A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Darn That Dream” is one of the Great American Songbook ballads that was beloved by the beboppers. I remember when I was baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s assistant, that Gerry rarely performed encores. He would give a good, long concert with his Concert Jazz Band, and then that was it. When the audience was especially enthusiastic, he would play a quartet version of his classic tune “Line For Lyons,” which was an audience favorite. But on those rare occasions when the audience still wanted more, Gerry would sit down at the piano and play a solo version of “Darn That Dream.” Just him, a piano, and one of his favorite tunes.

The song was composed in 1939 by composer Jimmy Van Heusen. It has lyrics by Eddie DeLange.

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.)

Thelonious Monk: Solo Piano

Besides having one of the best album covers in all of jazz, “Solo Monk” features bebop pioneer Monk playing in a retro way, reminding us that he started out playing stride piano in the style of Art Tatum.

Bill Evans and Jim Hall: Undercurrent

Paul Desmond: Live 1975

Sarah Vaughan and The Count Basie Orchestra

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
In terms of difficulty, “Darn That Dream” is somewhere between “Misty” (not too hard) and “Body And Soul” (pretty complex). One thing that pianists don’t do enough is to isolate the bass line and play it by itself, to really experience it on its own. Play through the bass notes, in tempo, a few times and listen to how they move in and out of the tonic key. Then add the melody with your right hand and listen to the two lines together, as if they were the outer voices in a Bach chorale.

This type of practicing is fascinating and will help you discover a lot about the relationship between melody and harmony. Then, when you add the chords between these outer voices, it’ll mean more to you because you’ve experienced the song without the full harmonies. You’ll know first-hand how the harmonies influence the way we perceive a song’s melody. This type of practicing will also bring a higher level of “intentionality” to your playing, as opposed to just sitting down and playing what you already know.

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

Further links and resources:
The Jazz Standards: A Guide To The Repertoire
An excerpt from the book by Ted Gioia

8 Ways That Thelonious Monk Was Influenced By Art Tatum

Darn That Dream: Journey Through The Real Book #81

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.

Jazz Piano Lessons via Skype
Personal guidance from an expert, caring teacher. Beginning through Advanced.

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