A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Little Boat,” composed by Robert Menescal, is what I consider to be a “second-tier” bossa nova. That’s not a put-down. It’s a great tune, but not as widely played as the biggies like “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Corcovado,” and “Wave.” So learn those first since they’re called at jam sessions a lot. But then go on to “Little Boat,” along with “Desafinado,” “How Insensitive,” and the others. It’s good to have at least a dozen or so bossa novas memorized and in your repertoire.

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.)

Laurindo Almeida’s Bossa Nova All-Stars: Brazilian Bossa Nova Meets American Jazz

Karrin Allyson

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Most of “Little Boat” is simply the same 4-measure phrase, repeated down successive whole steps. This means that if you know the first 4 measures, which begins in Bb, then you just have to learn the same thing down a whole step in Ab, and then down another whole step in Gb. It’s a good opportunity to practice transposition, which in this case is built-in to the song!

After these first 12 measures, the final phrase is very simple; it’s just the standard iii/Vi/ii/V chord progression that’s found in hundreds of jazz tunes. Once you know it in one tune, you know it in them all!

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

Further links and resources:
Roberto Menescal (composer): Wikipedia

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