A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
The bossa nova “How Insensitive” was composed by the iconic Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, who also wrote “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Wave,” as well as many classics. He used Chopin’s famous Prelude in Em as a model, and it’s interesting to compare the two compositions. They both feature chromatically-descending bass lines as well as a gentle, sustained melody.

If you’re new to playing bossas, learn “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Wave” first, because you’ll probably play them more with other musicians. But make sure you come back to “How Insensitive,” because it’s a gorgeous composition that sounds great on piano.

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.)

Stan Getz & Luis Bonfa: Jazz Samba Encore!

Shirley Horn and Trio: Heineken Concerts 99 (video)

Dexter Gordon: Sophisticated Giant

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“How Insensitive” is a wonderful tune to improvise on. The chords move nicely from one to the next and, best of all, we have lots of time to linger on each one since most of the chords are held for 2 measures each.

Since the C#dim7 chord is so prominently featured in m.2-3, this is a good time to practice your improvising on diminished chords. Use the C# diminished scale: C#, D#, E, F#, G, A, Bb, C. Unlike major and minor scales, the diminished scale has 8 notes, and they are arranged in a pattern of “whole step – half step, whole step – half step,” etc. Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie used this scale frequently and you’ll also find it in a lot of 20th century classical music by composers such as Bela Bartok.

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

Further links and resources:
Bossa Nova: Wikipedia

How Insensitive playalong track

How Insensitive: Jobim’s Homage To Chopin
An excellent article by Ed Mascari

How Insensitive: Journey Through The Real Book #154

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