A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Blue In Green” is an iconic jazz ballad from Miles Davis’ 1959 album, Kind Of Blue. Although the composer’s credit went to Davis on the album, the piece was actually composed by pianist Bill Evans (The Miles Davis estate has acknowledged this fact). Miles gave Evans the opening Gm6 and asked him to compose a tune which started with that chord.
The melody is simple and evocative. One feature of the melody is that almost every measure begins with a long tone, which is often a “color” note such as the 6th, #9, or #11. The harmony is basically a series of dominant preparation/dominant/tonic chords in the key D minor. (Take a close look at the chords in The Real Book and you’ll see what I mean.)
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.)
Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue
Bill Evans: Portrait In Jazz
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Although there aren’t a lot of chords to learn for “Blue In Green,” the progression can be a little tricky. The tune has a king of “circular form” and if you’re not paying attention, you may find yourself going back to the m.3 after you play m. 6. (There are only 10 measures in the whole form.)
A unique aspect of the version on Kind Of Blue is that after Miles plays the melody, the chords are played twice as fast during the piano and sax solos. The slow tempo doesn’t change, but most of the chords are only played for 2 beats, instead of a whole measure as they were under the melody. And at one point later in the recording, they’re sped up again, so that each chord gets only one beat under a short piano solo!
This effect is subtle, yet it keeps the song fresh and interesting without the listener necessarily being aware of it. Listen to the Miles Davis recording while looking at the leadsheet and see if you can hear where each chord changes to the next. Then you’ll be able to see (and hear) exactly what they did in this regard. This technique could be used effectively on many ballads, not just “Blue In Green.”
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
A Fresh look at Miles Davis’ “Blue In Green”
Some excellent background on “Blue In Green” by Quincy Troupe, the co-author of Miles’ autobiography.
Kind Of Blue and the economy of modal jazz
Includes a brief analysis of “Blue In Green”
Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece
The definitive book on how the Kind of Blue album was made.
Jazz Piano Tip #34: Blue In Green
Do this and your jazz ballads will sound twice as good!
Blue In Green: Journey Through The Real Book #37
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
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