A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Alfie” is the title track from the 1966 movie which starred British actor Michael Caine. The song isn’t widely played among jazz musicians even though it’s one of the most beautiful ballads ever written. The best way to get familiar with the song is to listen to the original recording by Dionne Warwick. She delivers the melancholy lyric with a rare sensitivity and you’ll hear how gorgeous Bert Bacharach’s melody is.
Then check out the Bill Evans recording to hear the tune’s possibilities as a jazz vehicle. During the late 60s and early 70s, Evans began to play contemporary pop and movie songs and “Alfie” shows how successful this approach can be.

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.)

Dionne Warwick

Listening to a vocal version of a tune like “Alfie” will really help your piano interpretation. Don’t feel like you have to memorize all the lyrics, though. Just get a sense of how Warwick phrases the opening “What’s it all about, Alfie?” and you’ll be getting a good start towards playing the rest of the melody with an appropriate feeling.

Bill Evans: Montreux II

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Although it was composed as a popular song in the 1960s, “Alfie” uses a jazz harmonic vocabulary similar those from the Great American Songbook era such as “Stardust” and “Over The Rainbow.” This means that you can interpret it just like any other ballad in The Real Book. Harmonic extensions and alterations will sound great and you can improvise either a lyrical or complex melodic solo.
Bill Evans had such a strong musical personality that it can be difficult to play a tune like this without copying him directly. Try playing an introduction in your own style, and let this style carry over into the tune itself.

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

Further links and resources:
Alfie: Journey Through The Real Book #6

Listen to the moving inner voices within the chord voicings.

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

Bill Evans: The Creative Process
This is an excerpt from an excellent video where Evans was interviewed by his older brother, Harry. He demonstrates some points at the piano.

Alfie playalong track

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