chords have been used in so many other songs. If you’ve played a few jazz tunes in the key of F, you’ll probably be able to practically sightread “A Sunday Kind Of Love” and improvise over it after a few tries.
Playing it with a good sense of style, however, is a different story. “A Sunday Kind Of Love” is one of those old-style ballads that seem to be difficult for many beginning and even intermediate jazz players these days. We simply don’t hear much music with this feeling any more. It’s not “in the air” like it was for decades. This is the price of cultural change, but don’t let it stop you from becoming able to play this music in the best possible way. You don’t have to play it exactly like a pianist would have in 1946. That may not even be possible. But since there’s something very special about the slow ballad style that this song represents, you’ll be doing yourself a very big favor if you immerse yourself in the recordings of the great ballad interpreters of the past, including Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Jo Stafford, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan. (And the many others.) This is some of the greatest music ever created, and each of us can become part of the tradition, if we choose to be.
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively
Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
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