A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
If you’re looking for a pop tune to play in a jazz/R&B style Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady” would be a great choice. The song originally appeared in 1973 on his landmark album “Innervisions.” Check out Stevie’s unaccompanied piano intro, which I’ve linked to below.
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.)
Stevie Wonder: Innervisions
Kurt Elling: @ New Morning, Paris (video)
Robert Glasper: In-studio performance (video)
An acoustic jazz version, with some tasty piano soloing!
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
As a composer, one of Stevie Wonder’s great contributions is how he uses jazz harmonies and chord progressions in a pop and R&B context. The jazz chords bring a richness of sound to his songs, while at the same time supporting his beautiful melodicism without detracting from it at all.
Here’s an example of Wonder’s harmonic genius. Play the chords to the first 4 measures of “Golden Lady” on piano and listen to how they sound. It starts off simply enough, with the I, ii, and ii chords in Eb major. Now, if you were writing a tune, would you go to the Am7 – D7sus4 in the next measure? I’m not sure this would occur to me, but it works so well! Wonder manages to move outside the key in a way that surprises us yet seems logical and inevitable. (The “genius” part is that this later becomes the ii-V that sets up the modulation to the key of G minor. We don’t know it when the song begins, but Wonder is using these chords to foreshadow, or anticipate, the future new key. That’s the amazing part!)
This is just part of the rich harmonic vocabulary that Wonder brings to a seemingly simple pop song like “Golden Lady.” It sounds straightforward when we hear him sing it, but it’s not at all easy to play. It’s a great tune to solo on as well. Give it a try!
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
Stevie Wonder ‘Innervisions’: Classic Track-By-Track Review
From Billboard magazine
Forgotten Treasure: Stevie Wonder “Golden Lady”
A heartfelt appreciation of the song
Golden Lady: Journey Through The Real Book #137
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