A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” is one of the essential jazz ballads. Composed in 1941 for the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the tune was also recorded by Strayhorn himself (see below). The song has gorgeous harmonies and provides a nice contrast between the ‘A’ Sections and the bridge.

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.)

Duke Ellington: The Strayhorn Touch

Billy Strayhorn: The Peaceful Side Of Billy Strayhorn

This is the full album, on which Chelsea Bridge is the 7th track.

Joe Lovano: Rush Hour

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The ‘A’ Sections of “Chelsea Bridge” feature the type of floating, impressionist harmony that Strayhorn was famous for. Sometimes the first two chords are notated as Bbm(maj7) and Abm(maj7, depending upon which version you’re looking at (m. 3 would use the same 2 chords as well).

Also notice the contrast between the ‘A’ Sections and the bridge. The ‘A’ Sections are in the key of Db, which Strayhorn also used in his “signature” composition, “Lush Life,” and as I mentioned, use impressionistic harmony that doesn’t cleary define the key at first. The bridge, by contrast, speeds up the harmonic rhythm and uses a traditional series of ii/V progressions moving between several keys, including G major, which is about a “remote” from Db as you can get!

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

Further links and resources:
Billy Strayhorn In Five Songs
A good introduction to Billy Strayhorn and his music

Thoughts On Billy Strayhorn
A heartfelt tribute to Strayhorn

Chelsea Bridge: Journey Through The Real Book #60

How To Learn Jazz Piano
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Jazz Piano Video Course
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