A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Detour Ahead” was composed in 1947 by Herb Ellis, John Frigo, and Lou Carter. The three musicians had previously played together in The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, and had recently formed a new group, The Soft Winds. This was still in the era when jazz musicians could get their songs on mainstream radio, and it seems to me that “Detour Ahead” was an attempt to write a pop song that could be played as a jazz ballad. The attempt was successful, since Billie Holiday and other vocalists soon recorded the song.

These days, “Detour Ahead” is mostly performed by vocalists, although it makes a great jazz instrumental as well. Listen to the various recordings I’ve linked to below, to hear a range of possible interpretations.

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.)

Billie Holiday

Herb Ellis

This is from 1961, with the tune’s composer Herb Ellis on guitar. The pianist is Victor Feldman, who also recorded with Miles Davis at around this time.

Bill Evans: Waltz For Debby

Jane Monheit

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Detour Ahead” was composed in the style of a standard ballad but as a jazz vehicle. As such, it contains some unusual harmonic surprises that are fun to play, like the EMaj7 to Db9(#11) at the end of the bridge. Song composers such as Harold Arlen who favored this type of key change would most likely us a G7 to get back to the key of C. Jazz musicians would then sometimes replace the G7 with a Db7 chord, as a “tritone substitution.” Herb Ellis and this tune’s other composers went right to the more jazzy Db7, since they coming from more of a jazz style to begin with. If you enjoy playing ballads, give “Detour Ahead” a try!

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

Further links and resources:
Detour Ahead: Journey Through The Real Book #87

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

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