A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
The songwriter Ray Noble is best remembered these days as the composer of “Cherokee,” (which in turn is perhaps best remembered in the jazz world as a personal favorite of Charlie Parker). But “back in the day,” during the 1930s and 40s, he was a household name. I remember once watching the old movie “Pride Of The Yankees,” which is a bio of Lou Gehrig, the famous NY Yankee baseball player. During one scene, which took place during a ballroom dance, the camera panned to the band onstage. And seated at the piano, leading his own orchestra was… you guessed it… Ray Noble!.

Noble was one of the few songwriters of his era, along with Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, who wrote both music and lyrics. “Love Is The Sweetest Thing” is one of his lovely ballads, which he composed in 1932.

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.)

Ray Noble Orchestra

Gerry Mulligan: Feelin’ Good

Mulligan played his baritone sax with a natural lyricism, which was well-matched for beautiful melodies like this song.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Songs like this really teach us our ii-V’s!

There are five different ii-V progressions in “Love Is The Sweetest Thing,” in the key’s of D, G, A, E, and Bm. There’s also a variation of the sequence in m.2, which substitutes an E dominant 7th chord for the usual Em7. If you’re not yet fluent in all these keys, spend some time with each one, playing various chord voicings and soloing in the given key. Then, go back and string them together as they appear in the song itself. Learning a tune like this will help you play other tunes better, since these same chord patterns appear in many jazz standards.

I enjoy playing a Swing Era ballad like this with a slow left hand stride pattern. This is how it usually was played on piano “back in the day” and has a beautiful, relaxed sound.

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

Further links and resources:
Ray Noble (composer): Wikipedia

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