A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Dream A Little Dream Of Me” was written in 1930, right at the end of the “jazz age” of the 1920s. While you probably won’t be playing the tune in your more bebop-oriented jam sessions, it’s sounds great with an older swing feel and is still a favorite among vocalists.

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.)

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Gerry Mulligan: Dream A Little Dream

The Momas & The Papas: Gold

Michael Bublé

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Dream A Little Dream Of Me” is a lot of fun to play. It’s the type of tune that connects us to an earlier era, and a kind of stride-based piano playing that was heard everywhere from the 1920s –early 1950s.

The song has an AABA structure where the ‘A’ Sections are in the key of G major. There’s a wonderful moment when the bridge suddenly modulates to Eb, without much preparation. It just goes there, and the sound “opens up” at that point. Sometimes we forget that we can do this when we write our own songs. This modulation into the bridge reminds me of the song “Here, There, And Everywhere” by Paul McCartney

You can develop a complete piano arrangement of “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” by practicing it in three steps, like this:

1. Learn to play a relaxed stride pattern throughout the whole song with your left hand.

2. Add the melody in your right hand, playing it over your left hand stride.

3. Once you can easily and comfortably play the melody and LH stride accompaniment together, fill in some chords under the melody in your RH. But don’t feel like you have to play complete chords there; just grab whatever chord tones you can. The combination of melody, chords, and stride LH is the basis of the entire Stride Piano style and can be used on hundreds of tunes, especially those from era of The Great American Songbook.

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

Further links and resources:
Dream A Little Dream Of Me: Wikipedia

The Story Of “Dream A Little Dream”
Some anecdotes about the tune and its composer, Gus Kahn

Dream A Little Dream Of Me: Journey Through The Real Book #101

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