A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“I’ll Never Smile Again” is a popular standard that was written by Ruth Lowe in 1940. It’s a beautiful, timeless ballad that was very popular among musicians for decades, both in concert performances and while playing for dancers.

The song is perhaps most strongly associated with vocal groups, since one of the first major hit recordings of it was by The Pied Pipers, heard below with a young Frank Sinatra. (BTW, if you only know Sinatra from his later “Rat Pack” era, check this out. You’ll be in for a surprise!)

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.)

Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra, with Frank Sinatra and The Pied Pipers

Erroll Garner: Piano Solo 1945-1955

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz At The College Of The Pacific

(see Dave Brubeck link below)

Bill Evans: Interplay

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
While I guess it would be possible to play “I’ll Never Smile Again” as an uptempo samba in 11/4 time with rhythmic hits and a modulation every 8 bars, it’s perhaps best to put all those “innovative” ideas aside and simply enjoy the tune for what it is: a “chestnut” from a time when people enjoyed popular songs that were sweet, lyrical, and expressed feelings of tenderness with music to match!

I’m not putting sown today’s popular music, by the way. There are some wonderful musicians out there “doing their thing” right this very moment and some of them do indeed express a wide range of emotion in their music. But, by and large, this isn’t what we hear when we turn on the commercial radio stations.

That’s all the more reason, in my opinion, why jazz and other “non-commercial” music is more important than ever. Songs like “I’ll Never Smile Again” can tap into our emotions in a way that the surface of our larger culture doesn’t easily do anymore.

It’s a beautiful song to play, as a ballad and perhaps with a slow stride left hand. Like many songs, then and now, the title lyric dictates part of the melody. In this case, it’s the 6 opening notes: “I’ll Ne-ver Smile A-gain.” Isn’t it interesting how the composer held out the word “smile,” and made it the high point of the musical line? A different songwriter might have set the lyric differently, perhaps emphasizing the word “never.” The more you investigate the relation between music and lyrics, the more you’ll discover. It’s a wonderful journey!

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

Further links and resources:
I’ll Never Smile Again: Wikipedia

Jazz Meets The World – The World Meets Jazz
Includes a discussion of the Dave Brubeck version linked to above

I’ll Never Smile Again: Journey Through The Real Book #168

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