A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Composed by pianist John Lewis, “Afternoon In Paris” is a great tune and should serve as an invitation to hear more of his work. Lewis was an important pianist in the bebop era, having played in both Charlie Parker’s quintet and in Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool band. He later brought jazz into the concert hall on a regular basis as leader of The Modern Jazz Quartet. This charming tune evokes, well, and afternoon in Paris!

Here are some recommended videos/recordings:
(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.)

John Lewis and Sacha Distel: Afternoon In Paris

This is one of my favorite versions of “Afternoon In Paris.” It’s interesting how when composer John Lewis recorded the song himself, he played it a little calmer than the way most players interpret it. This recording is from 1956, and reflects both Lewis’s bebop roots (as a member of Charlie Parker’s group) and his desire to play in a simpler, more direct way. Check out his solo; its like his fingers are tap-dancing on the keys!

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins and Co. 1964

Sonny plays the tune with a harder edge and intensity than Lewis himself did.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The “old” editions of the Real Book had a few incorrect measures at the end of the bridge. Although this has been thankfully fixed in recent editions, you may have to make sure all your musical partners are playing the same version.
Listen to the similarities and differences in the two recordings I’ve linked to above. Even slight differences in tempo and articulation can make the music sound very different. Experiment with these and decide which interpretation is best for you. (Or play it differently each time!)

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

Further links and resources:
Afternoon In Paris: Journey Through The Real Book #3

Since John Lewis loved Bach’s music so much, I was inspired to weave some counterpoint into my version of the tune. When you’re improvising counterpoint, don’t worry if it’s “perfect” or not. Just get 2 or 3 independent melodic lines going and see where they lead to. That’s part of the fun!

How to play jazz counterpoint

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

John Lewis on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz radio show
Interview, solo piano performances, and duets with McPartland

“Inside information” from jazz piano legend John Lewis
Here's what John Lewis personally told me about how The Modern Jazz Quartet got started

Afternoon In Paris playalong track

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