A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Black Coffee” wasn’t in the original Real Book, but I’m really glad they’ve included it in now since it’s one of the great, bluesy torch songs of The Great American Songbook era. It’s primarily performed by vocalists, and it’s fun to play bluesy fills in-between the vocalists’ phrases while they sing the melody.

The song was written in 1948 by Sonny Burke and Paul Francis Webster. The most famous version is by Sarah Vaughan, below. It’s almost always performed as a jazz ballad with a blues influence.

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.)

Sarah Vaughan (1949)

Waverly Seven: At the Jazz Standard (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Black Coffee” is a “blues with a bridge.” This means that each of the ‘A’ sections is a 12-bar blues, and there’s also a bridge in the middle. Tunes like this are fun to play because you can play all your bluesy stuff in a longer, more elaborate song structure.
You may choose to play the bridge in a less bluesy way, or maybe not, depending on the mood of the performance.

The ‘A’ sections aren’t just a basic blues, however. There are lots of chromatic neighbor chords as well, and this is part of both the challenge and opportunity of a song like “Black Coffee.” Diminished and altered scales work particularly well over these chromatic chords, and will give you many melodic possibilities once you become comfortable using them in this context.

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

Further links and resources:
Black Coffee: Wikipedia

Black Coffee playalong track

Black Coffee: Journey Through The Real Book #31

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

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