A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“For Heaven’s Sake” is a beautiful ballad written by Don Meyers, Elise Bretton and Sherman Edwards. It was composed in the late 1940s and reflects the connection between pop music and jazz that was still prevalent at the time.

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.)

Claude Thornhill: Volume 9

This was the first recording of “For Heaven’s Sake,” by the Claude Thornhill big band. Thornhill’s band sounded mellower and smoother than the other big bands of the Swing Era, partly through the use of orchestral instruments such as French horns. The group’s sound had a huge influence on the later “cool jazz” style of the late 1940s – 50s.

Billie Holiday: Lady In Satin

Charlie Haden and Kenny Barron: Night And The City

Mark Soskin: Man Behind The Curtain

With Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“For Heaven’s Sake” is in the key of F major, and makes extensive use of ii/V/I chord progressions. It starts out on the ii chord in F, and later modulates to Db at the beginning of the bridge, which begins on the ii chord of that key: Ebm7.

Look at the first chord in the song: Gm7(b5). If you then look at the next few chords, you’ll see that the Gm7(b5) is at the beginning of a ii/V/I progression, as I mentioned above. But you may ask yourself “Why is there a (b5)? Since it’s in a major key, shouldn’t it be a straight Gm7 chord?” Yes, you are correct! By making it a Gm7(b5) instead, the composers are making use of a technique called “modal mixture,” where you “borrow” a chord from minor and place it in a “major” chord progression, or vice versa. The effect is to give the phrase a slightly different “coloration,” there. It sounds a little more exotic than if it was all kept in major. This mixing of harmonic modes doesn’t work in every song, but if used appropriately, can be very effective when harmonizing melodies.

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

Further links and resources:
Billie Holiday: Wikipedia

Claude Thornhill: “The Sound Hung Like A Cloud”

For Heaven's Sake: Journey Through The Real Book #123

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