A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Also known as “A Day In The Life Of A Fool,” and “Manha de Carnival,” the song was first introduced in the movie “Black Orpheus in 1959. It’s one of the first jazz tunes that many players learn.

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.)

Elizete Cardoso: Mahna de Carnival

Paul Desmond: Take Ten

Kenny Barron/ Brad Mehldau piano duet: Umbria Jazz Festival 1999 (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Black Orpheus” is one of the most commonly played tunes in The Real Book. It has a beautiful melody that’s simple enough for beginning horn players to learn so it’s often called at jam sessions. At first glance it may seem like there are lots of chords to learn, but if you look a little more closely, you’ll see that almost all the chords are parts of ii/V/I chord progressions, in either major or minor (and they repeat a lot!).

The melody to “Black Orpheus” contains enough long notes to lend itself to a pianistic arrangement where you play both chords and melody with your right hand. Practice playing the melody itself with your 3rd, 4th, and 5th fingers wherever you can, and fill in two or three chord tones underneath with your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers. (Your 3rd finger will sometimes play melody and sometimes play chords.)

The cool thing about playing both melody and chords with your right hand is that it frees your left hand up to play whatever bass line you like, without having any harmonic responsibility.

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

Further links and resources:
Original scene from the movie Black Orpheus (1959)

Bossa Nova: Wikipedia

Now, HERE’S how to start a piano solo!

Black Orpheus: Journey Through The Real Book #35

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

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