A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Ron Carter’s mainly known as a bassist, but he’s also written some tunes that have become famous, such as “Little Waltz.” His pieces all have a distinctive charm, and often have a melodic or rhythmic “hook.” “Little Waltz” is one of his most widely-played tunes.

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.)

Ron Carter: Uptown Conversation

Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Billy Cobham: Lugano, 1983 (video)

Harry Connick, Jr.: Harry Connick, Jr.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
To begin learning “Little Waltz,” start by just playing through it a few times. Get the melody in your ear and listen to the chords. Don’t try anything fancy yet; view it as “getting acquainted” with the tune like you might with a person you’d recently met.

After that, take a closer look at the melody and chords.

Looking at the leadsheet in The Real Book, do you see how each measure of the melody looks the same at the beginning? Every measure until the 2nd ending consists of only two notes, with the second note being higher than the first. The rhythm is the same, too: quarter-half. This type of writing is called “motivic,” where the composer bases everything on a short melodic “cell” that repeats and can be varied. Even the notes in the 2nd ending, while looking very different, can be viewed as a variation of the basic motif. It’s really just the same motif, with an added little “turn” at the end.

The bridge uses more notes, but this “new” motif is still closely related to the opening motif. The phrases still rise up, but now they also fall (in the next measure). This is a classic example of motivic development in a melody. It sounds great, and is tightly constructed with a rigorous internal logic.

The opening chords seem slightly random at first glance, until you look at the bass notes. Carter is harmonizing a chromatically descending bass line, from F down to Db. Then the progression is simply a II/V/I in F minor (with the G chord being a “secondary dominant.” The bridge is built on a series of chords that moves around the circle of 4ths. Again, very logical.

One advantage of analyzing a tune’s melody and chords like this is that you now understand it better. Another is that you’ll be able to memorize it easier. And a third is that you can now begin improvising your own solos, and they’ll relate better to the tune itself than if you were “flying blind.”

Have fun playing this catchy, well-written tune. It’s a great piece of music that’s often overlooked, but not by you!!!

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

Further links and resources:
The Best Way To Use The Real Book

Ron Carter: Wikipedia

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