A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Hullo Bolinas” is one of many Steve Swallow tunes in The Real Book. Swallow’s tunes were considered very new and exciting among the Boston-area students who compiled the original Real Book during the early 1970s and the music still holds up today.

Musically, the tune is a lyrical waltz and the title refers to a town in California.

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.)

Gary Burton: Alone At Last

Burton played the piano part and then overdubbed the vibes on this recording

Bill Evans: Live At Yubin Chokin Hall, Tokyo, Japan, 1973

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Steve Swallow is one of those composers who has created his own world of sound, painting musical pictures that follow their own, unique internal logic. In other words, his melodies and chord progressions don’t unfold the way we’ve been accustomed in the jazz world, and I think that’s one reason why his music was championed by Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Gary Burton, and others.

“Hullo Bolinas” is a great example of this. It’s in ¾ time, but it’s now a “jazz waltz” as such. To my mind, it has more of a nursery song feel, like you might hear in a music box. Delicate, understated, and with straight 8th notes.

But at the same time, the chords are related to jazz, and it’s fascinating to hear a mature jazz musician like Bill Evans solo over the tune with jazz lines on the recording above. A more restrained, semi-classic approach could also sound great on “Hullo Bolinas.”

Check out the Bill Evans transcription I’ve linked to below to see how he harmonized the melody in parallel 6ths. Many musicians play the melody like this.

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

Further links and resources:
Steve Swallow interview
The composer of “Hullo Bolinas” discusses his composing and bass playing

Expert Testimony: Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow tells the story of how his tunes were included in The Real Book

An interesting forum thread about Steve Swallow and his Real Books tunes

A short article about the inspiration for the song’s title

A transcription of pianist Bill Evan’s solo interpretation

Hullo Bolinas: Journey Through The Real Book #156

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