A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
When someone hears a song and says something like, “Boy… they don’t write ‘em like that anymore,” they’re probably speaking about a song like “June In January.” It’s a beautiful, melodic song with lyrics about being in love, without a trace of irony or sarcasm. (In case you’re wondering, while I agree that “they don’t write songs like this anymore,” but I also want to acknowledge that there are many great songwriters still writing music today. It’s just that styles have changed.)
Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger composed “June In January” in 1934, and it was premiered by the great vocalist Bing Crosby in the movie Here Is My Heart (see clip below).
(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.)
Bing Crosby: from the movie “Here Is My Heart” (video)
This is how many listeners first heard the song, from 1934
Claude Hopkins: Crazy Fingers
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Be sure to listen to how beautifully Bing Crosby sings “June In January” in the movie clip from Here Is My Heart. All the jazz musicians in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s heard this type of singing and it greatly influenced their approach to playing melody. Even a “dyed in the wool” bebopper like Charlie Parker played melodies with a degree of lyricism that’s sometimes absent in today’s jazz world. (Listen to his famous Bird With Strings” recordings to hear him play like this. Or his recording of “Embraceable You.” Even when he’s playing a million notes on a ballad or medium tempo swing tune, he’s playing very lyrically.”
Immerse yourself in Crosby’s interpretation, and then sit down at the piano and do the same. Start with just the melody. Play it like your singing it. (This was the secret behind Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio, too. They all played like they were singing the songs!)
Spend a good deal of time with just the melody, playing it lyrically, and then all a left hand accompaniment. A slow, relaxed stride pattern sounds great on a tune like this, and is very typical of the time in which it was composed. A Bill Evans’ like piano texture works well too. Try a few different approaches so you have a few options. And remember that you don’t have to play tunes the same way every day. You can play it stride one day and like Bill Evans the next. And even differently the day after that. Jazz is about self-expression, so give yourself the flexibility to play it “how you feel” at any given time.
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
June In January (song): Wikipedia
How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively
Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.
Jazz Piano Lessons via Skype
Personal guidance from an expert, caring teacher. Beginning through Advanced.
Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You'll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration