A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Journey To Recife” is a lovely bossa. It was composed by Richard Evans and Norman Gimbel in 1962, which was still during the initial “bossa nova craze” when the music became very popular. It’s not played as much as the Jobim songs in The Real Book, but it would be a beautiful addition to your jazz repertoire.

Recommended recording:
(for international readers who may not have access to this YouTube link, I’ve indicated the original album name so you can listen to the recording on music streaming services, etc.)

Paul Winter Sextet: Jazz Meets The Bossa Nova

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
When you listen to the Paul Winter recording of the tune (see above), you’ll immediately notice that while “Journey To Recife” is a “bossa nova,” it’s not the laid-back, relaxed type of bossa that we usually hear. Instead, it’s faster and has a lot of energy! (It just goes to show us that we tend to put these genres into a little “box.” But they’re much larger than that and contain more variety than we sometimes think.)

Harmonically, “Journey To Recife” is pretty easy and straightforward, but with a few surprising chords thrown in here and there to keep things interesting.

The tune starts off on the Eb tonic chord, and stays in the key of Eb with a ii/V (Fm7/Bb7). But right after that, the composers have put in an F7 which adds just a little “color” before repeating the ii-V. Rather than resolving to the expected tonic, however, they go to a ii/V/I in Ab, which is followed by the bVii7 chord, a Db7. I always love it when tunes go the bVii7 like this! It’s colorful and harmonically rich.

Many tunes at this point would probably begin a return to the home key via a Gm7/Gb dim7/Fm7/Bb7 chord progression or something similar. But “Recife” has other plans for us improvisers. It temporarily makes C minor the tonic key and only then, in the first ending, sets up the returning progression I referred to above by preceding it with Adim7 and Ab7. The chords are similar to what everybody else does, but just different enough to make the song special and a little bit unusual.

So how does this affect our improvisations? Well, it forces us to stay alert and play attention, because just when we think we can go on “automatic pilot,” the rug is pulled out from under us and we have to listen to the chords freshly. That’s the only way to improvise in those spots and it’s a huge opportunity to examine our approach to improvising. Do we want to merely rely on playing “things we already know” or do we welcome the chance to create new melodies. After all, if you’ve never played these exact chord changes in a song before, you can’t solo in the same exact way. (It forces us to be creative, each time.)

There’s also a big harmonic surprise in the third-to-last measure when the C7 chord is used instead of the expected F7 (II7) harmony. Have fun soloing over this one!

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

Further links and resources:
Bossa Nova: Wikipedia

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