A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Even though “Jordu” is strongly associated with it’s recording by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach group, it was composed in 1953 by the bebop pianist Duke Jordan, who is perhaps best known for his role in Charlie Parker’s Quintet. The tune has become a true jazz classic and is widely performed.

“Jordu” is a great medium tempo tune which has some rhythmic “hits” underneath the melody (they’re notated in The Real Book). This is a simple yet highly effective arranging technique that can provide musical interest and variety to your performances. Once you learn how to play “Jordu” like this, see if you can arrange a few other jazz standards in the same way!

Recommended videos/recordings:
(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.)

Clifford Brown and Max Roach

Duke Jordan Trio: Two Loves

Red Rodney Quintet: Red Rodney Returns

Tito Puente and his Latin Ensemble: Sensación

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
If you want to play “Jordu,” get ready for some dominant 7th chords!

Duke Jordan constructed the A Section using small groups of dominant chords. The first is a II/V/I in C minor, using a D7 instead of a minor ii chord (Dm7). The he does the same thing in Eb major (F7/Bb7/EbMaj7). After repeating the first II/V/I again, he ends the A Sections with Ab7 – G7 (bVII7 – V7). Every chord except for the Cm is a dominant 7th!

He goes even further in the bridge, taking us on a journey around the circle of 4ths, which is a natural use of dominant harmonies. This will take some time to get used to improvising on, however. Slow down the tempo and repeat the bridge over and over, trying to play solos that sound logical and expressive. Even if it sounds like your phrases “meander” and sound unfocused, keep going. At some point it will “click” and you’ll be playing the tune like you do all the other tunes you enjoy playing.

Since each A Section of “Jordu” ends in an unresolved way on the V chord (G7), Jordan had composed a short coda to be played the last time. Although it finally resolves to the Cm tonic chord, Jordan notates it as Cm(maj7) to provide a sense of excitement and tonal color all the way to the very end.

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

Further links and resources:
Ted Dunbar’s Bebop List
This is the list of bebop tunes that the acclaimed jazz guitar teacher Ted Dunbar gave his students to learn. Jordu is #11.

How To Learn Jazz Piano
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Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.

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