A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“For All We Know” wasn’t in the original Real Book, but I’m glad they’ve included it in the newer edition. It’s one of the greatest ballads ever written, and the lyric is worth checking out as it will enhance your understanding of the song.

The song was composed in 1934 by J. Fred Coots and Sam M. Lewis. (Although we tend to think more often of songwriters like George Gershwin and Cole Porter, there were in fact many, many great composers in of The Great American Songbook.) Coots and Lewis’s “For All We Know” is as perfect a song as anyone has written, in any musical genre. It’s truly timeless and even as late as 1962, the jazz vocalist Dinah Washington could still hit the pop charts with her recording of it!

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

Ben Webster and Oscar Peterson (video)

Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden: Jasmine

The way Jarrett plays the first few melody notes is “musical perfection!”

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Listen to the how Ben Webster plays the melody on the recording I’ve linked to above. The art of playing a melody straight from the heart isn’t something that a lot of jazz pianists do. Even some wonderful musicians don’t make this a priority, but if you can do it, your musical life will be richer and your listeners will respond to your playing in positive ways. After all, what could be better than to touch people’s hearts with your music?

Playing a melody from your heart doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to play it note-for note. The composers of the Great American Songbook era notated their melodies using fairly straight ahead and basic rhythms. (You won’t find many 16th note rhythmic anticipations, for example, like you’ll see in sheet music by many contemporary pop artists.) Their reason for this was simple: they wanted to give the performer a basic “template” that could be used for personal interpretation. In other words, these songs were meant to be personalized. Now, this might mean different things to different performers. A pop singer on the 40s might sing all the written notes, but change the phrasing a bit. Or, they may alter the notes in just one or two phrases for expressive purposes. Going still further, a jazz musician might add embellishments and even go away from the melody for a little while, coming back to it in the next phrase.

Learn the melody to “For All We Know” as written and memorize it. After you know it well, play it about 10 times in a row, phrasing and embellishing it differently each time. See where this takes you. This type of exploration is one of the big joys of being a jazz musician!

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

Further links and resources:
For All We Know: Journey Through The Real Book #122

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