A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Falling Grace” was composed by bassist Steve Swallow for vibraphonist Gary Burton’s 1966 album, The Time Machine. The album features a stylistic mix of songs, are from many different eras musical genres. Included are several “new” jazz pieces, along with a pop song by the Beatles (“Norwegian Wood”), a Brazilian bossa nova, and a trip back to 1933 with the Rodgers and Hart jazz standard, “My Funny Valentine.”

“Falling Grace” is one of the “new” tunes, and in my opinion it’s one of Steve Swallow’s best compositions. Check it out!

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: Time Machine

Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez: Intuition

Chick Corea and Gary Burton: Crystal Silence

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Although it doesn’t say so in The Real Book, “Falling Grace” is meant to be played with a Latin beat. Playing through the tune, it’s easy to see how this type of writing could have influenced that young Chick Corea. Indeed, Chick later recorded the tune with Gary Burton (see links above).

In some ways, improvising on “Falling Grace” will come easily to you since the chord progression uses many of the same elements such as ii/V/I’s that older jazz standards use. But Swallow uses them more fluidly and shifts the tonal centers around more. In fact, we don’t really know what key we’re in until the resolution to E minor in bar 12, and that only last for one measure before we go to G major!

Have fun exploring the chords in this tune are you practice improvising over them. “Falling Grace” is a great tune to play once you “get the hang of it!”

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

Further links and resources:
Steve Swallow interview

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

The composer of “Falling Grace” discusses his composing and bass playing
An interesting forum thread about Steve Swallow and his Real Books tunes

Falling Grace: Journey Through The Real Book #114

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