A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Don’t Blame Me” was a favorite ballad of the beboppers. One of the things I like most about the tune is how the ‘A’ section manages to make what’s essentially a repeating I – vi – ii –V chord progression sound so fresh. It sounds so fresh, in fact, that I play the song for years without noticing that this!

Whatever style of jazz you play, it’s worthwhile to get to know a standard like “Don’t Blame Me” as it was popularly heard “back in the day.” Listen to the Nat King Cole version below, just as listeners did during the 1950s. (The song actually dates from 1932.) Not only is this how the listening public thought of the song back then, but it’s how jazz musicians were introduced to the tune too. So when players like Thelonious Monk and Eric Dolphy improvised on it, they were able to be free with their interpretations because they were so intimately familiar with the more straight-ahead versions. Also, there’s a charm to the vocal recordings that the jazzers could bring to their renditions when they chose to do so. If you only listen to jazz interpretations of standards, you’ll be limiting yourself in ways that you may not be aware of.

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.)

Nat King Cole: The Very Thought Of You

Thelonious Monk: Live In Denmark (video)

Monk’s opening flourish reminds us that he had played classical music as a child. It sounds like Rachmaninoff!

Eric Dolphy: Eric Dolphy In Europe, Vol. 2

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Don’t Blame Me” is a great tune for practicing inner-voice motion. Sometimes I’ll play just the melody and bass line a few times and really listen to them, without any harmony. Then I’ll add and alto line in my right hand, under the melody. Even though this isn’t a “complete” arrangement, practicing this will help you discover new sounds and “hear” inner-voice melodic motion which can later be incorporated into a fuller piano texture. Have fun with this and don’t “give up” if it doesn’t come easily to you at first. After a while it will become easier and eventually feel natural. I promise!

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

Further links and resources:
Don’t Blame Me: Wikipedia

Don’t Blame Me: Journey Through The Real Book #98

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