A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Como En Vietnam” was composed by bassist Steve Swallow and, like many his compositions in The Real Book, was recorded by the vibraphonist Gary Burton. In this case, it was on the album Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett, from 1970, which featured Swallow as part of the rhythm section. This was one of the first jazz albums I ever heard, and I still love the “jazz meets pop” sensibility of many of its songs.

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.)

Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett

Paul Bellinati and Steve Swallow: 2000 (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The introduction to “Como En Vietnam” is fun to play and very typical of Latin piano styles. It’s an example of a “montuno,” which is a Latin-style piano “vamp” over a Bbm chord in this case. You can use patterns like this on many different tunes, even traditional standards like “Autumn Leaves” if you play them with straight 8th notes.

Learn the right hand part to the introduction exactly as it appears in The Real Book.
There’s a cool bass line written for the left hand, but a simpler bass line with just Bb and F would sound great as well.

“Como En Vietnam” is an unusual 20 measures in length, but I hear it as more of a 16-bar tune with a 4-bar extension, which repeats the previous 4 measures. The entire melody sounds great when harmonized in 6ths, except for the melody’s last measure, where you’ll need to use 7ths to harmonize fit with the Gb7 – F7 harmonies.

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

Further links and resources:

Expert Testimony: Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow tells the story of how his tunes were included in The Real Book

Como En Vietnam: Journey Through The Real Book #67

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