A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
Even though “God Bess The Child” is a tune you’ll play mostly with vocalists, don’t rule out playing it on instrumental gigs. It’s one of those standards that some of the general public will recognize and enjoy, which will help you connect with them during your performances.
The song was composed by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr. in 1939. Holiday’s version is the “go to” recording, but also check out how The Keith Jarrett Standards Trio plays it. (I’ve linked to both recordings below.)
The lyric is an excellent choice for vocalists who want to sing something other than the love songs that make up most of The Great American Songbook. “God Bess The Child” is a song about self-reliance and inner strength.
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.)
Keith Jarrett Trio: Standards Live (video)
Jarrett and his trio play the tune with a funk groove
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“God Bless The Child” is one of the all-time great ballads and it sounds wonderful on solo piano, when played with a vocalist, and in larger groups. You can use a wide variety of stylistic approaches to the song. Even though there’s nothing bluesy about the melody, the impassioned nature of the lyric tends to bring out a blues quality in some vocalists, and you can mirror this in your piano playing as well. They playing it in a quiet, tender way, and then play it like you would a blues. See which way you prefer. Or maybe you prefer a combination of these two styles.
I used to play “God Bless The Child” with a singer who asked me to write an exciting, gospel arrangement of the song for us to perform. I substituted a Bbm7 chord for the AbMaj7 in measures 1-2, and anticipated it by an 8th note, playing it on the ‘and’ of beat 2. This gave the song a fresh sound that you can also use if you like (just be sure to tell the bass player!).
Keith Jarrett recording, which appeared on his Standard Trio’s first album, will also give you some ideas on how you can interpret the song. It would also sound great with a hip hop beat, using “swing 16ths.”
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
The Life Of A Song: God Bless The Child
A fascinating account of the original inspiration for the song
God Bless The Child: Journey Through The Real Book #136
How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively
Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.
Jazz Piano Lessons via Skype
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