A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Guilty” is a beautiful ballad from the early 1930s, with music by Richard Whiting, Harry Akst, and with lyrics by Gus Kahn. It’s not one of the most famous songs anymore, but it reminds us of how many wonderful tunes were written in what is now known as the era of the Great American Songbook. There are literally hundreds of these songs out there, just waiting to be learned and enjoyed by us jazz pianists!

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.)

Ted Wallace

This is the 1931 hit recording of the song. The overall sound is typical of how a lot of popular music sounded at the time. “Jazzy but no too jazzy” for the general public. Similar in this respect to Sinatra’s recordings from 2-3 decades later.

Margaret Whiting

1946 vocal rendition of the tune, sung by the daughter of one of the tune’s composers, Richard Whiting

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Harmonically, the chord progression to “Guilty” can be studied in 2-measure sections. Each 2-measures uses a common chord pattern, and it’s interesting to see how the composers of this song strung them together to create the longer form.

Start with the first 2 measures: BbMaj7 G7#5/Cm7 A7#5. This is a common way to harmonize ascending diatonic scale degrees with secondary dominants. G7 is the V of Cm. Then there’s A7, which is the V of Dm. But instead of actually going to the Dm, the composers instead went back to the tonic chord, BbMaj7, and begin another standard 2 –measure progression. Analyze and practice each of these sections repeatedly until you can “hear” them internally. They’re used in many, many tunes and learning “Guilty” is a good way to become familiar with them.

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

Further links and resources:
Guilty (song): Wikipedia

Gus Kahn: Wikipedia
Some background about Gus Kahn, who also wrote the lyrics to “It Had To Be You” and “Side By Side.”

Guilty: Journey Through The Real Book #143

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